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New Muncie program offers option for students with special needs


Fewer children will have to be sent outside the Carroll County public school system for special education now that the schools have begun a new program in the Muncie Center at Springfield Hospital Center.

In most cases, the students will attend classes closer to home.

And, the county school system will save thousands of dollars that otherwise would pay private school tuitions for them, said Harry Fogle, director of special education.

Most of the 15 to 25 students who will be in the program have emotional problems that affect their ability to learn despite their high IQs, Mr. Fogle said.

"These are very bright students who are just not able to make it in the mainstream of life," Mr. Fogle said. "We hope we are able to help them improve . . . then move back into the regular program some place."

The students have not been assigned yet because the process for deciding special placement is still going on, he said.

But parents of these students at least know by now that the center is one possibility for their children. Those who will be in the center previously would have gone to other schools, some out of state, or to the Muncie Center when it was operated by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Board of Education voted Wednesday to lease 6,600 squarefeet of the Muncie Center for $14,784 a year. The state hospital is leasing the space for only the cost of maintenance, said Vernon Smith, director of Carroll County school support services.

Until this year, the state had operated and paid for the program at the Muncie Center, which included about 10 Carroll County students and others from Central Maryland.

When the state cut the program from its budget in March, the students' local school districts became responsible for paying their education costs, Mr. Fogle said.

Carroll schools decided to develop a program at Muncie for its students there and others who might have been sent to other private schools, Mr. Fogle said.

The staff will include three full-time teachers, two instructional assistants, a crisis-intervention counselor, a school psychologist and an acting assistant principal, who also will teach. The latter two have not yet been hired.

Mr. Fogle said the program will not be a residential one.

The county's tuition savings comes at a time when the state has left counties to pay a larger share of the cost of private schooling.

Such special schools are used when the public schools with their own staff and programs are unable to meet the unique demands of special education students. Tuition can run as high as $135,000, Mr. Fogle said. But the average cost for the students Carroll has sent to private schools has run about $47,000 per child, he said.

In the past, Carroll County's share of that would have been limited to about $11,000, with the state paying additional costs. But this year the state has increased the share from counties, so Carroll would have to pay an average of about $20,000 per child, Mr. Fogle said.

Last year, the system sent 52 special-needs students to private schools, some of which are residential. Of the 52, 12 went out of state, Mr. Fogle said.

This year, he said, about 32 will go to the private schools. But the number won't be firm until Aug. 31, when teachers, counselors and psychologists finish evaluating students and decide with their parents where the children would receive the best education and care.

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