Parents plead case for special schools

Officials urged to give reprieve to four facilities for disabled students

November 16, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Supporters of several Baltimore special education schools recommended for closing in the next two years made pleas last night to keep them open, saying that disadvantaged students would be further hurt by the proposed changes.

At a hearing before city education officials at Polytechnic Institute, the parents and grandparents of students, as well as teachers and other staff spoke on behalf of the schools that face closure as part of a sweeping reorganization plan announced last month.

Four special education centers - Central Career Center at Briscoe, Claremont School, Upton Home and Hospital Services School, and Waverly Career Center - are on the list for closure.

The majority of last night's speakers testified in support of Claremont, which serves about 85 students, ages 14 to 21, on the city's east side. Helen LeBon, whose 19-year-old son has Down syndrome and attends Claremont, begged school officials to reconsider.

"It would be very wrong to close this school because he loves this school," she said.

Beverly Chase said her 17-year-old grandson, who is developmentally disabled, did not know how to read or count before going to Claremont. When he attended school elsewhere, he was picked on and didn't like going, she said.

"Since he's been at Claremont he's a whole different child, and I would not want to see the school closed - for money or whatever, " she said.

The city's 10 special education centers have space for 1,600 students but serve only 1,063, a school system consultant told the crowd of about 75 people last night. The closures are intended to maximize efficiency and improve the quality of education, officials say.

Mitchell Paschall, whose 16-year-old son has Down syndrome and attends Waverly, said many disabled students didn't do well at regular high schools.

"The big comprehensive school environment was a bit overwhelming," said Paschall, who is a member of the PTA at Waverly, which serves 106 students. "They were chastised and teased and they didn't perform well and learn anything."

The school system will hold six more forums on its plans to close several other schools and reorganize many more. The next hearing, which will focus on the proposed closure of Arnett J. Brown Middle School, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 28 at Southern High School.

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