Higher Hiring Standards

For Homeland Security

I want to add my voice to the concerns raised by the Greater South County Coalition for Absolute Progress about County Executive Jack B. Johnson's appointment for homeland security.

Now, more than ever, the effort to keep Maryland's communities safe must remain untainted by politics and patronage. In a time when Marylanders, like most Americans, are being asked to endure inconveniences and make sacrifices to assist the war on terror, it is crucial that our leaders govern in a manner that preserves the public's trust. That includes hiring qualified people with the experience and credibility to make tough decisions in the public interest. These are standards to which we hold our people in Washington, and the same should be true here in Prince George's County.

Rushern L. Baker III

Cheverly

Curbing Teen Smoking

Begins at Cash Register

One of the major problems contributing to adolescent smoking is the illegal sale of tobacco products to our children. This problem can be greatly alleviated if people who know about illegal sales report them to the authorities.

We have an excellent enforcement program in Prince George's conducted out of the health department. The program, under the direction of retired police officer Ron Salisbury, educates merchants and conducts compliance checks using teenagers. The program has been responsible for catching and fining several merchants who have sold tobacco products to our children. It was even instrumental in cracking a cigarette smuggling ring.

Anybody wishing to file a complaint on tobacco sales to kids or on the improper placement of tobacco products in stores can call Mr. Salisbury at 301-883-3512.

John H. O'Hara

Bowie

County Behind the Times

On Placing Disabled Pupils

Andre J. Hornsby, chief executive of the Prince George's County public schools, said recently that he would like to see every student -- not just special education students -- have an IEP, the individual education plan that drives the placement and education of all special education students. Dr. Hornsby's wish is a noble goal, and one with which I agree.

Every time I read the IEP for my daughter, who has Down syndrome, the same thought crosses my mind: Every child should have an IEP so their educational development is given that same level of detailed and individualized attention. However, in order for such a goal to be realized, major changes are needed in the county's approach to implementing IEPs.

Usually, the opinions or wishes of the parents are given equal weight at an IEP meeting.

The problem comes when there is a disagreement on placement. Our daughter has "tested out" of the special day school she has been in for kindergarten and first grade. That simply means that her current school cannot meet the needs of her IEP; she has progressed to the point that she needs more challenging instruction among less challenged peers. It is at this point that the team approach falls apart, at least in Prince George's County.

When we asked for placement of our daughter in her local elementary school, for her to be "included" in a general education classroom among her non-disabled peers, in the "least restrictive environment," as required by federal law (the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), our status at the IEP table diminished significantly.

Until this placement issue, we sang the praises of the services that our daughter has received from the county school system to anyone who would listen. But we have now learned that the culture within the system regarding placement, specifically inclusion, lags behind neighboring school systems, most notably Howard County's.

Prince George's school system still thinks inclusion is too radical to consider. Look at the county's Office of Policy Compliance Web page and one of its frequently asked questions: Inclusion. What is it? How far do we have to go?

It might as well read: Inclusion. What is it? And what can we get by with?

The county system is well practiced in the legal steps necessary to maintain its culture. It routinely denies requests for inclusive placements, forcing parents to ask for a due process hearing and plead their case before a mediator or administrative law judge. That can be expensive for parents if they want to be represented by counsel, and for taxpayers in general.

The Prince George's County school system should do some homework on the research, like that of Douglas Fisher of San Diego State University and the late Margaret C. Wang, showing the benefits of inclusion to the general education students in a classroom where a disabled child is placed, as well as to the disabled student.

The county needs to wake up and smell the inclusion. We all know change is difficult, and institutional change even more so. But change is happening, and the county school system can either embrace it or be embarrassed by it.

In a recent Op-Ed article in The Post ("Vetoing a Parent's Perspective," Close to Home, July 11), James Metzger objected to Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner's veto of a bill that would have allowed parents with a high school education to home-school their children. As Mr. Metzger correctly wrote, "A parent is the most influential agent in a child's education regardless of whether that child is schooled at home or attends public or private school." And, he continued, Gov. Warner "should not presume to veto this natural authority" that parents have.

I am serving on a subcommittee for the Maryland Department of Education's new Maryland's Parent Advisory Council (M-PAC). The council was formed by Maryland's superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick, to enlist the "natural authority" of parents. The council will serve in an advisory capacity to the superintendent and to the Maryland board of education on issues of parent involvement, from policies and procedures to parents' rights and roles in student achievement.

Unlike Gov. Warner, Grasmick understands the value of parents' natural authority. She should be commended for recognizing it and creating the M-PAC panel in an effort to improve our schools and benefit all students.

Hornsby and all educators and school administrators in Prince George's County can be certain that, along with the many other parent involvement issues being discussed, I will bring our family's IEP placement experience to the table as I carry out my M-PAC duties. I will do what I can to make sure that, whether or not all Prince George's County students eventually have an IEP, parents' natural authority will not be discounted at any stage of their child's educational process.

Mike McLaughlin

Laurel