Thursday, December 24, 2009

Superintendent Weast Responds about Plan to Displace Preschoolers with Special Needs

When I wrote to Superintendent Jerry Weast to express my concerns about his plan to displace preschoolers with special needs, I told him I would be happy to share his views if he would answer my questions. While he did not respond to me, I did receive this letter that he wrote to the Board of Education on Dec. 18. Here it is, in its entirety without editing or commentary. (I will post my response soon).

Office of the Superintendent of Schools
Rockville, Maryland

December 18, 2009

Members of the Board of Education Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of Schools

Expanding Public Prekindergarten Options for Special Education Students

In my Fiscal Year 2011 Recommended Operating Budget, I have proposed that we increase our district’s capacity to deliver pre-school special education services to our students while spending no additional dollars. The proposal calls for six locations to open in school buildings around the county that will serve a total of up to 36 students. We plan to begin the program, which will serve 3-and 4-year-olds who have demonstrated significant developmental delays, at one school in February so that families can see the program in action. The six locations will be in the schools where we currently have School/Community-based programs for students with significant disabilities and will undoubtedly be closer to home for many families who will need to access these services.

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has not had a public program to serve these students previously. Many of these students attended the Montgomery County Achievement Center (MPAC), a nonpublic school under the auspices of the Arc of Montgomery County. MPAC has been−and remains−a valued partner with MCPS and we believe that program has served our children well. However, we also believe that our families should have a public opportunity for placement of their young children with significant developmental delays. This recommendation is budget-neutral for the next fiscal year because it assumes the same cost per student regardless of whether students are served in MCPS or through MPAC. Ultimately, we believe a public option for these students may be more cost-effective, but that was not a deciding factor in making this educational decision.

Understandably, MPAC is concerned about the prospect that there could be fewer referrals to their program and they have engaged their stakeholders in an effort to aggressively advocate against the creation of a public option for our families. I certainly appreciate their perspective and understand that they believe their program may not be viable without continued referrals from MCPS. Having said that, I believe it is in the best interest of our families to provide them with more choices to access our high-quality programs in schools that are closer to their homes.

MPAC operates programs at two sites − in Gaithersburg and Silver Spring−while our proposed six sites would be dispersed across the county at Glen Haven, Wayside, Sherwood, Cashell, Germantown, and Luxmanor elementary schools. Families taking advantage of the public option would have access to the wealth of special education services that we already provide in our elementary schools. These classes, which will have a maximum of six students each, will be part of the MCPS Preschool Education Program, a well-established, high-quality program. In addition, our program will offer the opportunity for students to interact with their non-disabled peers, which is not an option through MPAC.

As you know, a student’s placement into one of our programs or a program like MPAC is determined through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. We will continue to work closely with our families at every step of the process to determine the most appropriate placement for their children. Thus, it is premature for MPAC to conclude that they would receive no referrals from MCPS to their program. It is important to note that we continue to see increases in the numbers of preschool students with special needs. We will continue to work with MPAC and other community partners to provide high-quality services to our students with special needs.

We are excited about this new option for our families and invite you to visit one of our pre- school special education programs in action. Questions about these plans may be referred to Ms. Chrisandra Richardson, acting associate superintendent for special education and student services, at 301-279-3604. I will continue to keep you informed.


Copy to: Executive Staff
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