School system shortchanges special educationI was wondering...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

School system shortchanges special education

I was wondering if the Howard County public school system has ever considered using untrained and unqualified personnel acquired through a temporary agency to educate the students of Howard County.

In times of growing budgets, this would be a great way to hold down costs: no health benefits to pay, no paid leave or holidays, no training, no retirement plan. The education of students may suffer somewhat but at least the school system would save money.

Additionally, the department could get around the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the education associations.

A temporary agency, not the Department of Education, would be responsible for investigating backgrounds of staff, and assuring that they are trained and knowledgeable in their areas of expertise, another cost savings for the system. Additional resources could be saved if all students were segregated based on a common physical trait or level of learning.

Perhaps you think that these ideas are absurd, but this is already being done -- in special education.

Students who receive special education services and who require 1-on-1 assistance are provided with a so-called "temporary helper" from an agency outside the school system.

These helpers don't receive benefits or paid leave for holidays or snow days. They make less than other instructional assistants with whom they work side by side. The system doesn't have to worry about collective bargaining for these people.

"Temporary" is an appropriate term for these workers. Most don't stay very long.

Of course, the school system would never use underqualified or untrained staff to educate all children of Howard County.

There would be a huge outcry if the Board of Education proposed to hire temps to educate students or to segregate kids based on physical traits. After all, most taxpayers believe it is worth spending the money needed to provide exceptional education.

Compared to other counties and states, special education services in Howard are way above average, but not exceptional.

It is time that the same commitment to excellence is applied to all.

Daniel Dotson

Columbia

Solution to athletic hazing is easy: Stop it

I am writing in response to the recent articles regarding the injuries received by two students as a result of hazing at Centennial High School.

In the Howard County Times on Sept. 16, Don Disney, Howard County public schools' athletic director, said that parents must speak out about this behavior. A headline in The Sun Sept. 17 said, "Solution to hazing is elusive." Wrong. The solution is easy: Throw the bums out.

Suspend these athletes from the team for the entire season and there will be no more hazing. It seems like such a no-brainer.

Playing high school sports is a privilege. If a student cannot abide by the rules, they should not be allowed to finish the season. The students at Centennial received the minimum punishment. What kind of lesson does that teach?

Hazing is not a rite of passage. It is physical and/or emotional assault. These are the seeds of Littleton, Colorado and Paducah, Kentucky.

The Howard County Public School System has been bending over in its approach to discipline for the 10 years I've been involved in the PTA.

When will it finally stand up and make a statement that really counts?

Cathi Higgins

Ellicott City

Horse Center report was a distortion

My wife and I were out of town when the articles by Erika Niedowski concerning the Columbia Horse Center were written so I am belatedly responding to them.

Our family was involved at the Horse Center from 1982 until 1997. Our daughter began taking lessons there at age 11 after we had looked for a riding facility all over Montgomery and Howard counties and decided that Columbia's was the best. We eventually moved to Columbia from Silver Spring primarily because of the Horse Center. I cannot say enough about what the Horse Center did for our daughter in terms of teaching her about responsibility and giving her a strong work ethic.

My wife was employed at the Horse Center from 1986, when the Columbia Association still operated it, through the leases of Russ Walther and Allan Gohrband until her resignation in August 1995. When Mr. Gohrband decided to go out of business later in 1995, my wife and I attempted to acquire the lease of the Horse Center, as we believed that the business could be profitable.

The tone of the articles by Ms. Niedowski left me sputtering, especially the first one dragging up all the old history. Our family was there during those times and we know that there are two sides to every story, a point that Ms. Niedowski fails to comprehend. Thank goodness, Padraic M. Kennedy felt the need to promote a facility which provided a clean, wholesome activity not only for his children but also for the thousands of others who have benefited from this program over the years.

We certainly hope that a way can be found to keep the Columbia Horse Center operating.

Neal Primm

Columbia

Race is not the issue in school choice - - or is it?

In response to the article, "Columbia parents vote with their bus," Sept. 14, about the open enrollees, I am struck with feelings of both anger and frustration.

While I was not actually misquoted, I felt that my statements and my husband's were put in the context of an article with implicit racist changes. The constant referencing to the large minority population at Wilde Lake Middle and the largely "white" profile of the school we chose to open enroll to, while true, merely detracts from the real issue.

A large migration from one school to another is a symptom of a very serious social problem, not necessarily the problem itself.

Once again, no mention is made or effort to address the actual problem of the inequality of schools throughout the system. It is very easy to point a finger at the "affluent" parents who act upon the freedom to choose the best education for their children, implying that they are to blame for the poor quality of the schools they are leaving behind.

I moved to Columbia for the diversity and for the excellent Howard County school system.

I was led to believe that one could find both here.

What I found instead was an example of what Jonathan Kozol refers to as "savage inequalities," where the schools with the lowest per-capita income families are the ones which have the worst facilities, the poorest technology, the worst crowding and naturally the lowest test scores.

Columbia was intended to be a model city but, sadly, it is no different from any other in the country when it comes to the discriminatory way we educate.

I would love to send my child to the closest school and avoid all the hassles and torment we have been through this year.

However, I also want my child to have the best education he can. I live close to the heart of the city, not in the outer reaches, and I would like to stay here.

Open-enrollment provided our family with a solution to our immediate problem, other than moving or choosing private school. We are grateful for the freedom to make this choice.

For years, the problems at Wilde Lake have gone unsolved. Only with the magnifying glass of public scrutiny brought about by the furor over this large group leaving the school did any significant changes start to happen. Time will tell if the changes are effective or enough.

I hope that the county sticks by this school and all the others in sore need of attention and brings them up quickly to the high standards of the newer schools. If anything, a school with a high need population should have better resources and smaller classes.

Fix our schools. If that ever occurs and all schools are equivalent, then open enrollment will go back to the option occasionally chosen to move kids near their work or baby-sitter.

Until then, open enrollment serves as a useful safeguard in the system. If people are fleeing a school, be they affluent or otherwise, let us look at the reason even if there are not any easy answers.

Patti Drazin

Columbia

As an African-American parent living in the village of Harper's Choice, where all three of my children attended neighborhood schools (Longfellow Elementary, Harper's Choice Middle and Centennial High), I am miffed by the situation that was reported in The Sun ("Columbia parents vote with their bus," Sept. 14).

The action taken by these parents, as reported in the story, is very disheartening.

Jim Rouse's dream of fostering a color-blind, inclusive community was based on all of the things that these parents are attempting to avoid (diversity and a mixed socio-economic environment).

The aforementioned schools, which my children attended (similar to Wilde Lake Middle), did not hinder their abilities to learn and to perform all of the educational skills so essential for them to achieve their ambitious goals; two are engineers and one is a physician.

I only hope that what was reported is not a reflection of things to come in Columbia.

Nesbitt Brown

Columbia

My wife, 2-year-old son and I will be moving into the Atholton Manor area of Columbia this month. Though not a Columbia Association community, Atholton Manor is presently zoned for Clemens Crossing Elementary, Wilde Lake Middle and Atholton High schools.

Before we even offered a contract on the house, and before the recent Lime Kiln controversy, we planned to send our son to a middle school other than Wilde Lake based on Maryland School Performance Assessment Program scores.

After reading articles and letters condemning parents for wanting to give their children the best education they could afford, I'm curious:

Although our future home was built 40 years ago, before James Rouse's "utopia" was created and before I was even born, does this mean my son must attend Howard Community College for two years before attending the University of Maryland? Or can we dream of sending him to an out-of-state Ivy League school without being labeled a racist or a hypocrite?

Tim Kasler

Hanover

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