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Ruxton Center considered for elementary school


The Baltimore County school system is looking at The Ruxton Center, a special education school on North Charles Street, as another solution to its space problems.

A plan is circulating to return the center to its former elementary school status -- perhaps a magnet -- in September 1996 and to move the special education program. That might be to Ruxton's other half, nearby Ridge School on Joppa Road, if it can accommodate the 70 students at Ruxton. No changes will be made for the 1995-96 school year.

Ridge and Ruxton operate as one school with two campuses, but one principal and PTA. Both sites are below capacity, even for special education centers, which have smaller capacities than elementary schools.

The students, aged 3 to 21, are intellectually limited and many have physical disabilities, said Ruxton/Ridge Principal Paul Fox. The younger children are housed at Ridge. Students 13 and up attend Ruxton.

Meanwhile, many other central area elementaries are over capacity, as the system continues to grow by more than 3,000 students a year.

"The school system is very much in need of elementary seating and we need to take [Ridge] back," said Barbara Kelly, central area superintendent, who was among school system officials who met with the school's PTA executive board last week.

Superintendent Stuart Berger asked the PTA board for "recommendations on how the Ridge/Ruxton needs could best be met," Dr. Kelly said.

PTA President Walt Wankowski addressed the issue in a recent special edition of the PTA newsletter.

"Our number one option . . . is the consolidation of all of our students onto the Ridge campus," Mr. Wankowski wrote.

He told parents -- in capital letters -- that none of the options "involves inclusion, mainstreaming or outreach programs," which the school system has advocated for many students with disabilities. "The goal is to find a suitable location to which to move our Ruxton students, programs and staff, intact, for 1996-97 and beyond," he wrote.

Mr. Fox said the initial reaction to a change has been positive, with parents and teachers hopeful that the two campuses and student bodies easily can be united. The newsletter offered no opinion on the move, except to say that "as taxpayers, we must all accept the fact that the building is greatly under-utilized."

Ridge School, a 19th-century mansion once owned by the Abell family and donated to the county for a special education center, is not completely accessible to students in wheelchairs, and the accessible areas are full, Mr. Wankowski said. The PTA will investigate moving some students and modifying the building. There seems to be enough space for the expected enrollment, he added.

In fall 1993, the school system moved to "inclusion," transferring hundreds of its disabled students out of the five special education centers and into neighborhood schools, to the dismay of many parents and educators. At that time, the combined enrollment of Ridge/Ruxton dropped by about 50 to about 180.

About 160 students now are on the two campuses, which have a special education capacity of 315, according to school system records.

Ruxton Elementary School was built in 1962 with a capacity of about 300 students.

In 1979, with an enrollment of about 265, it was "converted from an elementary school to a special education annex of the Ridge School," said James Kraft, school system planning manager. The students were moved to Riderwood Elementary.

Dr. Kelly said the superintendent said he could see a reborn Ruxton Elementary as a magnet school.

In budget discussions last week, some school board members questioned the need for more magnets. The board will discuss the possibility of a one-year moratorium on future magnets at its next meeting.

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