Monday, December 21, 2009

Resistance Grows Against Plan to Displace Preschoolers

As new details surface, parents and disability advocates are increasingly concerned and angry about a plan to displace preschoolers who require early intervention services in Montgomery County, Md. (See story and video below, about the county's plan to replace a proven preschool program with a hastily planned public program that would put 3-year-olds in large elementary schools that are not equipped to meet their special needs.)

Part of these parents' frustration stems from the fact that they were not consulted about this radical change, nor were the administrators, teachers, and therapists who have successfully partnered with the county to provide these services for decades. The county proposes introducing a public program in February 2010, despite the fact that teachers have not been hired, no training program is in place, and there is no evidence that the quality of instruction will be better than the Montgomery County Primary Achievement Center, a program that many parents and advocates consider a model of early intervention and family support.

In fact, based on recent experience, there is reason to believe services (and children) will suffer tremendously. Earlier this year, Montgomery County was criticized after phasing out segregated classrooms for students with learning disabilities. This was reported in the Examiner -- "Special Ed Integration Fails Expectations" -- and even received national coverage when Disability Scoop reported on it, with the headline "Students Failing Despite Inclusion, Report Says." One disturbing finding was that only 50 percent of teachers attended a mandatory training to support the move toward inclusion. (If the requirement to attend is not enforced, can you really call it "mandatory"? And do parents want their children taught by teachers who have been forced to attend one training class, or by teachers who have devoted their lives to serving children, like theirs, who need specialized intervention?)

During the time this damning report came out, Kay Romero, president of the county’s PTA, said, "Our most complex students should have an educational path that is tailored to their needs, and not tailored to fit a square peg in a round hole." Also at the time, board member Laura Berthiaume acknowledged that "What was the hope hasn’t materialized in terms of the teaching and the results that the transition was premised on." Can you imagine hearing that statement if your child was one who received inferior "teaching and results" because the county "hoped" for but did not deliver adequate services? Can the children and families of Montgomery County afford another untested, unproven experiment that does not put children's needs first?

Let's check the record. MPAC has a 50-year track record of successfully meeting the needs of preschoolers with learning disabilities, often preparing them for higher levels of placement and achievement in the public school system. And Montgomery County's most recent move away from proven programs led to worse results, not better.

Board of Education members, are you paying attention? If you are committed to the well-being of our children who need early intervention, support proven programs. When you hold hearings next month, listen carefully to what parents and child development specialists have to say. If Montgomery County wants to be a national leader in special education and early intervention -- and it can be -- it must support successful programs like MPAC that are up and running.

Please email the Board of Education at boe@mcpsmd.org and tell them what you think.
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