From Hilary Jenkins-Spangler:
My husband attended a BOE meeting Monday evening in Bel Air. Dr Canavan was the first public speaker. She praised the administrators for taking ‘appropriate’ action regarding the abuse case at Hickory Elementary School. Dr. Canavan indicated that the problem was handled quickly and efficiently. Nancy Reynolds said “I want to thank Mrs. Canavan and the staff for looking at the problem and rectifying it.” When my husband spoke he said he had to disagree….also, that with a heavy heart we removed our son from the Autism Program at Red Pump Elementary School, because there was no educational benefit and after observing for 3 1/2 hours, we felt he was not safe. He told them that he has a master’s in Special Ed and Habilitative Science from a Clarion University in western PA from 30 years ago. In the mid-sevenites, he managed a mental health program for people with disabilities in Clarion, PA. There were children with autism who were non-verbal for whom he found placements in an autism program in Erie PA. The progress he saw with the programs and interventions were effective. Really, behind PA 30 years ago! How can Harford County remain so stuck in the last century? It’s truly pitiful. He said Harford County is THAT FAR BEHIND THE TIMES! At the end, he quoted one of the comments from my last letter ‘the Special Ed Department needs an enema!” (That was my favorite part.) He also said the only thing he could see that would make the HCPS special education department change would be a class-action lawsuit in Federal Court! (By the way, my husband is also an adjunct faculty member at Towson University who has taught a course on learning in the Psychology department while also working at the National Institute on Aging, NIH as a research psychologist).
The face of special needs has changed over the years. Intervention services are given to more general ed children with learning disabilities in reading (AKA – Dyslexia, which HC does not recognize!). In fact Dyslexia affects a lot of children, which is interesting because Red Pump only has one teacher for 700 students who is trained in Wilson – a reading intervention program. Ironically, my son, who is also dyslexic, cannot get a reading specialist because he is in the special ed program and the special ed teacher, (who is not trained in any reading intervention program) is his reading intervention teacher!
Many people have a stereo-typical image of autism – one that is severe. The Autism spectrum is just that – a spectrum, ranging from severely to mildly autistic. The high functioning kids are getting seriously short changed in this county. There are no decent programs for them. The Red Pump Regional Autism Program is not actually a Regional Autism Program, even though that’s what we were told at the IEP meeting – just one of the many ‘misunderstandings’. It’s a CSP classroom, which anyone in education knows, is a behavioral program. After talking to Dr Susan Austin this evening she told me it is an Autism Program, although I’m a little confused. If the plaque on the door says CSP, and has the same (CSP) teacher, teaching, is it really a CSP or for autism? I guess you can call it what you like…..Typically, the HF kids tend to be average to above average in their cognitive abilities, but often have sensory issues, language delays and communication difficulties. It’s critical that we give these children the supports they need to grow and be productive members of society. After all, many of them will becomeour inventors, scientists, computer whizzes and entertainers….. We should ensure they have the supports necessary, not just because it’s the right thing to do in an affluent, civilized society, but because it’s the smart thing to do. We need them, they are the Temple Grandins, Einsteins, Steve Jobs, Isaac Newtons and Dan Ackroyds of this world. We are short changing ourselves and society if we don’t give them the opportunity to put their many talents to use.
HCPS needs some humanity injected into their programs, instead of putting so many of their resources into denying our children their educational rights, they need to support them. We need stronger leadership and high quality programs that we can be proud of. I believe that the administrators believe they are doing a great job, but the problem is that they just reinforce one another’s reality.They seem to live in an insular and provincial world. What is their reference point for making such great progress and how is it measured? Compared to Howard county’s special ed, Harford County is a distant planet floating in the darkness of a century past. The demographics of Harford County has grown over the years, but there is so much resistance to change and movement forward. Half of our education budget comes from State and Federal money, and with it, the requirement that all children with disabilities are to be given a free and appropriate education. It’s not a suggestion – but a mandate.