Disabled children living in Calvert County will get a chance to play ball, after county commissioners voted to hire a specialist to run recreational programs for youngsters with special needs.
The 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday to spend up to $49,999 on a therapist sparked applause and tears from about 10 parents who filled the last rows in the commissioners' hearing room. The parents had waged a brief but intense lobbying campaign for the therapist, writing letters to the commissioners and local newspapers and presenting a petition with 325 signatures.
"We're very happy," said Diane Shaw, who expects the life of her 14-year-old son, Sean, to change with access to recreational programs. "He really wants it; he really wants to play games like basketball and soccer, things the other kids do," Shaw said. "He'll be able to get out, to socialize, to get along with people. It will improve his behavior."
Shaw and other parents asked for the specialist during a hearing on the county's budget last month. At that time, they were supported by Commissioners Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large) and independent John Douglas Parran (At Large) but opposed by the other three commissioners, Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings), Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard) and David F. Hale (R-Owings).
In the weeks since, the parents continued their campaign and suggested that failing to offer recreational programs to disabled children violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. County staff members estimated that 2,347 disabled children and adults in Calvert County might participate in programs run by a therapeutic recreational specialist.
Stinnett, whose grandson has Tourette's syndrome, continued to push for the therapist.
"I want support for it," Stinnett told her colleagues while focusing her effort on the other Democratic commissioner -- Buehler -- who was considered to hold a swing vote. "This will bring us into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and serve a very needy population."
Emanuel Demedis, the county attorney, told the commissioners that federal law does not require Calvert to provide recreational programs to disabled children. "There has been no case law on this, so we don't have any guidance," Demedis said.
The board decided to approve the money for a recreational specialist as part of the current budget. Any expenditure of $50,000 or more requires a public hearing.
Kelley said she cast the only dissenting vote because she objected to the way the allocation was handled.
"That is a terrible way to circumvent the requirements for a public hearing," she said.
CAPTION: LINDA L. KELLEY