Now that Howard County School Superintendent John O'Rourke and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick have gone behind closed doors to cut a deal about the future of Cedar Lane School and the 2 percent of the special education population it serves, the question has to be asked: What about the 98 percent of students with disabilities served in the public school system who need access to the general curriculum and typical peers?
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, Howard County is one of the worst in the state for its low inclusion rate of children with disabilities in regular classrooms, particularly for children with cognitive disabilities. A hallmark of good classrooms is differentiated instruction -- that is, instruction that teaches students of all abilities, from the gifted and talented child to the child with severe disabilities. In too many Howard County schools, classroom instruction is geared to the "average" student, and teachers lack the ability to provide accommodations and modify instruction to teach the diversity of students in their classrooms.
The debate over rebuilding Cedar Lane School was brought on, in part, because Howard County's special education service delivery system is configured to push children with disabilities into more segregated settings than is necessary.
The Howard County school board should take note and set priorities accordingly. Ironically, for those of us parents fighting for more inclusive education, it may be the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) rather than the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act that forces system change. NCLB's requirement that teachers be highly qualified and certified in the content area being taught may finally mean our children with disabilities are exposed to the same content and high expectations that students without disabilities are. Maybe then, the "God's work" that John O'Rourke is quoted as seeing at the Cedar Lane graduation last year can be done in our neighborhood schools.
To Commercial Is Fair
I am in favor of the proposed rezoning of the 39 acres on Montgomery Road across from Long Gate Shopping Center. While it is nice to see undeveloped land anywhere if you work in a big city, as most of us do, it is not the most efficient use of land. Increasing land's efficiency is the most important goal if we are to examine zoning questions with logic instead of with emotion.
For example, I enjoy walking through the woods between the VFW post and the YMCA. However, I never see anyone else there. Yet these woods are supposed to be preserved, according to the opponents of rezoning, so that people can use them. My observation is that few people use them and, if they are preserved, few people will probably use them in the future.
Convenience is important -- the wait on weekend nights to get a table at Uno's, Outback or Carrabba's is frequently 11/2 to two hours. That is unacceptable. It is highly likely that the wait times at these fine restaurants would go down if more restaurants were built where there are now houses.
Fairness is an important community value also. There are isolated homeowners who have seen commercial development all around them and who cannot leave. They are forced to stay because they cannot get a fair price for their land. No one will buy their land for residences because they are too near the noise and disruption of the shopping center.
Therefore, these unfortunate homeowners want to use the only practical alternative they still have -- selling for commercial use. Developers would buy their land but are precluded from making the transactions because of the way the homeowners' land is zoned. Why take away yet another option from these poor homeowners living on these isolated lots?
Sure, an elementary school and assisted-living facility would be good to have on these lots. However, the underdog homeowners should be allowed to conclude sales transactions on their family homes with parties of their choosing -- not just with Montgomey Road Citizens for Responsible Growth-approved parties.
These homeowners with the lots that need rezoning are being in effect forced to move, and no compensation other than rezoning is being offered to them. Just think how you would feel if you had to move your family out of your long-time family home without any monetary compensation. Here we have a chance to partially compensate them for their inconvenience. Please allow them to sell to the highest bidder.
The domino theory has been discredited ever since Vietnam more than 30 years ago. Allowing commercial development near the intersection of Routes 29 and 103 will not mean that houses all along Route 103 will eventually be rezoned. Even the rezoning proposal for the intersection of Routes 103 and 104 is for land adjacent to commercial properties such as Watermont Pharmacy.
In conclusion, for reasons of convenience, fairness and even property values, the proposals to allow the rezoning of residential land to commercial use should be approved for the 39 acres on Montgomery Road across from Long Gate Shopping Center and the parcel of land next to the High's on Montgomery Road.
Mark R. Ashland