TEMPLE HILLS – More than 100 people attended the first of three special education listening sessions hosted by Prince George’s County Public Schools at Crossland High School Thursday night citing concerns inadequate care for children with mental or physical disabilities. School board members Peggy Higgins and Edward Burroughs, representatives from the school system’s Disability […]
TEMPLE HILLS – More than 100 people attended the first of three special education listening sessions hosted by Prince George’s County Public Schools at Crossland High School Thursday night citing concerns inadequate care for children with mental or physical disabilities.
School board members Peggy Higgins and Edward Burroughs, representatives from the school system’s Disability Issues Advisory Board, Special Education Citizens Advisory Council and Senator Anthony Muse (D-26) hosted the session, which featured almost 30 speakers fraught with frustration or emotion. Parents brought up recurring themes of lack of communication, lack of accessible schools and unsupportive or disrespectful school staff in regards to students with mental or physical disabilities.
“I’m terrified my child will be left behind,” said Tovonia Copeland-Brown, whose son is in the fourth grade. Copeland-Brown said the school did not identify her son as a student eligible to participate in an individualized education program (IEP), a requirement for students to receive special education services, until the fourth grade.
“If I stopped fighting for him, he wouldn’t get the services he needs,” Copeland-Brown said. Although in fourth grade, her son reads at a second grade level.
“We need to get kids the help they need early, not just pass them on.”
Ronnetta Stanley, executive director of Loud Voices Together, an educational advocacy group based in Temple Hills, said the special education administration does not act professionally.
“The special education chairs and administration don’t attend IEP meetings or (they) show up late,” Stanley said. “They’ll set the same goal for a child for three years. This is the norm. This is a systematic failure of the Prince George’s County Public Schools special education department.”
Shirley Rich of Upper Marlboro said teachers did not even know her grandson, now a junior at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, was an IEP student. “Teachers were dumbfounded,” Rich said. “Someone needs to make sure teachers on the same page.”
Rich said when she asked a teacher why her grandson was receiving low grades, a teacher said: “Let’s be real, he’ll never got over a ‘D’.”
Cheryl Jerome, mother of a 20-year old senior at Flowers High School, said the school system should do more to help IEP students to transition out of high school. Jerome said she has talked to businesses such as Safeway about providing job opportunities for special education students, but there are very few options. She said she hopes the MGM casino which is supposed to open next year will provide opportunities.
“Transition is no joke,” Jerome said. “That money better go towards special education.”
Parents also expressed frustration regarding non-accessible schools.
Katherine Motsuk said she had to physically carry her sixth-grade daughter, who uses a walker because she has a condition which causes her bones to break easily, up stairs so she could attend her school’s science bowl team practices.
The science bowl team practices are on the second floor and University Park Elementary, she said, does not have an elevator.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for mommy to carry her sixth grade daughter up the stairs,” Motsuk said.
Ashley Miranda of Fort Washington said the school system should pay to attract and retain aides, who provide personal assistance for disabled students. Her third-grade daughter is wheelchair-bound and uses a special communication device.
“Why aren’t aides, who play a crucial function for these children, not getting paid? Why are they looking for another job?” Miranda said. “[The aides] need a decent salary.”
The school system will hold additional special education listening sessions at 6:30 p.m. on Thurs. Nov. 6 at Greenbelt Middle School and Mon. Nov. 10 at Tall Oaks Vocational High School.