After-school program for disabled won't close

Howard is to take over program at Cedar Lane

February 29, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Instead of closing, an after-school program for the disabled at Cedar Lane School will expand next year after the Columbia Association turns it over to Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks.

Under a deal worked out between the association and the county, the program will feature structured activities directed by a therapeutic recreation specialist, including field trips, and perhaps swimming -- more than the day care offered now, said Gary J. Arthur, county recreation director.

In addition, the county hopes to expand the program to accept double the 10 students now enrolled.

To help pay for the $60,000-a-year program, Arthur said, the monthly fee will rise from $160 to $283 -- the same amount the county charges for a similar program at Atholton High School, though the county will pay up to 75 percent of that cost for some families who can't afford it.

"It's more than child care for the disabled. We think it will be a real good program for them," Arthur said.

The Cedar Lane program, considered vital by parents of children with severe disabilities, has operated for 14 years under the Columbia Association, but it was slated for closing on two weeks' notice in October -- an announcement that sparked a furor among parents of the children enrolled.

As a result of the parents' protests, the Columbia Council decided to allow the program to continue through June, while searching for another operator.

Pat Sullivan, whose son Brian attends the program, said she is still angry because she felt that the association behaved "as if they can throw our children away." She and other parents were happy with the program as it is, she said, adding that she was "appalled" by the sudden notice it would end.

Maggie Brown, vice president of the Columbia Association's Community Services Division, said the association made the decision to end supervision of the program because the director, who was qualified to handle disabled students, left the job, and a replacement could not be found.

The new arrangement is better, she said.

"We think that it's such a plus. They [the county] are really geared up for special needs."

Cedar Lane Principal Nicholas Girardi said he is pleased. There is a waiting list of children for the program, he said, and the county will split the children into two age groups, so more can take part.

"I think our parents are going to feel very good about Parks and Recreation taking over the program," he said .

Joseph Merke, chairman of the Columbia Council, the Columbia Association's governing body, said, "I hope everything works out fine for them. What's best for the kids is what we're after. That's our goal."

Sullivan said she is "grateful there is an option. Our kids are severely handicapped," she said, noting that being at home is not a good option for them, even if it is possible to find someone to care for them in the afternoons.

As for the fee, Sullivan said she would try to get more hours at work to pay the additional cost.

"It will be difficult," the nurse said. "I'm sure in the long run it will be very good."

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