Filling a Gap in Special Ed

August 23, 1994

State and federal laws require that developmentally disabled children be provided with appropriate educational services from birth to age 21. But what happens when special education students go through the public school system and graduate before turning 21?

If they cross that commencement stage with their classmates, receiving a diploma or a program completion certificate, they face a void of several years before they can enter adult programs for the disabled.

The Carroll County school system is looking at ways to meet this transitional need of special ed graduates through a new continuing education program that focuses on developing life skills, money management and job career coaching. Carroll would become the first county in Maryland to address this need in a structured way.

The most encouraging aspect of this idea is that it came from special education high school students themselves, through discussions they had in county 4-H Clubs. Several of these teens, with their parents, urged the Carroll County Board of Education to allow them to graduate after four years of high school but to continue to receive special education services until age 21.

"I want to graduate with my friends" next June, senior Bruce Watt told the board. But if the 19-year-old special education student does, he will miss the second year of job training in horticulture at the school system's Career and Technology Center. It's an either-or situation.

Carroll County school officials appear supportive of the proposal. High school principals have discussed the idea and Harry Fogle, special education supervisor, will give a concrete recommendation to the superintendent by November.

Mr. Fogle estimates that perhaps 75 special ed pupils in the county high schools might participate. Systemwide, about 3,000 23,000 pupils are identified as developmentally disabled.

Finding the funds (perhaps from disability-support programs and groups) and changing regulations to allow post-graduation services are two challenges, he noted.

But he is as enthusiastic about the idea as are the young people who proposed it. "We're pretty progressive here," Mr. Fogle says. In this case, we certainly hope he is right.

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