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THE BALTIMORE SUN

Special education profoundly affects all Baltimoreans

What do Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clarence Page, actor Tom Cruise, singer Harry Belafonte, political consultant James Carville, Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson and the late photographer Richard Avedon have in common?

As adults they have all acknowledged the challenges and struggles of growing up with a learning disability.

Their achievements came to mind as I read U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis' assessment of the state of special education in Baltimore's public schools ("Judge decries cuts to schools," Dec. 18).

Kudos to Judge Garbis for acknowledging that city school budget cuts have an impact on all students, yet recognizing that they "most profoundly impact" children with learning disabilities.

However, based upon my own frustrating attempts to ensure that my son, who has been diagnosed with dyslexia, has access to mandated special education services in Baltimore's public schools, I sincerely believe the city's dysfunctional special education system has a profound impact upon every Baltimore resident.

Given that a significant number of the adults in Baltimore's criminal justice system suffered from undiagnosed or untreated learning disabilities as children, everyone who lives or works in the city should take a keen interest in Judge Garbis' findings.

A highly functional Office of Special Education, one that is staffed with well-trained educators and administrators, could be a very cost-effective way to prevent some of the city's most expensive, dangerous problems.

And who can put a price on the cost of human potential?

In our city, the next Dr. Carson or Mr. Page could either be preparing for a bright, productive future or be stuck in the quagmire of our special education system until he or she eventually drops out of school and drifts into socially unacceptable career choices.

Jayne Matthews

Baltimore

After-school arts also enrich education

The Sun's editorial "Assessing arts education" (Dec. 14) has it right: While children should be held to a high standard for performance in math and reading, they are not well-served when they are denied exposure to fine arts at school.

The benefits of an arts education are numerous and lasting. But when teachers are forced to teach only to prepare for certain mandatory tests, fine arts are put on the back burner, if not completely eliminated from the curriculum.

The Sun's editorial points out that one positive consequence of having standards for a fine arts curriculum would be that arts education would not be given short shrift.

That may be a good strategy, but in the meantime, after-school programs can provide a stimulating environment where children can express themselves creatively and participate in a variety of activities under adult supervision.

After-school programs cultivate children's minds, exercise their bodies and keep them safe while their parents may still be at work. However, they are seriously underfunded.

Considering all the benefits children reap personally and academically from instruction in the arts, it is clear that the public schools are letting children down by cutting back arts education.

But when fine arts are no longer a staple during the school day, some of the gaps can be filled after school -- if we fund these enriching programs.

Sarah Crane

Baltimore

Christian community an oasis of decency

Herbert London's great column "Reversing the decay" (Opinion

Commentary, Dec. 12) resonated deeply with me.

I particularly appreciated his term "oasis strategy" for dealing with the cultural decay that characterizes the times in which we live.

As a Christian, I dwell in one of these oases, and I commend the following to your readers' attention:

By and large, our community of Christians is light years removed from the depravities Mr. London outlines so well. Our marriages, with very few exceptions, are intact. Wedding vows are taken seriously.

Our children learn respect for parents, for the elderly, for property. We are not perfect in this respect, of course, but I cannot conceive of a young man in our congregation hurling obscenities at an adult, for example.

We are a truly interracial body -- we honestly welcome any who come through our doors.

We are a loving people, who genuinely share each others' joys and sorrows.

We earnestly try to reach the outside community with outreach programs requiring a real commitment of time and energy by many of us.

We are acutely aware of the chaos around us, and believe the Gospel of Christ is the only salvation of our country.

Grace L. Greenslit

Mount Airy

Jamaica is a leader in confronting AIDS

The Sun's editorial "Heads in the sand" (Dec. 5) alleges an anti-gay bias in Jamaica and suggests that this prejudice has contributed to an increase in new HIV infection rates on the island.

These characterizations could not be further from the truth.

Indeed, if this pervasive bias did exist, it would seem highly improbable that so many in the international community would continue to commend Jamaica for its work in treating and preventing HIV, in all affected groups, throughout the country.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as UNAIDS, have recognized the innovative approaches we have put in place to deal with this challenging pandemic.

The report that underpins The Sun's editorial obscures the dramatic gains Jamaica has made in confronting HIV, and its authors all but disregarded the successes we have had in helping those in need of treatment.

Jamaica's prevention programs, including its outreach to all sections of our population at risk, have been widely emulated over the years.

Six countries sent representatives to Jamaica to observe our program in 2003.

In 2004, we were happy to welcome health practitioners from eleven countries to Jamaica to learn from our experiences.

Based on our record of progress in providing treatment and prevention services to all sections of the Jamaican society, we remain puzzled at The Sun's suggestion that the government needs to "embark on a public information campaign to blunt perceptions that homophobia is state-sanctioned."

Our government has and will continue to ensure that discrimination against any citizen is aggressively dealt with under the law.

As the evidence clearly shows, the Jamaican government has been a leader in the Caribbean in combating AIDS among all at-risk populations, and we remain committed to redoubling our efforts in this regard.

Gordon Shirley

Washington

The writer is Jamaica's ambassador to the United States.

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