Honoring Rosewood's past by creating a better future for Maryland's intellectually and developmentally disabled

Our view: Stevenson University and the state need to provide the opportunities for the developmentally disabled that were denied to Rosewood residents

Stevenson University’s purchase for $1 of most of the former Rosewood Center campus in Owings Mills is without question a good deal for the state. We have spent millions on upkeep for the property during the decade since the institution closed. It’s a good deal for Stevenson, which has grown rapidly in recent years and needed land to expand, with no more logical place than this 117-acre parcel between its existing campuses. And it’s a good deal for Owings Mills. It promises to transform a community eyesore into a productive use, but one that won’t strain local resources in the way new residential or commercial development would.

But as yet, there is one group that isn’t getting much out of it: intellectually and developmentally disabled Marylanders, the group that was supposed to receive care at Rosewood but who were often treated with neglect or outright brutality during the century the institution operated. Although some Rosewood residents and their families opposed its closure in 2009, believing that it was providing good care, or at least better than Maryland was likely to provide in a community setting, most greeted that decision by the state as a long overdue step toward correcting a shameful legacy of injustice.

But we as a state and a society are still far from treating developmentally disabled people with the care and respect they deserve, and we provide far too few opportunities for them to reach their full potential to lead rewarding lives. Some advocates were disappointed at the nominal sales price. The proceeds of such transactions, by law, must go toward helping those on the state’s waiting list for home and community services, which, despite some recent funding increases in Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget, still stands at about 8,000 people.

Given the environmental contamination on the site, which includes asbestos, lead paint, underground fuel and chemical storage tanks and other toxins, $1 was probably generous, even with the state’s pledge of $16 million over three years to help cover the clean-up costs. But that shouldn’t be the end of the story.

Some of those who have been involved in the negotiations have offered the idea of a monument to the former residents or perhaps a small museum or library dedicated to ensuring we don’t forget the terrible mistakes the state made over the years in its treatment of the developmentally disabled. Stevenson officials have said they intend to make Rosewood’s past a focus of research and teaching in its public history program.

That’s all well and good, but the state and the university can and must do more to help provide today’s developmentally disabled Marylanders what Rosewood didn’t, which is an opportunity for advancement, independence and personal fulfillment.

When the Board of Public Works approved the agreement with Stevenson, the Arc of Maryland, an advocacy group for the state’s intellectually and developmentally disabled population, issued a call for concrete commitments from Stevenson and the state, and we urge all parties to move forward with good faith discussions about how they may be achieved. Among the Arc’s suggestions were for Stevenson to provide scholarships for intellectually and developmentally disabled students in conjunction with a new state program that does the same; adopt a curriculum to train more Stevenson graduates to work with the developmentally disabled population; and provide employment opportunities for them.

As for the state, advocates want to know more about the environmental toxins on the site, when the state found out about them and what steps (if any) it has taken to track and address their effects on former Rosewood residents. The Arc is still waiting on a response from the state to a Public Information Act request related to the toxins and the negotiations with Stevenson. The Hogan administration should respond with the utmost transparency.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who represents the area and has worked to advance the Rosewood sale to Stevenson for years, said in an interview that he supports the Arc’s goals and will work to see that they are realized. Stevenson has not made specific commitments, other than its promise to incorporate a study of Rosewood’s past into its curriculum. A university spokesman issued a statement saying the school’s immediate focus is on the clean-up of the property but leaving the door open to “discussions with the ARC and with other organizations that are interested in ways that the Rosewood property could offer benefits the community.”

We understand that rehabilitating Rosewood is a daunting task, but discussions about what Stevenson can do for this community should start now. Perhaps the university’s recently retired president, Kevin Manning, a well known and trusted figure in Baltimore, could lead the effort. The developmentally disabled community has waited far too long already for the kinds of opportunities the Arc is proposing.

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