The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

Review of Middle-Eastern restaurant ‘Namak’
Cancel culture: A roadblock on the path to social justice
Board of Education passes proposed amendment to homework policy
MCPS Board of Education appoints Gregory Miller as new Whitman Principal
MCPS appoints Dr. Thomas W. Taylor as new Superintendent
Staff in MCPS autism program involuntarily transferred, stoking further budget concerns

Staff in MCPS autism program involuntarily transferred, stoking further budget concerns

June 19, 2024

Staff in MCPS autism program involuntarily transferred, stoking further budget concerns

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MCPS officials announced this March that the countywide autism support program located at Darnestown Elementary School would undergo a 50% reduction of paraeducators. The change arrived just before a per-pupil budget shortfall from county lawmakers positioned Mongomery County Public Schools officials to increase average class sizes and close its virtual school program among other cuts, further concerning county residents. 

The specialized program the Darnestown Learning Center allows for focused assistance and accommodations for autistic students, including additional breaks in the school day and tailored planning for assignments and tests. Darnestown is the only school in MCPS that offers this specific program, and the total MCPS budget for the 2024-25 school year allocates less than one percent to additional aid for students with special needs. MCPS and the County Council have asserted that the reductions are related to lower expected enrollment and not to budget cuts — though a decrease in enrollment by 50% in one year would be unprecedented.

All Darnestown students with an individualized education program will continue to receive the full benefits outlined as mandated by law and upheld by the school district, MCPS officials maintain. However, staffing cuts strain the educators who remain, parents argue. With fewer staff members, certain aspects of the structured day, such as managing movement breaks, will become more challenging.

Whitman Social Worker Julian Smith is concerned by the staff reallocations.

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“It is a matter of equality,” Smith said. “I don’t think there is any reason why someone who has a specific set of challenges should have less access to resources — I think that the school system as a whole would benefit from equitable services.”

This spring, Learning Center parents organized a Board of Education meeting to criticize the downsizing of the program and voice concerns about similar cuts to specialized programs at other schools. The parents alleged that the school board didn’t consult them before or during the downsizing process.

An MCPS spokesperson said that reallocating paraeducators to other schools would benefit nationwide efforts to aid autistic students, enabling others to access support. As of June, MCPS still plans on handling the reduced per-pupil budget by transferring rather than firing educators, including educators at the autism program.

Whitman special education teacher Ryan Mullin explained the value of staff circulations in classrooms. 

“You can’t just give a kid a bike and tell them to ride it — training wheels help with things like that,” Mullin said. “Staff is important, and without them, the teacher doesn’t have someone to be an extension of them to help deliver instruction.”

According to a Whitman paraeducator who asked to remain anonymous, reallocations that widespread will have negative consequences for the paraeducators and the students they serve.

“To take these resources away from students without a doubt will be detrimental to their academic education,” they said. “I would consider [the county’s] program already to be short-staffed… it means that students are not getting the most out of their education.”

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