Over the past month, the Anne Arundel County school system has received many e-mails about the special education program for students with emotional disabilities at Chesapeake High School.
Many have expressed concern that students enrolled in the Chesapeake Regional Program (CRP), which operates in a wing at Chesapeake High School, pose a safety danger for students in the high school's general education population.
It is evident from recent public comments that misperceptions still exist.
The regional program has educated special-needs students at its current site since 1990. Since relocating from the former Andover High School, the program has worked in tandem with Chesapeake's general education program with few complaints. It is ironic that now, with CRP enjoying one of its most successful years in recent memory, opposition to the program has surfaced.
First and foremost, the students placed in the CRP are children. They are not any of the derisive terms they have been called in e-mails or at meetings about the program. They are not juvenile delinquents and have not landed in the program through disciplinary actions such as being expelled from another school.
They are placed in the program through the division of special education's individualized education program (IEP) team process. Each placement decision is individually determined and based on the student's IEP needs (supplemental supports, services, accommodations and modifications). These students are entitled to a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment.
Contrary to some beliefs, the program has never been hidden or pushed aside in the hope that no one would notice. It is discussed each year at the high school's Back to School Night, and its operation is part of a collaborative effort to ensure that proper instruction benefits all students in the building. Lori Chearney, CRP's administrator, oversees the program but is also a member of the high school's administrative team. Other CRP teachers are Chesapeake High School athletic coaches and class and club advisers.
Today, CRP serves 49 students - well below its capacity of 75. When the IEP calls for it, a student attends general education classes with other high school students. Transitions to and from classes are monitored, and staff members are present in the hallways and nearby stairwell locations to ensure smooth changes.
CRP has earned recognition from the Maryland State Department of Education for its behavioral successes. It has earned exemplar school status for its Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies (PBIS) program each year since 2005. Its PBIS model was presented at last spring's PBIS Forum for High Schools.
While CRP's students must adhere to the same code of conduct as all other students, the manner in which disciplinary measures are meted out may differ. That doesn't mean there are no consequences for deviating from the code, however. The PBIS model and individual behavioral intervention plans are used to determine sanctions.
From August to January, Chesapeake Regional Program students had 286 office referrals compared with 734 for Chesapeake High School general-education students. Sixty-four percent of the CRP referrals came in September and October. This can be associated with transition/acclimation to the high expectations and alignment of the PBIS/Behavior Intervention Plan framework that is integrated into the program.
Of the 286 referrals, 202 (71 percent) were for disrespect, disruption, insubordination and language. Further, 91 percent of the referrals came from CRP staffers. While not a concrete determiner, the number provides strong indication that the vast majority of incidents happen in the CRP wing and not in the general education population. It also indicates staff holds students to high behavioral standards.
We are proud of all of our special-education programs, including the Chesapeake Regional Program. Space does not permit the detailing of success stories, but there are many. Nothing is more satisfying to our administrators and teachers than to be able to help a student succeed to the point that he or she can be placed in a home school setting and achieve academic success.
Special education programs bring with them a unique set of challenges. We work hard at addressing those challenges, and we are blessed with a dedicated group of parents who partner with us for the success of their children.
We welcome the partnership of those outside the special-education program as well to help move our school system forward for all our children.
The writer is director of special education for Anne Arundel County public schools.