Shame on the small group of Hampstead residents for their intemperate, ill-informed and intolerant opposition to locating a special education program at the old Hampstead Elementary School. They have behaved as if these students were hardened criminals who would rampage through their neighborhood, when, in reality, these are merely teen-agers who are having difficulty learning.
The approximately 30 children in the Behavioral Education Support Team (BEST) program were formerly taught at Springfield Hospital Center as part of a state-run education program. As a result of state budget cuts and changes in state law, the Carroll County school system has taken over the responsibility of teaching them.
Rather than lease space at considerable cost, which it did last year, the school system appropriately decided to take advantage of unused space at the Hampstead school and save Carroll County taxpayers about $60,000 a year. Using this particular school was not an expression of arrogance but rather an instance of public officials using common sense.
The students involved in this program are struggling with severe learning and emotional problems. They are not criminals. Some of them are highly intelligent but are deeply depressed. Others have attention deficit disorders or other conditions that can interfere with school work. Otherwise, they are normal kids. Several of them live in Hampstead.
These children will be closely supervised while at school. The ratio of students to teachers and staffers is three to one. This intensive instruction helps these children get the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.
School officials point to a number of triumphs: a severely depressed youngster who discovered an interest in computers and is now enrolled in college, and several children who returned to their home high schools and now need much less supervision. Not all of the BEST program's participants will succeed, but they each deserve the chance and they should not be stigmatized.
For developing the BEST program, the school system deserves a pat on the back instead of brickbats.
We hope that the residents who are so opposed to this program will take the time to meet some of the teachers and students. Once they do, they will discover that these kids pose no more threat to Hampstead's peace and tranquillity than any student at North Carroll High School.