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Enrollment at special education schools is nearly halved by 'inclusion'


The Baltimore County schools cut enrollment at special education schools almost in half through the controversial "inclusion" program begun late last year.

There are 709 children with the most serious disabilities -- called "level 5" -- in the county's five special education centers this school year, according to preliminary data presented to the school board. Last year, those schools had 1,371 students.

The Chatsworth School in the Reisterstown area lost about 80 percent of its students. Enrollment there went from 261 students during the 1992-1993 school year to about 50 students this year.

Special education administrators presented their first report on the transfer of special education students to neighborhood schools at last night's regular board meeting.

Although board members said they were impressed with the statistics and the picture of inclusion presented to them, several members questioned the director of special education, Marjorie Rofel, about students who may be improperly placed in the program.

"What's being done in terms of looking at individual kids?" asked Sanford V. Teplitzky, one of the board's newest members.

Ms. Rofel assured him that she has heard about only a handful of children who are not doing well and that those situations are being handled.

Ms. Rofel said that special education personnel are working closely with families and teachers to improve the placement process.

Although the transfers and the surrounding controversy are now lumped under the educational buzzword, "inclusion," Ms. Rofel said that "we're talking about a handful of students who are fully included" in classrooms with nondisabled students.

Most children in neighborhood schools remain in special education classes. Some attend classes with nondisabled students, some do not.

The school system opened 47 new programs this school year to accommodate the students transferred out of special centers. Those programs are spread across the county and accommodate youngsters ranging in age from preschool through high school.

According to current statistics, the county's 95 elementary schools have 609 "level 5" students, compared with 293 students last year. Middle schools have 217 of these students, while high schools have 170, compared with 152 and 86, respectively, last year.

In addition to the 1,837 "level 5" students, 9,000 other students have lesser disabilities. Most are, and traditionally have been, in classes with nondisabled students.

Though 85 students who were in special education centers last year left the county schools over the summer, the number of special education students increased by 175. Here are the enrollment figures for the other special education schools:

* White Oak: 211 students this year; 330 students last year.

* Battle Monument: 144 this year; 195 last year.

* Rolling Road: 140 this year; 205 last year.

* Ridge and Ruxton Center: 179 this year; 232 last year.

Although federal laws say that disabled youngsters should be educated, whenever possible, with their nondisabled peers, the county's plans to move the students infuriated parents and teachers, who said that the changes were made for the good of the schools rather than the good of the children.

Two new board members were sworn in before the board met in executive session. Mr. Teplitzky, who chaired the board's investigative task force last summer, replaces Hilda Hillman. Mary Katherine Scheeler replaces Ronald Stokely.

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