Tale of Two Inclusion Programs ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

November 04, 1993

Item: At an Oct. 20 meeting, Anne Arundel County parents and educators praised the local school system's handling of "inclusion," the program in which physically and mentally disabled students are moved from segregated "special" environments into mainstream neighborhood schools.

Item: At an Oct. 26 meeting, the Baltimore County Board of Education announced it has been unable to fill the position of "board liaison," as it had promised to do by that date.

On first reading, these two items don't appear to have much in common. In fact, they do.

The Anne Arundel system has taken a deliberately gradual approach to implementing inclusion. Over the past four years, special education students have been slowly shifted to regular classes so all the affected parties could adapt to the concept. Noting the positive results, parents of students in segregated settings have asked about getting their kids on the inclusion track.

In contrast, the Baltimore County system shifted this year from small-scale to wholesale inclusion. The suddenness of the change angered parents who claimed they didn't have enough say in the matter. Teachers also were upset; They felt they weren't adequately prepared to deal with all the special needs students entering their classrooms.

This controversy, plus the hubbub over the demotion of 40 administrators, shook Baltimore County's school system to its core last summer. Consequently, the school board appointed a task force to examine the two issues. It was a politically savvy step. Yet when the board responded stiffly to the findings of the task force, it set off further dissension. The board eventually agreed to hire a liaison to handle complaints, similar to the task force's recommendation. But so far, no one wants the job.

It's hard not to conclude this maneuvering would be unnecessary had Baltimore County not rushed inclusion. And it's hard to believe, after the angst of recent months, that Superintendent Stuart Berger maintains there was no reason to implement the program more gradually. Inclusion might yet become a success in Baltimore County, but it could have happened without the acrimony caused by the hurry-it-up philosophy of school officials. That judgment is underscored by how well gradual inclusion has worked in Anne Arundel County.

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