Defeated at Waterloo

March 27, 1995

The parents of emotionally troubled students in Howard County must feel they've gotten a raw deal. The county Board of Education last week rejected a proposal to split a program for seriously emotionally disturbed pupils between Waterloo and Stevens Forest elementary schools. Officials were pushing the proposal as a way to lessen the strain of having all the students attend Waterloo, where the program has been housed for 20 years.

But parents at Stevens Forest objected vehemently, the board folded and, in the process, the families of emotionally disturbed children have been shortchanged.

The plan to assign about 10 special education students to Stevens Forest was never the ideal solution. But it was a good one that at least temporarily would have produced a more effective and fair program. Another 10 students were to remain at Waterloo, making its program more manageable. Instead, school officials predict there could be as many as 20 special education students assigned to Waterloo next year. While this is better than the 40 there last year, it is not as desirable as 10.

Board members insist that they were not bowing to political pressure when they agreed with Stevens Forest parents to scuttle the plan. Rather, they say that because the program was to be housed at Stevens Forest in rooms off the media center or library, a misbehaving special ed child could disrupt other students.

While this may sound like a reasonable concern, the board accorded it too much weight and turned a deaf ear to more important goals. As much as parents may want their schools sanitized from all but the best and brightest, the public school system is meant to serve all students. The ideal solution for special education students would be to have them all attending their home schools. But for the severely disabled, a small, well-staffed program involving several students is a reasonable approach.

There is no way to guarantee classrooms free of disruptions, whether a child is a special education student or not. But disruptions can be controlled and kept to a minimum. What the school board has done is to continue to corral a group of youngsters with special needs in a way that does not afford them the best setting for learning and overcoming their problems.

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