A PLAN developed by a committee of administrators, teachers and parents to improve special education in Howard County merits praise. Budget constraints may limit how much of the three-year, $4.7 million initiative will win immediate funding, but nearly every proposal should eventually be implemented.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is asking for $3.3 million in next year's budget to kick off the program. Most of the money would go toward hiring teachers and other professionals who can meet the needs of disabled students. A third of the funds would be used to increase instruction time for students with autism.
Among the laudatory aspects of the plan is its recognition of the relationship between general education and special education. Too many children who don't get the help they need in regular classes are assigned to special education. There, they fall further behind their former classmates and rarely return to the general student population. This is a particular problem, the plan notes, among African-American students, who comprise 16 percent of the total pupil population but 21 percent of those assigned to special education classes.
Another progressive goal of the plan is to strengthen communication between the system and parents of children with special needs. Horror stories from parents who believe administrators have been insensitive to their concerns are too frequent. The plan proposes a full-time liaison with parents as well as an ombudsman.
Howard County's special education program has not been significantly changed in seven years. The catalyst for improvements are the 1997 amendments to the federal law that provides for the education of disabled children. Some things the county must do by law. Others it should do because they're right. The new special education strategic plan fits both categories.
Pub Date: 1/26/99