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Fears are groundless, residents told Special education program headed for Hampstead is explained, defended NORTH--Manchester * Hampstead * Lineboro


Neighbors have nothing to fear from a special education program moving into the old Hampstead Elementary School this fall, says Dr. Harry Fogle, supervisor of special education for the county.

He said Monday that he has not heard any complaints from the public since the county took over responsibility for the program in March 1992.

The Behavioral Education Support Team (BEST), a special education program for Carroll County students with learning disabilities and behavioral problems, will open in the old Hampstead Elementary after Labor Day.

At the Hampstead Town Council meeting July 19, several residents expressed fears that juvenile offenders would be housed in the building, causing headaches for local residents.

But Dr. Fogle said that BEST is not a residential program and that the courts do not place students in it. "These are students who live and play in the streets of our towns every day," he said.

BEST serves middle- and high-school students who meet two criteria, he said. They must have special academic needs that can be met only through small, structured classes, and they must be in need of counseling.

He said the behavioral problems BEST students exhibit include inattentiveness, inability to follow school rules and depression.

He said a student is referred to the program after a committee of teachers, counselors and the students' parents decides that BEST is the least restrictive program that can help the student achieve academic success.

"This is not an institution," he said. "This is not a residential program."

Dr. Fogle said the county plans to keep the number of students in the program at 25 to 30.

Each class will consist of about five students, a teacher and an assistant, he said. The staff will also include counselors and administrators, and there will be one adult for every two or three students.

The students will have a regular curriculum, including all the usual subjects, Dr. Fogle said. They will be provided standard materials, including Macintosh computers.

In addition to regular academic classes, he said, each student will receive individual or group counseling. Counseling will also be available for their parents, he said.

The students will be supervised by adults at all times, Dr. Fogle said. They will not drive to school, but will arrive and leave by bus. The buses will be met at the door by the school staff.

Federal law requires that the county have such a program to meet the needs of these students, Dr. Fogle said.

Until 1992, he said, eligible Carroll County students attended a program operated by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene at the Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville.

Carroll County assumed responsibility for its own students when funds for the state program were cut in March 1992, he said.

During the past year, he said, the county has rented space for BEST classes at Springfield, but BEST is moving out for several reasons.

The lease at Springfield is up, he said, and it will be much cheaper to renovate the empty space in Hampstead at a one-time cost of about $30,000 to $40,000 than to spend about $100,000 to rent classroom space for one year.

Also, he said, it will be good to move the program off the Springfield grounds. Housing the program there has caused "a very negative feeling," he said. "These students were at a state hospital and didn't need to be."

"I'd like to put some minds at ease," Hampstead Police Chief Kenneth Russell said at the July 19 Town Council meeting.

He said he had spoken with the police chief in Sykesville, who reported no complaints about BEST students.

Sykesville Police Chief Wallace P. Mitchell said yesterday: "We've experienced no problems out of it."

"On the surface, I don't have any objections to it," said Hampstead Mayor Clint Becker, who invited Dr. Fogle and Vernon Smith, director of school support services for the county, to speak at the July 19 meeting.

Mr. Becker said he had been concerned that the school board might later decide to locate other programs in Hampstead "that are less desirable than this one."

Mr. Smith said that he hopes putting BEST in Hampstead would be temporary. He said the Carroll County public school system would like to put BEST in a more central location, in Westminster, preferably near a high school.

At the July 19 meeting, Mr. Becker asked for and received an assurance from Mr. Smith that the school district will notify the town at an early stage if plans for the Hampstead building change.

"Rumors can be a nasty thing," Mr. Becker said. The rumors about BEST that upset some Hampstead residents "could have been stopped very easily," he said, if the school board had told the town about the plan earlier.

"The town line literally goes through the middle of the school," Mr. Becker said. Because the 1972 addition to the building -- the part that will house the special education program -- is outside the town limits, the school system was under no obligation to inform the town of its plans.

But, Mr. Becker said, the school board could have informed the town as a courtesy.

Dr. Fogle said there will be an open house at the school for Hampstead residents before students arrive in September. Another open house is planned later, to allow residents to meet the students.

Anyone with questions or concerns about BEST or who wants to volunteer to work with the BEST program may call Dr. Fogle at 848-8280, Ext. 3223.

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