Thursday, January 28, 2010

Politics vs. Progress: Will Board Rubber-Stamp Plan Threatening Special-Needs Preschoolers?

On Feb. 9, the Board of Education in Montgomery County, Md., will either 1) support proven educational programs for preschoolers with special needs or 2) give in to political pressure at these children's expense. One parent has submitted this compelling case to the Board. Will they listen?

Why You Should Vote NO on the Proposal to Realign Non-Public Preschool Tuition (P. 20 of budget proposal)

It will not improve LRE. The children currently placed at MPAC already have interaction with typically developing same age peers. Three of the newly-proposed Pre-K community-based classrooms do not have access to same age peers at all. The other three have access to same age peers who are at risk and may not be able to model age level skills.

It will undermine FAPE. In determining the least restrictive environment for an individual child, you must consider FAPE, which means children must receive services that are both developmentally sound and based on the individual needs of each child. Most young children with significant cognitive disabilities require intense, holistic, early-intervention in order to improve their outcomes. Placing these children in an unproven, public, pre-K program in an elementary school is not developmentally sound. Moreover, the proposed program is less intense and less holistic than the services MPAC currently provides. Unless MPAC is preserved as an option, the proposed initiative fails to consider the individual needs of each child.

Existing programs can address the needs. If the goal is to serve children with significant cognitive disabilities closer to home, MCPS should use work to make the existing PEP classes appropriate for more of these children. Any child for whom PEP is not appropriate should still have the opportunity to go to MPAC.

It will eliminate MPAC. The practical reality is that if MCPS realigns funding to create new, public, pre-K special education programs and stops funding placements at MPAC, MPAC will not be able to remain in operation. It will cease to exist – thus eliminating for certain children with severe cognitive disabilities an existing and proven educational option that meets their individual needs.

MPAC’s closure is not a “what if” scenario. Last year, MCPS unilaterally terminated its Collaborative Autism Pre-school Program (“CAPP”) with MPAC. Instead, it placed all eligible pre-K children with autism in MCPS’ public CAPP programs – many of which opened with instructors who had no prior experience teaching children with autism. Without students, MPAC had to shut down its CAPP program. There currently is no option available for children with autism ages 3-5 whose severity of needs requires the intensity of the CAPP program MPAC previously provided. If MCPS’ goal was to serve more pre-K children with autism by steering all eligible children into the public CAPP program, that goal was met. Sadly, however, it was achieved at the expense of certain autistic children who, because of severity of their needs, should have been placed in a CAPP program at MPAC.

Federal special education law requires MPAC to provide a continuum of alternative placements. When MCPS eliminates programs like MPAC, CAPP at MPAC, and the learning centers, it eliminates settings that some of its children need to make educational progress. Vote NO on the proposal to Realign Non-Public Preschool Tuition.

There's still time to express your opinion -- email BOE@mcpsmd.org and urge them to oppose this risky proposal.
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