Tale of two inclusion programs

November 04, 1993

Item: At an Oct. 20 meeting, Anne Arundel County parents and educators praised the local school system 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. But, in fact, they do.

The Anne Arundel system has taken a deliberately gradual approach to its implementation of inclusion. Over the past four years, special ed students and programs have been slowly put in place so all the affected parties could adapt to the concept. Noting the positive results, parents of students remaining in segregated settings have inquired about getting their children 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 because they felt they weren't adequately prepared to deal with all the special ed kids entering their classrooms.

This controversy, along with the hubbub over the demotion of 40 administrators, shook the Baltimore County school system to its foundations last summer. As a consequence, the county school board appointed a task force to examine the two issues. It was a politically savvy step. However, when the board responded stiffly to the findings of its own task force, it set off further dissension. To defuse this new squabble, board members agreed to hire a liaison to handle complaints, similar to the task force's recommendation. So far, though, no one wants the job.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that all this maneuvering would be unnecessary had the county school system not rushed inclusion. And it's hard to believe, after all the angst of the past five 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 full-speed-ahead philosophy of school officials. That judgment is underscored by how well gradual inclusion has worked in Anne Arundel County.

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