Letter to the Editor in response to the Baltimore Sun’s article “Harford special education program under scrutiny”

This letter to the Editor was written in response to the recent Baltimore Sun article, published on September, 15, 2015.

Harford special education program under scrutiny” (September 15, 2015) was not just a disturbing outline of how seriously one school failed the students it is responsible for serving. It’s also a clear example of why school districts should consider public-private partnerships that can make a real difference for students with autism and other special needs.

As the article explains, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools must provide students with disabilities a free public education that’s suitable for them. While many districts try and accomplish this within the public school setting, it’s often just not nearly enough.

Students with autism and other spectrum disorders deserve a school environment specifically designed for them. A place where they can learn, grow and thrive under the supervision and care of trained specialists.

In Maryland, we’re lucky to have several specialized programs that are designed to do just that. Organizations like Kennedy Krieger Institute, St. Elizabeth School and Trellis Services, among others, are experts in this arena because it’s all they do. These programs offer services and, more importantly, staff with the education, training and passion for working with students with special needs.

Even more valuable? These programs are accountable to the districts they serve – providing compliance and ongoing staff training and supervision that can sometimes be difficult to ensure in a public school setting.

With shrinking budgets, many districts balk at the thought of engaging with private partners. But these collaborations can actually be more cost effective, not to mention more enriching and meaningful for students and their families. Responsible for large, diverse student populations, school districts are sometimes unable to provide the resources necessary to serve students at the highest level. A public-private partnership frees up funds, staff and time to make certain the needs of all students are met.

While the reported actions at Hickory Elementary may be isolated, considering public-private partnerships makes sense for any district committed to serving its special needs students. From accountability and fiscal efficiency to expertise and positive outcomes, public-private partnerships ensure special needs students in Maryland receive compassion, services and education that are far more than just suitable. And isn’t that what they deserve?

Michael Maloney
President & CEO