18 more in-school programs planned for special education youngsters

April 01, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Blasted repeatedly for not communicating changes in special education programs, Baltimore County educators went on the offensive Wednesday, announcing that plans are being made to add another 18 in-school programs for children with disabilities next year.

The programs would accommodate 100 to 150 students who need the most intense services, known as Level or Intensity 5, in 16 neighborhood schools. Each program would be offered in a "self-contained" classroom of six to nine students. That means that youngsters with disabilities would be segregated for academics, but would join nondisabled students for lunch, assemblies and perhaps special subjects, such as music and physical education.

Half the schools slated for programs next year previously have not had Level 5 classes.

"Creating options and choices is our ultimate goal," said Marjorie Rofel, director of special education, who announced the new programs. Although there may be changes, the programs are "pretty firm," she said. "Probably 95 percent of these are going to occur."

Programs would be eliminated or altered only to meet the students' needs. For example, if only two or three students enrolled in an outreach program, it might be moved to a different school, eliminated or changed to meet the needs of more students, Ms. Rofel said.

She said the new programs would be consistent with the school system's plans for inclusion, the current method of educating children with disabilities as close to their nondisabled peers as possible.

"As we have been trying to say for the last year, inclusion means many things," she said. "Inclusion for these children means an appropriate classroom in a regular school."

As presently envisioned, the 18 programs would be at these schools:

Elementary: Eastwood, Mars Estates, Bear Creek, Kingsville, Glenmar, Hampton, Jacksonville, Riderwood, Oakleigh, Chatsworth, Hernwood, Hebbville and Hillcrest.

Middle: Dumbarton.

High: Perry Hall and Towson.

Some of these schools will have more than one program.

More than 80 similar outreach programs are in schools this year.

Most of the new programs would be segregated by disability: four for autistic youngsters, three for those with learning disabilities, four for the intellectually limited, one for those with hearing impairments and one for emotionally disturbed students, she said.

The remaining five would be prekindergarten programs serving children with different disabilities.

The programs would be distributed geographically throughout the county and in elementary, middle and high schools.

Ms. Rofel said the new programs were not meant to "significantly reduce" the populations of the four special education schools. But they were necessary because of growing enrollment throughout the county and "in reaction to information we've received . . . about the needs of youngsters next year."

The school system moved hundreds of disabled youngsters out of its special schools, causing a great uproar from parents and teachers who said they were not adequately informed and that the new programs did not meet the needs of the students.

School officials conceded, in retrospect, that they had not done a good job communicating their plans.

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