Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

March 23, 2003

Don't neglect students who need inclusion

Now that Howard County School Superintendent John O'Rourke and Maryland State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick have gone behind closed doors to cut a deal about the future of the Cedar Lane School and the 2 percent of the special education population it serves, the question has to be asked: What about the 98 percent of students with disabilities served in the public school system who need access to the general curriculum and typical peers? According to the Maryland State Department of Education, Howard County is one of the worst in the state for its low rate of inclusion of children with disabilities in regular classrooms, particularly for children with cognitive disabilities. A hallmark of good classrooms is differentiated instruction - that is, instruction that teaches students of all abilities, from the gifted and talented child to the child with severe disabilities. In too many Howard County schools, classroom instruction is geared to the "average" student and teachers lack the ability to provide accommodations and modify instruction to teach the diversity of students in their classrooms.

The debate over the rebuilding of the Cedar Lane School was brought on, in part, because Howard County's special education service delivery system is configured to push children with disabilities into more segregated settings than is necessary. The Howard County School Board should take note and set priorities accordingly. Ironically, for those of us parents fighting for more inclusive education, it may be the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) rather than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that forces system change. NCLB's requirement that teachers be highly qualified and certified in the content area being taught may finally mean our children with disabilities are exposed to the same content and high expectations that students without disabilities are exposed to. Maybe then, the "God's work" John O'Rourke is quoted as seeing at the Cedar Lane graduation last year can be done in our neighborhood schools.

Catriona Johnson

Columbia

Canceling foreign field trips misguided

I read with sadness in the Education Digest ("School chief cancels all foreign field trips," March 12) that Superintendent of Schools John O'Rourke has canceled all school-sponsored field trips involving foreign travel through July. I don't know if he did this on his own initiative or if parents requested this. In either case, I believe this to be a misguided decision. This is a clear example of how we in this country are beginning to make decisions based on fear. At a time when there is so much misunderstanding between the United States and the rest of the world, our students need as much exposure to other countries as possible. I had the opportunity, after finishing college, to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. This was not just an educational experience, it was a life-changing one.

Students and their parents should have been allowed to decide whether they wanted to travel to foreign countries. United States citizens might even be safer in foreign countries than they are at home. The whole point of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was to make us aware that we are not safe in this country.

Ray Donaldson

Fulton

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