Dispersal of troubled pupils asked

June 14, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Parents at Waterloo Elementary School voiced their concerns about special education students at a meeting last night with school board candidates and other officials.

They complained that there are not enough staff members to deal with the 31 students with serious emotional disabilities who attend Waterloo. They also said they were concerned about the disruptions such students created at the school, often more than administrators and teachers could handle.

"We have a lot of violent children in our school that we seem zTC unable to control," said Gigi Raabe of Ellicott City, who has a child at Waterloo and another who will be going there in the fall. "It seems to me that some of these children in the inclusion program need someone 100 percent of the time to keep our children safe."

For months, parents have been lobbying education officials to take action at Waterloo, the county's only regional elementary school center for students with serious emotional disabilities. Among elementary schools, Waterloo has the highest percentage of such students -- close to 13 percent. In the fifth grade, the disproportionate number of students with emotional problems -- one in four -- is more acute.

"What we want is a ratio we can work with," Cathi Hill Morrison, Waterloo's PTA president, said.

Parents want the school system to open a second regional center to reduce the number of special education students at Waterloo and to record the students' test scores at their home schools.

"Until that is done, they have to give us staffing," Mrs. Morrison said. "We have to be given priority."

But relief for Waterloo won't be coming until after redistricting next school year when space could be found at other schools for special education students.

"The program will not remain exactly as it is by the school year 1995," said Sandra Marx, special education director, in an interview yesterday.

She said various ideas have been discussed, including one to open a second regional center and another to move Waterloo's entire program to a different school. Whatever is presented to the Board of Education also depends on the cost of the program, Ms. Marx said.

"For these students, they need self-contained structuredevelopment with overlays for behavioral management," she said. "We don't have that at every school [now]."

Ms. Marx said she understands the parents' concerns but that the solution is complex. "The real problem is not with Waterloo or Howard County," she said. "The issue is the intense needs of these types of youngsters and really trying to figure out programming that will make a lasting difference for these students. These are the real problems."

She said one additional staff person is scheduled for Waterloo next year. That person will help special education students prepare to return to schools in their neighborhoods and help those schools build a support system for the special education students.

"It's another attempt to get numbers down," Ms. Marx said.

At Waterloo, students with emotional problems are taught in three self-contained classrooms until they are ready to enter regular classrooms at the school and eventually at their neighborhood schools. Still, some parents of special education students want to keep them at Waterloo because of the school's special program.

Parent Diane Lillis pulled her 8-year-old son out of a Columbia school and enrolled him at Waterloo because "I feel like he's made some fine academic progress. It's been slow but steady," she said. "I feel the school has been really excellent for my son's needs, which is a smaller classroom setting."

But Ms. Lillis said she recognizes the problem. "I would like to make sure there is enough teachers and aides to effectively teach the children," she said.

The teachers at Waterloo have received special training to help them deal with students with emotional problems. Also, a full-time crisis intervention counselor, a psychologist and a guidance counselor are at the school.

Though parents say officials have not done enough, officials said they are aware of staffing problems at Waterloo, which has been honored by the state Mental Health Association for having an exemplary program.

In March, officials assigned the school an extra special education teacher to work with the additional special education students who enrolled there at midyear.

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