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Parents Protest Plan to Close Special Education Centers

The proposed budget of School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast includes money to expand mainstream classroom education.
The proposed budget of School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast includes money to expand mainstream classroom education. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Jim and Kristin Link, for example, have already tried placing their daughter in a regular classroom with an aide assigned to help her; "she was horribly embarrassed by that," Jim Link recalled. "She knew why that aide was there, and the other students knew why that aide was there. It was a mortifying situation for her."

Katrina moved from school to school and eventually landed at Tilden, where she has thrived.

"She is in the program she is in for a very, very important reason," Jim Link said. "We've done the inclusion route, and it didn't work for her."

Officials say the closure of the centers is tied to a broader move to stress academic gains and mainstreaming. A pilot program called hours-based staffing will be expanded from two middle schools to 12 under the $1.98 billion budget plan released last month by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. It awaits review by the County Council.

Under current practice, most schools assign special education teachers and aides using a per-student ratio. Under the hours-based approach, teachers and aides are assigned according to the student's individual education program, or IEP, a document that follows every special education student through his or her academic career. Each plan specifies how many hours of special education that student should receive.

Hours-based staffing will greatly increase the special education staff at most schools, officials said. The resulting $3.4 million price tag for the pilot includes $2 million taken from other programs, including the centers.

That fact is not lost on parents at the centers, who feel that Weast is effectively shifting money from one group of students to another.

Officials vow that the students displaced from the centers will receive all the special instruction they require at their home schools: "Whatever the IEP says that they need, that will be provided to these children," Wright said.

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