xml:space="preserve">

Kennedy Krieger will close a specialized education program it has been running in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties at the end of this school year, according to a letter sent to parents from the Anne Arundel County school system.

Through a partnership, Kennedy Krieger Institute integrates curriculum and additional support to eligible students at two high schools, Southern High School in Anne Arundel County and Central High School in Prince George’s County.

Advertisement

The Anne Arundel program, based at Southern High School, services county students with disabilities such as autism, speech/language disorders, learning disabilities and traumatic brain injury, according to Southern High’s website. The program also integrates students with general education classes.

But this year the programs will end due to funding and low enrollment, said Vice President of School Autism Services, Research and Professional Development Linda Myers.

“Unfortunately, changes to the state funding formula and several years of decreased enrollment have led to the difficult decision to close these programs,” Myers said in an email statement. “Parents of students in each of these programs have been notified. Kennedy Krieger will work closely with these school systems as appropriate placements are identified for these students.”

The Southern High program, only available to students who are residents of the county, currently enrolls 16 students. The program is based on a referral system from the school district.

Students who receive an Individualized Education Program, an outlined plan between parents and the schools to provide unique services or resources for children with disabilities, are eligible for the program. To receive special education services, students must go through an evaluation process that involves information such as parent input, observations and other “classroom-based assessments,” according to the school system’s website.

“It is our goal to continue to provide services for those students in the 2020-2021 school year in Anne Arundel County. We will work with families of those students further as part of the IEP process,” said school spokesman Bob Mosier.

As of this school year, the district supports 9,433 IEP plans.

Melissa Stanton, a parent of a student at the Southern High program, said that the referral process makes it challenging for students to enter the program.

“I know many parents whose children would thrive in this kind of program, but maybe because their child was only given a 504 plan or the family was not successful in battling the school system, they have no access to the program,” she said. A 504 plan is for students with a physical or mental disability but may be used to accommodate students who are not be eligible for an IEP.

Stanton said the institute has helped her daughter and others. At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Stanton spoke during public testimony to inform school board members that she received a letter from the school system stating that the program was coming to an end.

In a separate interview with The Capital, Stanton said that the school program offers a different experience from traditional special education.

“The great benefit is that kids are able to be within the program for the subject areas that they really need support in,” Stanton said. "Students can go into ‘the general population’ for subjects that they don’t need the additional intensive support. The school has managed the program very well, it is not labeled and it really blends.”

But after a meeting in December, the institute informed the school system that the services at Southern High will no longer be available after this school year, according to a letter dated Jan. 16. In the letter, the district has said that a transition process will begin for student participants.

The overall Public School Partnership Program uses “small class sizes, comprehensive and integrated related services, use of technology to advance student learning and case management and IEP coordination,” according to the institute’s website.

Advertisement

Officials in Prince George’s County Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment.

Stanton found out about the Southern High-based program only after stumbling upon a student who was attending it. She specifically asked about the program as an option when her daughter’s high school needs were discussed.

“The school system doesn’t publicize the nonpublic placement options. Parents who ask are told that decisions are based on each child when needed. Parents typically learn about potential options —the good ones and the bad — from one another,” she said.

The school program based at Anne Arundel is made up of four teachers, a teacher assistant, a consulting psychiatrist, a social worker and an education director, as was mentioned on Southern High’s faculty list. The staff are employed under Kennedy Krieger Institute and are encouraged to apply either with the school system or the institute, according to Myers’ statement.

The program is part of the ‘nonpublic placement,’ and the school district is “responsible for securing and supervising the special education programs of students with disabilities whose needs exceed the public school continuum,” according to the website. Throughout the nonpublic placement, Stanton said she had to fight the school system to have her daughter in a nonpublic placement.

“My family is lucky. My daughter is lucky that we were able to push and hire an advocate and fight for her needs. It takes time, it takes money and a doggedness that a lot of families just can’t invest,” she said.

Despite closing the high school programs, Kennedy Krieger will still continue to offer resources for students, said Myers in her statement.

“Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and Kennedy Krieger support the continuum of services and placement options for students with disabilities. Kennedy Krieger remains fully committed to partnering with all Local School Systems to support students with special needs.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement