Throughout the debate on a proposed addition to the Ridge Ruxton School to relieve overcrowding at Towson-area elementary schools, parents of special-needs children at Ridge Ruxton and the school staff have taken a relatively quiet stand. Many of our opinions have gone unheeded until recently and now need to be aired.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and the Planning Commission have made this 400-seat addition a priority even though there is heavy opposition from both the Ridge Ruxton and Towson families. But there is one basic problem with this idea - it is illegal.
Under the federally mandated Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the school system must provide a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for every child. All 127 children at Ridge Ruxton have an individual education plan (IEP), and each one says that these children are to be educated in a separate public day school. The IEP is a legally binding document that will be upheld in court.
If the school board and Mr. Smith intend to further pursue the 400-seat addition at Ridge Ruxton, they will be breaking the law. The county and state also stand to lose federal funds if they violate the disability law.
And it should be emphasized that the law does not prohibit separate public day schools. Nowhere in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act is inclusion defined or mentioned.
Parents do not want to make this into a debate about the pros and cons of inclusion. This is done at the team meetings where a child's IEP is developed by the people who know him or her best. The team includes parents, teachers, administrators, psychologists, social workers, health staff and therapists.
We are not trying to take away the rights of special-ed students who are included in regular school, and we ask for the same consideration for our children's rights to attend their school.
The IEP team by law determines the least restrictive environment for each child, including appropriate services, location and building - not the county executive, school board or politicians.
These teams have determined that a separate public day school is where all 127 students at Ridge Ruxton should be educated.