The 'Berger-bashers' are right on the mark

Forum Extra

June 30, 1993|By Sidney Krome

YOUR newspaper still doesn't get it.

First you tell us Stuart Berger, the Baltimore County superintendent of schools, has a "communications problem." Then you say he's beset by "Berger-bashers," a bunch of "unruly parents and teachers" who simply won't allow the great visionary to realize his dreams for county schools.

But just the opposite is the case. It is the superintendent who is riding roughshod over parents, teachers and students in the system, the superintendent who tells teachers that when they are transferred to schools 40 miles from home, they'll "get the message" about who's in charge. Your newspaper says Dr. Berger suffers from a "PR nightmare." The nightmare isn't Dr. Berger's public relations. It is Dr. Berger.

Some of his ideas do deserve careful attention, but they deserve careful attention from the central school administration, the administrators, the teachers and the parents, not just from Dr. Berger and his sidekick, board President Rosalie Hellman.

One of those ideas is the magnet school. Having served on the Sudbrook School Committee, I know that the magnet school concept is a strong and powerful one, capable of revitalizing education. But while that committee invited the public -- including teachers and parents -- to speak out on the issues, neither Dr. Berger nor Ms. Hellman has invited the public to speak out on that or on most other issues on the table in Baltimore County public education. (Indeed, when parents wanted to address an issue, Ms. Hellman locked them out.)

Consider the issue of "inclusion" of special education children. Dr. Berger uses the word to load the case on his side. The issue is not, as the superintendent would have us believe, whether children with special needs should be "included" or "excluded." All of them have a right to equal opportunities. Dr. Berger's use of the word leaves its opposite as an unstated fundamental wrong -- the deliberate "exclusion" of some citizens from those opportunities.

But the real issue is providing individually developed and written educational plans for each child having special needs so that he or she will be educated in the least restrictive environment. By using a term like "inclusion," Dr. Berger and his minions deliberately cloud the issue.

No parent of a child with special needs would object to the child's being treated as an individual with individual abilities and needs. What parents do find objectionable is Dr. Berger's plan to treat all special education children as an indistinguishable mass.

It is that "inclusion" concept that seems to have pleased many African-Americans in Baltimore County. And they are right that their children have been excluded too often over too many years in the county system.

But generally they have been excluded as a group, not as individuals, which has been the case with special education students. There's a difference between the corrective efforts needed for special education students and those needed for African-Americans. The former involve individual education plans. The latter involve a group that has been excluded in the past and now must be included.

Like many other parents and teachers in Baltimore County, I recognize that important changes must be made and that there can be legitimate professional disagreement over how to bring about change. But the vision of public education in Baltimore County to which so many alluded at last week's hearing at Loch Raven High School cannot be implemented by a superintendent whose vision deliberately excludes the citizens he has been appointed to serve.

Dr. Berger said the hearing last Wednesday may "not change what fundamentally has to be done" to improve education in Baltimore County. What has to be done, for starters, is a change at the top. That's fundamental.

Sidney Krome, academic vice president of Coppin State College, has been involved as a parent in Baltimore County schools for 14 years.

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