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Old 11-01-2007, 07:58 PM
Howard Hartman Howard Hartman is offline
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Default Stephen Knolls School

MONTGOMERY COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION
Rockville, Maryland
October 31,2007



MEMORANDUM


To: Dr. Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of Schools
From: Nancy Navarro, President
Subject: On Stephen Knolls


The description on page 4-125 of the Superintendent's Recommended FY 2009 Capital Budget and the FY 2009-2014 Capital Improvements Program regarding Stephen Knolls says the following:
Stephen Knolls is a special education program for students ages 5-21 with severe to profound mental retardation and multiple disabilities. The Fundamental Life Skills (FLS) curriculum, embedded in a modified Voluntary State Curriculum, is utilized to provide students with skills in communication, mobility, self help, functional academics, and transition to adult life.

In 1999 and 2000, plans were developed to collocate both the Stephen Knolls and Longview special education programs to two elementary schools. A wing was constructed at Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School to house the Longview special education program. However plans did not proceed for the collocation of the Stephen Knolls program. In order to maintain the level of services to the Stephen Knolls students while ending their isolation in a center-based setting, MCPS staff will review options to collocate the Stephen Knolls special education program with a general education elementary school. Collocating the program will enable the continuation of the services provided at the current site at a location where special education students can relate to non-disabled students. Additionally, the Maryland State Department of Education is opposed to the delivery of special education services to students in a separate facility. A recommendation for the collocation will be submitted in the Amendments to the FY 2009-2014 CIP.

Since the release of the requested CIP, the Board has been inundated with correspondence regarding this issue. Since the Board had not been apprised of this earlier, I would like a response to the following questions that have been asked by Board members ahead of the worksession on November 8, 2007.

• Realizing that the review appears to be in the preliminary stage, has an elementary school been identified for this project?

• Correspondence from parents indicates that they were caught unaware by this development, especially since they had invested time and money on building a memorial garden for the current location (in fact two Board members attended the dedication). Was the community alerted during the planning of the memorial garden of the possibility of the relocation in the future?

• What is the usual process for community involvement in these kinds of decisions?

• What is the time frame for this project from review to implementation?

• The above-quoted blurb in the CIP seems to indicate that the primary motivation for this initiative is to alleviate the Maryland State Department of Education's concerns about isolation of special needs students from the general education population.

Absent that, what other factors are driving this?

In general, I must say that I am concerned, as are other Board members, about communications issues regarding this project and I would be interested in your thoughts as to how best to deal with these issues now and in the future.

NN:kmy

Copy to:
Members of the Board of Education
Mr. Bowers
Dr. Lacey
Dr. Wright
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  #2  
Old 11-05-2007, 09:21 PM
Howard Hartman Howard Hartman is offline
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Default School Relocation Study Outrages Community, Board

The Examiner
Courtney Mabeus

School Relocation Study Outrages Community, Board

Montgomery County's Board of Education President Nancy Navarro is questioning Superintendent Jerry D. Weast's handling of a proposal to study the relocation of the Stephen Knolls School, saying the issue should have been brought to the board rather than tucking it into his capital improvement plan.

The plan, issued Oct. 29, outraged special education advocates and irritated school board members who said they didn't know about Weast's intentions.

Navarro sent Weast a letter Thursday, asking him to clarify his decision and explain how the community was alerted or involved.

Weast responded Friday, saying it was an “error” that the school board was not told about his recommendation in advance.

Stephen Knolls serves students ages 3 to 21 with severe disabilities. On Oct. 18 the school dedicated a community garden memorializing 24 former students who have died.

Parents of some of those students said they would not have expended the time and effort on the garden if they had known of a plan to move the school. They said they had asked special education officials about the school's fate in June and were told there were no plans to move it.

“I feel like we've been misled,” Jerry Heupel, whose sons attended the school and have since died, said after Weast's plan was released.

Weast called the timing of the plan's release and the garden's dedication “unfortunate” adding it was “not possible under long-standing procedures to advise the community prior to official release of my recommendations.”

The school board and County Council must approve the plan; there will be public hearings Nov. 14 and 15.

There is no money committed to the relocation study and the school is not scheduled to close within the next six years, Weast Chief of Staff Brian Edwards said. The garden would be relocated with the school, he said.

After a backlash from activists regarding the school board's decision to phase out other special education centers, “the failure to communicate I think strikes all of us,” member Steve Abrams said. “I believe this could have been handled in a much better way.”
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Old 11-12-2007, 07:29 AM
Howard Hartman Howard Hartman is offline
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Default Plan to Close Knolls School In Kensington Is Opposed

The Washington Post
Daniel deVise

Plan to Close Knolls School In Kensington Is Opposed

Parents Say Special Ed Being Unfairly Targeted

Parents and school board members are lining up against a proposal to close Stephen Knolls School in Kensington, which serves severely disabled students.

Alert parents discovered an item, deep within capital budget documents released last week, stating that school system staff members will "review options to collocate" the program with a regular elementary school, meaning that the 125 Knolls students and services would move to a different location. No date is mentioned.

Parents of special-needs children have rallied and view the proposal as part of an ongoing campaign to discontinue special education programs. Last winter, parents demonstrated at the school system headquarters to oppose the closure of Secondary Learning Centers that serve special-needs students within regular middle and high schools. They succeeded in slowing -- but not reversing -- the closure.

"This latest attempt to dismantle another special education program cannot stand," Lyda Astrove, a special education advocate, wrote in a widely circulated memo to parents and others.

Board president Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) said she and fellow board members had been inundated with complaints from parents and questioned the seeming lack of notice to the school community, the same issue raised with the learning centers.

"In general, I must say that I am concerned, as are other board members, about communications issues regarding this project," Navarro wrote in a memo dated Oct. 30.

School system officials maintain their goal is to house the Knolls program, which serves students from ages 5 to 21, in a new, state-of-the-art facility. Placing the program on the campus of an elementary school meets the state and federal goal of inclusion: that special-needs students should generally study alongside other students rather than be segregated into isolated centers.

"It would be a real improvement," said Brian Edwards, chief of staff to Weast. Edwards stressed that no decision had been made or would be made "for several years."

Parents and school system officials differ in their interpretation of state law. The proposal to close Knolls states that the Maryland State Education Department "is opposed to the delivery of special education services to students in a separate facility." In his subsequent memo, Weast described the state goal as mainstreaming students "to the maximum extent appropriate." Parents say that school leaders routinely overstate the requirements of the special education law.

They say they are also concerned about a memorial garden, on the Stephen Knolls campus, dedicated to students who have died. The memorial, dedicated Oct. 18, was undertaken only after organizers were assured there were no plans to close the facility.

The juxtaposition of events suggests that "the decision to close the school was put in writing before any of the memorial bricks for the garden were laid," Gerald Heupel Jr., former president of the school Parent-Staff Association, wrote in a widely disseminated e-mail.

In an Oct. 30 memo to the school board, Weast pledged that "if we were to move the Stephen Knolls program, we would commit to move the new memorial garden."
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