Parents oppose transfer of disturbed pupils

March 08, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Parents of students at Stevens Forest Elementary School packed the Howard County Department of Education building last night and urged the school board not to transfer seriously emotionally disturbed children to their school next year.

"We have nothing against [those] students and can empathize with their situation," said James Hamilton, the father of a kindergartner and a third-grader at Stevens Forest. "We object to way that this proposed transfer has been forced upon the parents at Stevens Forest. Given the gravity of the change, we have not had time to examine the matter."

The complaints about the redistricting of 10 students from Waterloo Elementary School to Stevens Forest was just one -- albeit the most emotional -- of many raised last night during testimony on the school system's proposed boundary line changes for next year.

The redistricting proposal being considered by the school board would affect relatively few elementary school children but would force the transfer of more than 550 middle school students. Redistricting at the high school level has been postponed until next year to wait for the anticipated opening of two new secondary schools in 1996.

The school system adjusts district boundary lines almost every year to adapt to the rapidly rising student population and the opening of new schools. Systemwide enrollment is expected to rise by about 11,000 in the next 10 years, to 47,00 students by 2004.

Last night's 2 1/2 -hour hearing -- attended by a standing-room only crowd of more than 150 people -- was the sole opportunity for public testimony on the redistricting proposal. The board is scheduled to hold a work session next Tuesday and vote on the plan March 23.

The more than 60 parents of Stevens Forest children at the hearing object to the school system's proposal to split approximately 20 seriously emotionally disturbed children between Waterloo and Stevens Forest next year.

For the past 20 years, Waterloo has served as the county's central location for students with severe emotional problems, and parents of other children at the school have complained about disruptive behavior by these students.

But parents of children at Stevens Forest said they, too, were concerned about the educational effects of moving the emotionally disturbed students to their school.

"Disruption is a problem that will come with [seriously emotionally disturbed] students being shifted to Stevens Forest without the staff and facilities to accommodate their special needs," said parent Alisa Turnbull. "It will sacrifice the education of all of the students."

School officials have said that Stevens Forest is one of only three schools in the county with enough self-contained space to accept some of Waterloo's emotionally disturbed students.

One parent from Waterloo also reminded the board of a promise she said it made in March 1994 to remove half of the emotionally disturbed students from Waterloo by next fall.

"It is unfair to have one school in the county have the responsibility for all of the [seriously emotionally disturbed] students," said Waterloo parent Denise Ford. In their testimony, more than a dozen Stevens Forest parents and teachers urged the school board at least to delay the transfer of the students for one year to give the school more time for adequate training and funding.

The dispute over emotionally disturbed children was not the only concern raised by parents last night.

For example, the question of what to do with 55-year-old Ellicott Mills Middle School was addressed by many parents.

Under the redistricting proposal, many students from Ellicott Mills would be transferred to Elkridge Landing Middle School when it opens next fall. Other students would be sent to Ellicott Mills from Mayfield Woods and possibly Dunloggin middle schools to try to ensure that Ellicott Mills' enrollment remains above 450 -- the minimum number that school officials consider to be acceptable for a middle school.

But several parents from the Columbia Hills neighborhood testified that they did not want their children redistricted from Dunloggin to Ellicott Mills, which is scheduled to be replaced by 1999. "We object to our children being sent to a building that has been declared to be academically obsolete," said parent John Papania.

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