Judith Ederer is 12 years old. She has a dazzling smile for every friend, stranger, and relative who catches her eye. But Judith does not talk. She cannot use the toilet by herself. When her mother takes her to the suprmarket, Judith, retarded since birth, shoves everyone she sees.
Fred and Hilda Ederer are Judith's parents. For two years they have sent Judith to a state-operated facility in Maryland for the mentally handicapped and seen no progress. Ten months ago they reached a decision: Judith should be permitted to attend a public school along with normal children in their home county of Montgomery.
Wednesday night the Ederers, parents of two other retarded children, took their battle to the Montgomery County School Board in an effort to persuade board members that Judith should be admitted to ordinary public schools. School Supt Charles Bernardo had rejected their first appeal in March.
The Ederers know the problems and the arguments against such a move. "Like the nasty comments (she would get) from the other children (in the school). Being called a 'retard'. That's just a phase we will have to go through" if she were admitted to a public school, Ederer said. "Judy doesn't understand the names she would be called."
Nonetheless the Ederers believe that Judith should be allowed to mingle with ordinary children as part of her education. They maintain that U.S. law provides that mentally retarded children must be educated "in the least restrictive environment." Their appeal has won them support from a number of people and retarded citizens associations.
Among those backing the Ederers is Clifford P. Lockyer, director of the Great Oaks Center, Judith's school for the last two years.
"Any client here who can should be in a community program," said Lockyer. "Even the severely handicapped can learn if outside of restrictive environment of an institution. It's not the academic stimulation. It would help Judith's socialization and maybe her motor skills to be in a normal school environment."
Great Oaks psychologist Louis Garmize agrees. "Judith could be in a special class within a normal school - maybe in a class with children who needed to learn toileting skills. It changes a little bit what we mean by educational skills. But that's the chore of the educational system - to enlarge the behavioral repertoire of children."
Montgomery County school officials see the situation differently. In the last two years, the county has had to set up three special schools for the mentally handicapped in the county since school systems now are required to provide education for all children - normal or otherwise.
Education for mentally handicapped children in Montgomery County is provided by the Great Oaks Center and Concord, Longview, and Stephen Knolls. Longview also has a program for severely handicapped children like Judith Ederer, who was denied admission there because she already was attending Great Oaks. First priority at the schools goes to those retarded children who currently are not enrolled in a program.
"How could we accommodate all these children overnight without the proper medical and educational support?" said Montgomery County school official Paul Masem yesterday. "We were just not equipped at the outset to do that." We think we're ahead of other school systems in this area, but we're just now beginning to deal with these problems."
"Even if the retarded child were in a normal school, the child would have to be handled differently," said Dr. Harriet Howard, who supervises all Montgomery County public school programs for the handicapped. Howard said she doubted that Judith or any other similarly handicapped child would get much valuable social contact.
"The children would just pass in the hallway," she says. "It would be almost impossible for severely handicapped children to play on the playground with normal children. Could Judith stand in line at the cafeteria? Could she pay for her own food? Could she leave the cafeteria and walk down the hallway by herself? I don't know."
According to Ederer ond Great Oaks officials, Judith could learn more skills if she is in a normal public school.
"The bus ride alone would help stimulate her," Ederer said.