A new Cedar Lane

A $20 million facility featuring state-of-the-art equipment and design opens in Fulton as the new academic home for 95 severely disabled students.

September 04, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The first thing Ann Meenan noticed when she stepped inside the new Cedar Lane School was its roomy hallways and open space.

It may seem like a small detail for some, but the wider hallways mean Meenan's disabled daughter, Joy, who uses a wheelchair and four-wheel walker, can easily move around without obstacles in her way.

Before Joy and other severely disabled children moved into their new academic home in Fulton last week, they were taught in an aging building in Columbia - where equipment cluttered the tight hallways, teachers changed diapers in the middle of the classroom and storage space was limited.

"It's a whole different world," Meenan said of the $20 million facility.

For Cedar Lane parents, teachers and administrators, the new building represents more than its state-of-the-art features. The school also embodies a commitment to educate children with the most severe physical and mental needs in best possible ways.

"We asked that the name of the facility remain Cedar Lane because the school is not the bricks and mortar in any particular location, but rather the very special staff who execute an amazing program," PTA President Bob Seipel told a standing-room-only crowd at the school's opening ceremony last Sunday.

Cedar Lane has enrolled 95 students, ages 3 to 21, and has a capacity of 125.

With the move, school officials say Cedar Lane students will experience more meaningful interaction with children without disabilities at the elementary, middle and high school level.

The new school is connected to Lime Kiln Middle on a campus setting that includes Fulton Elementary and Reservoir High School - a concept that is one of a kind in Maryland, according to state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who worked with Howard school officials on Cedar Lane's design.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity for students, nondisabled as well as those who are disabled, to interact together," said Grasmick, who added that she is looking forward to a visit.

Teacher-liaisons at Cedar Lane will work with the three schools to develop inclusion programs.

"That's the heart of our program - the ability for our kids to interact with their non- disabled peers," said Principal Nicholas Girardi.

There are other unique features that one parent, Jeanean Willis-Sharpe of Columbia, called "wonderful" and "beautiful."

A large water-therapy tank will help students with their movement. Blue tiles on the school's floor placed every 10 feet will help teachers gauge a student's mobility progress.

Bars of varying levels on the walls will guide students practicing motor skills. And each classroom - larger than its previous home - has a bathroom with a hydraulic changing table.

"It's really designed to help students with motor skills and easy access," said Willis-Sharpe, whose daughter, Dominique, 6, attends the school.

Two years ago, uncertainty and questions prevailed about the future of Cedar Lane School. A federal requirement that Maryland do more to integrate disabled students with the general student population prompted state education officials to pull approval for a new facility.

Cedar Lane parents appealed to the state to save the school, while other special-education advocates called for sending disabled children to their home schools.

But much to the delight of Cedar Lane supporters, Grasmick and Howard school officials announced a plan to rebuild Cedar Lane on the Fulton campus.

Now that the new school has opened, Seipel, the PTA president who fought to keep Cedar Lane as a separate facility, could not be happier.

"It leaves the parents feeling good about the commitment of the school system and the personal choices we made for educating our children," he said.

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