Despite a proposed increase of $1.7 million in Fairfax school spending for handicapped students, a center that screens and diagnoses handicaps in preschool children may be closed because of the loss of federal aid.
The $1.7 million increase, contained in the Fairfax school superintendent's proposed budget, would bring school spending for special education to nearly $24 million. Most of the increase would be used to hire 37 more teachers to help handle an expected increase of 2,277 special education pupils next year. More than 1,000 are students with mild speech impairments being included in special education for the first time. This year, approximately 11,000 students are being served by special education programs.
In addition to new teachers, the increased funding proposal would provide improvements in various areas of the special education program, said Richard E. Cunningham, acting coordinator of special education.
"If the center closes it will mean that an awful lot of children who need early help will not get it," said Carol Chasey, director of Fairfax schools' regional diagnostic center for preschool children at Devonshire Elementary School. "It will mean their handicapped conditions will become more entrenched and much harder to correct," if at all, when they reach the third grade."
The center would close down next school year unless additional state and federal funds become available, according to Dr.Daniel Link, special education research specialist. School Supt. S. John Davis' proposed operating budget of $264 million for school year 1978-79 includes no funding for the center.
The center has 15 teachers, speech, language and hearing specialists and social workers who screen handicapped preschool children, ages 2-5, in Fairfax County to determine how badly they are impaired. The testing determines their placement in school or whether other alternatives besides public school are needed.
Of 1,500 Fairfax County preschoolers screened this year about 150 were assigned to the center for early correction or relief of their handicaps. These handicaps ranged from stuttering to hearing and sight defects to difficulties with muscular coordination. About 25 of the children treated came from other Northern Virginia jurisidictions, Chasey said.
The center, which has been in operation three years, faces closing and the dispersal of its staff among Fairfax schools because a federal grant of $344,000 that supported the center will end this year. Local funds were not transferred to the center because they are needed for other programs and services, some required by state and federal governments, said Link. Cunnningham said there is a possibility that the aid will become available to keep the center operating at its current level.
"I would say Fairfax schools have a superior special education program. But there is a critical need that is not being met for diagnosing and evaluating the impairments of handicaps of children in all grade levels," Cunningham said. "But this need is particularly critical in young children, who have better chances for improvement than older ones."
In addition to the loss of the center, the schools' Staff Development Institute would lose five specialists who train regular classroom and special education teachers in specific skills. Staff development services familiarize teachers with new educational developments and teaching methods.
Also, the increase of mildly-impaired pupils receiving speech training would cause teachers to work with 70 pupils, broken into small groups at different scheduled periods, rather than the 50 they teach now, the budget shows.
Special education programs and services offered by the schools, Cunningham said, range from programs were visiting teachers teach blind students to walk safely through neighborhoods and shopping centers to the placement of handicapped students in other institutions that offer housing or intensive training. Fairfax school spending for those services has increased from $4 million in 1972 to about $23 million today.
The $1.8 million increase projected for next year includes funds to pay for a new center for multiply-handicapped students at Kilmer Intermediate School, due to open in September. It also includes funds for the hiring of 37 special education teachers, aides and attendents to staff programs for the emotionally distrubed at the Annandale and Quander Road special education centers and for a special education program at the new the South Lakes High School, also scheduled to open in September.
Another $852,750 in federal funds budgeted under pupil services would pay for hiring 10 psychologists, eight psychometrists, 14 social workers and two placement professionals. It also would fund summer mini-clinics for teachers to evaluate progress in handicapped students, and possibly pay for medical examinations of handicapped pupils.
The Kilmer Center will have capacity for 200 students, ages 4-21, who are either moderately retarded or have a combination of handicaps, sometimes both physical and mental.
The center also will employ certified education teachers and aides, counselors, physical and occupational therapists, teachers of physical education adapted for handicapped students, psychologists and psychometrists, who are specialists in administering tests.
When the center opens, it will take all students now at the Oak Grove Elementary School center and some from the Holmes and Lincolnia centers. The center will unite several special education services under one roof, to prevent staff from wasting time on the road by traveling from school to school, Cunningham said.
Educational services for the handicapped, among other concerns about the 1978-79 proposed school budget, will be discussed at public hearings scheduled for Jan. 30 and 31 at Lake Braddock Secondary School. Both will begin at 7:30 p.m. The budget is expected to be adopted by the school board Feb. 9.