Whiteford council members debate services for special needs students in Harford

The methods the public school systems use to serve students with special needs became the subject of debate among members of the Whiteford, Cardiff, Pylesville, Street Community Council Thursday, Nov.21, during their regular meeting at the Highland Senior Center.

Harford County Public Schools officials, who have sought public input as they develop their budget for the 2015 fiscal year, have mentioned the rising cost of educating special needs students.

It cost an average of $23,951 per student to educate special-needs students during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, compared to $9,699 per general-education student, according to a pamphlet produced by the school system and distributed during public input sessions this fall.

"Special education is a costly part of any school system," community council member Patti Hankins said.

Hankins said federal laws require school systems to provide a "free appropriate public education" to students with disabilities "in the least restrictive environment."

That means many students with special needs are placed in general education classrooms. Students can also receive services at the John Archer School, but it is designed for students with the most severe needs.

Hankins noted a team of school administrators, teachers, specialists and parents meets to develop an Individual Education Plans for each special needs child.

"It's individually decided which program is appropriate for the child," she said.

Council Chairman Doug Howard objected to placing special-needs children who disrupt class in general education classrooms, citing an example of a second-grader whom Howard said used foul language and "just screamed and yelled, and you can't discipline because he has a problem."

Howard recalled that when he was in school that "if you didn't behave you were corrected."

Hankins, and audience member Sue Dillport, stressed adults should be held responsible for the behavior of the child.

Hankins stressed federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, require children with special needs to be educated "in the least restrictive" setting.

She told Howard he should address his concerns with the law to Congress.

Report suspicious activity

Harford County sheriff's deputies continue to stress during community council meetings the need for residents to call and report anything or anyone seeming out of place.

Thursday's meeting at the Highland Senior Center was no exception as Lt. Richard Miller of the Northern Precinct presented crime and incident statistics for the Whiteford, Pylesville, Cardiff and Street areas.

Miller said the top three calls for service in part of the northern Harford coverage during October included 26 alarms, 19 suspicious incidents and 13 motor vehicle accidents.

The top three calls in the second northern Harford service included 23 suspicious incidents, 17 alarms and 11 burglaries.

Hankins and Dillport said they had seen suspicious people walking along major roads in their community.

Dillport said it was strange to see anyone walking along Route 136, a country road with no sidewalks.

"Nobody walks on 136," she said. "This is all farmland with dotted houses."

Miller encouraged people to call police when they see anything out of the ordinary.

"It's always wise to be aware of your surroundings and who is out there," he said.

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