Graduation rule for the disabled eased

November 13, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Westminster High School sophomore Kelly Sullivan won't have to make the difficult choice that many students before her faced.

She won't have to give up certain services and classes for the joy of graduating with students her age.

Even if disabled students didn't earn a diploma, they always had the option of going through graduation ceremonies. But if they participated in the ceremony, they couldn't return for services to which they would otherwise be entitled until age 21.

Under a new policy, students with mental disabilities and other handicaps may continue to receive help after graduating with a certificate. But a diploma still will mean they are finished with school and ready to work, said Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary education.

Carroll is the first county in the state to allow the post-certificate service and has worked with the Maryland Department of Education to establish it, said Superintendent Brian Lockard.

"Once again, we are on the cutting edge," he said.

Kelly, 15, and several other teen-agers wrote letters and spoke before the school board this summer, asking for a policy change. The students' effort began after they talked in their 4-H group about wanting to be able to participate in the graduation ceremony with friends their age. They didn't want to wait until they were 21.

"I want to walk across the stage with my friends, and not sit out," said Kelly, daughter of Sharon and Steve Sullivan of Coons Club Road in Westminster. Other students who spoke before the school board in the summer included Bruce Watt and David Peak of South Carroll High School and Megan Roland of Westminster High School.

Participation in graduation is important to students, especially when their friends are getting class rings, caps and gowns and printed announcements, said Harry Fogle, supervisor of special education.

"They want the same thing, and a person with a disability deserves what he or she needs to be thought of as being equal," Dr. Fogle said. "What is fair? Fair is what a student needs."

The students are getting their wish, and more.

Dr. Fogle is trying to start two new programs to deliver post-high school certificate help in a way that is more like a job or college, instead of just having the students returnto high school.

"It makes it more adult," Dr. Fogle said. "To me, it's real-life, real-world situations that help with their self-esteem."

Dr. Fogle is working with two local private agencies, Change Inc. and Target, to begin a program in February for disabled students who are ready to enter the job market.

He said it would be less expensive to contract with the agencies than to hire staff to do the same thing in school. The agencies already provide adult services such as job placement and support. The program is to focus on skills such as opening a

checking account, paying bills, maintaining an apartment and doing laundry.

But the form of continued services the schools offer students will be as varied as the students' needs, Dr. Fogle said. Some students may indeed return for more academic help, especially if they have a chance of going on to complete a diploma.

They could return for a few hours for a year, or for a full day for a few weeks or months, maybe long enough to pass the state functional tests for math, reading, writing and citizenship.

Dr. Fogle said that although the community has some services for handicapped young adults, the assistance is not required by law. For that reason, he said, such programs often suffer budget cuts.

Because the change in the graduation policy is administrative, it does not need school board approval.

But the revision was presented to the school board at its meeting Wednesday, at Westminster High School.

Kelly took a break from her classes in the building to attend the meeting. After the announcement, she walked out into the hallway with Peggie Roland, mother of Megan and an active 4-H parent.

They raised their hands in a high-five. "You did it," Ms. Roland said.

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