ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland House of Delegates Friday unanimously approved a plan to standardize graduation times for special education students.
The bill requires all counties to keep special education students in school until the end of the school year after they turn 21.
If approved by the Senate and Gov. Parris Glendening, it will be effective in October and cost local governments $2.7 million and the state $1.4 million, according to the legislation.
Twelve of Maryland’s 23 counties already have the full-year extension, but the others make students leave either as soon as they turn 21 or one semester later.
The policy should be consistent statewide, supporters told the House Ways and Means Committee two weeks ago.
“The right to education should not depend on your ZIP code,” Cristy Marchand, executive director of The Arc of Maryland, told the committee. She represents an advocacy organization for people with mental retardation.
“I think that’s only fair and right and just,” said Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, one of the bill’s sponsors, on Friday. “I don’t think there will be a problem on the Senate side.”
School systems that graduate students soon after they turn 21 are reluctant to change their policies.
“It is in the interest of all parties in Montgomery County that the system that has been in place for 10 years continue,” a county special education supervisor said after the Feb. 22 House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the bill. Verna Marie Chiarello, said her county’s policy is that special education students may finish one semester once they turn 21.
That policy does not damage students’ chances of getting into adult service programs, Chiarello said, but proponents of the bill disagree.
“Important post-educational adult services available through other state agencies operate on the assumption that students will exit the school system in June,” said Jackie Golden, chairwoman of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, in written testimony to the committee.
All counties take per-student state funding to cover an entire school year, yet some make students leave before the year is over.
That practice is “unconscionable” said James Rzepkowski, R-Anne Arundel, bill co-sponsor.
He said he was “fairly confident” the bill would pass in the Senate.