Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano answers questions during a special education town hall at Wilde Lake Middle School on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019.
Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano answers questions during a special education town hall at Wilde Lake Middle School on Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (Jess Nocera/Baltimore Sun Media)

For Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, “Every child matters in our school system.”

Martirano participated in a town hall forum with the Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday night at Wilde Lake Middle School. Under law, the committee advises Howard schools on the needs of students with disabilities.

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Of the Howard County Public School System’s nearly 57,400 students, 5,300 receive special education services, between 200 and 300 receive early intervention, and approximately 240 are placed in non-public schools, according to Martirano.

Committee members submitted questions ahead of Monday’s forum, covering topics including the current budget, the ongoing redistricting process, staffing, increasing special education graduation rates, compliance with federally mandated special education laws, dyslexia and the Ready To Read Act.

In the 2019 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Ready to Read Act that requires pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first graders to be screened annually for their reading ability.

One question from the committee about the Ready to Read Act was how are older students and new students to the county screened for dyslexia. While he did not address the question directly, Martirano did discuss the school system’s work with dyslexia at length.

“I’m greatly concerned that, one, there’s still debate that still goes on regarding dyslexia and how we actually identify and name that in the developmental process of our children,” he said.

The school system is currently in the process of selecting a universal screener with its dyslexia work group. At this point the school system doesn’t screen for dyslexia.

Another question touched upon including special education students in the school system’s higher level courses: “Why is there a lack of support of children on IEPs [Individualized Educational Plan] who wish to be in GT [Gifted and Talented], Honors and AP [Advanced Placement] classes?”

Bill Barnes, the school system’s chief academic officer, said, “All parents have the ability and the right to have their child be in a GT program, with or without a disability.”

When assisting students with learning difficulties and disabilities, there is still room for more staff training, Martirano said.

“We need to do a better job at training all of our staff, our general educators, our special educator, our paraeducators around the delivery of what needs to be in place for our students,” he said.

Martirano added that Howard substitute teachers should receive training as well.

Barnes also said the school system would like to engage the special education committee earlier in the annual budget season to discuss why certain things are requested. He would like to see these meetings happen before the budget public hearings and Board of Education work sessions.

This story has been updated. The number of children sourced out to non-public schools was incorrect in an earlier version of this article due to incorrect information provided by the Howard County Public School System.

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