When Daryl Williams was born four years ago, doctors discovered that he suffered from Down's syndrome, a genetic disorder which will probably leave Daryl a small child, mentally, for the rest of his life. Consequently, doctors told Daryl's mother that the child should be institutionalized.
Next year, however, Daryl Williams will be bused from his home in Melwood to the James E. Duckworth special education center of the Prince George's County school system. He will go there because new state and federal laws require that Prince George's schools take over the traditional role of health case centers and provide care and training for Daryl and children like him until they reach the age of 21.
Behind the new laws is a concept called "mainstreaming." In general, the purpose is to get handicapped children out of institutions and isolation and into the maintstream of everyday life. Specifically, the laws require that schools accept the responsiblility for the handicapped, and place all of them in "the least restrictive environment."
As a result, the Prince George's County school system, despite the intense fiscal pressures brought on by the new revenue-cutting of the TRIM charter amendment, will have to add $750,000 in county funds to its budget next year to bring 137 severely handicapped children into the school system. Currently, 17,000 of the county's 130,000 students are now enrolled in special education programs.
School officials, private counselors and the parents of some handicapped children agree that moving the children into the strange new environment of the public schools is as likely to hurt them as to help them.
Daryl Williams, for example, has never lived in an institution. Despite the doctors' recommendations, his mother, Loretta, has kept him at home. For the past two years he has been enolled in the Ardmore-Ardwick Developmental Center for preschoolers in College Park.
Daryl now spends all day at Ardmore-Ardwick with 16 other children, and the intensive help he has had made his mother believe that with continued, extensive therapy, Daryl will someday "mange the basics of life."
While he is under 5 years old, however, Daryl will probably be able to go to Duckworth for half-days, according to school officials. And he will probably receive intensive individual therapy only two or three times a week for 15 minutes.
That makes his mother uneasy. "I'm afraid that Daryl will be lumped with others like himself," Loretta Williams said. "He won't be stimulated as much, and he won't get the personal attention he needs."
Daryl Williams will receive less therapy in the Prince George's system not because school officials are unwilling to provide more, but because the sudden infusion of hundreds of halndicapped children into the schools -- and the resulting overcrowding, staffing and budgetary problems -- prohibit a more extensive program.
School districts around the area have been struggling to comply with the new federal regulations, but the problem is worse in Maryland because the public schools are less prepared.
Virginia has had a mainstream law similar to the federal statute since 1972, and so both the Fairfax and Alexandria schools will not be subejct to a large, sudden influx of handicapped children, according to school officials.
The main effect of the federal law in Virginia officials say, will be to increase paperwork. The statute be drawn up for each handicapped child in the schools. In Fairfax, that means 12,464 education plans will have to be drawn up in the next year, involving 12,464 parent interviews and 12,464 psychological and physical evaluations.
"We still haven't ironed all the loopholes out," said Harry Burke, director of speciald eduction for Alexandria, "but we're trying like heck. By 1981 or 1982 we'll be like we really should be -- really providing quality education for these kids."
Montgomery County school officials in contrast, have had to increase staff and funding dramatically to meet the new federal regulations -- they could not, however, provide exact figures. The scholl district hired 159 new employes, mostly teachers, to help work with the almost 400 handicapped children expect to enter county schools this year, according to schools spoksesman Ken Muir.
Even so, Montgomery has not been able to accommodate all handicapped children in its system yet, and expects to pay some $4 million in tuition to private facilities for about 700 handicapped children, Muir said.
In Prince George's, most school officials and mental health workers agree with the concept of maninstreaming, and all agree that the county's school district has the resources, potentially, to improve care for the county's handicapped.
"What is being done is the most efficient and effective way of caring for these people," said Craig Noll, the director of Ardmore-Ardwick. "The difference is the problems little tiny systems like us have that large systems dont have."
The Prince George's programs, Noll and others point out, are less likely to run into the continual funding crises that small, private centers accept as a fact of life. Because their program is larger, the school district can provide more sophisticated facilities and therapy equipment, and can hire staff that are more lilely trained, with specialities in one therapy or area.
The county, moreover, has been preparing for mainstreaming for almost five years now. Gradually over the few years school officials have been visiting centers like Ardmore and selecting students to bring into the school system. To date, most have been only moderately handicapped.
Currently, the county has six "multiple handicap" centers, which will absorb most of the new children coming into the schools. Another is planned for completion in Clinton by 1981, and three of the present ones are targeted for expansion or renovation, according to Robert Coombs, who heads the school special education programs.
Finally, from a philosophical point of view at least, private and public officials alike say that even severely handicapped children will be better off in a public school system. "I like the idea of my child having contact with normal children, eventually," said Betsy Petit, whose daughter Sarah, 4, will move from Ardmore to Prince George's next fall.
"I would like to see her eventually put in some classes with normal children her own age, like drawing or art.The kids have to have a good model to work from, someone working at a level slightly about them. And if it's done right, mainstreaming is just as beneficial to normal children as it is to the handicapped."
Betsy Petit, however, like Loretta Williams, is troubled by what may -- and may not -- be available for her child next year. Although county school officials say they are anxious to take over care of the handicapped, they concede that the impending arrival of 137 handicapped children presents them with problems they will not be able to untangle by September.
The greatest problem may be over-crowding -- already, all six of the county's multiple handicapped centers are at or near capacity enrollment. At Duckworth, four classes of moderatley handicapped children have been shifted to nearby Calverton Elementary School.
Special education officials say the classes are part of a "companion school" program designed to integrate the handicapped into regular schools, but parents complain the classes force handicapped children to climb stairs to unair-conditioned rooms, and reduce program time because of the extra transportation necessary.
Critics of the Prince George's system, including the Prince George's Coalition for the Handicapped and the Prince George's County Educators Association, which represents teachers, say that even with possible overcrowding problems, Duckworth is the best multiple handicap center in the county.
The other centers, critics have said, are understaffed and have facilities which are often either too old or are housed in temporary buildings. Teachers, they say, have been burdened with the paperwork that federal regulations have brought, and do not have enough time now for their students.
While special education director Coombs does not agree that the problems will be as bad as some outsiders say, he admits that the "impact" of the finflux of children next year "will be considerable." Coombs is in the process of forming a committee of 20 school officials to study how the school system can best prepare itself for the coming school year.
In the end, Commbs said, Prince George's may decided that it is not ready to take all of the handicapped children yet. This year the school district has an exemption from the state legislature that allows it to keep some of the handicapped out of school facilities by paying their tuition to private centers like Ardmore. Coombe said the county may decide to use the same outlet next year.
"The problem" said Pam Rosenberg, who teaches Daryl Williams at Ardmore, "is that I can't be sure what the main idea is now. It's hard to say if the schols are doing this ("mainstreaming") because it's the law, or because they knew they can do a better job."