Parents, schools wrestle with ADD

August 23, 1997


Staff Writer

For years, Mercedes Pantophlet had watched her son's poor performance in school, and his fidgety, prone-to-fight behavior after being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, but the 13-year-old's behavior took her by surprise on June 6.

Tired of everything he had been through, Mitchell Davis was ready to take his life, said Pantophlet. He crawled out on a ledge on his mother's two-story apartment and told his mom he was going to commit suicide.

Fortunately, Mitchell would survive this crisis, too.

After Hagerstown City Police officers arrived at Pantophlet's home on Sumans Avenue and began talking with Mitchell, he came back inside, ran down the steps of the building and out the back door.


"I'll never forget that," said Pantophlet. "I think he was really, really tired."

Parents' frustrations over their ADD children and how Washington County school officials are treating them are common. They worry about their children being "overly drugged" on stimulants, being humiliated in school and dropping out because they are frustrated over their classroom assignments.

Large numbers of parents have come to school board meetings and community meetings to complain about how their children are being treated, and state Del. Joanne Benson, who has a nephew with attention deficit disorder in the school system, has threatened to file a civil lawsuit against the Board of Education over what she calls student neglect.

Benson said her office has been flooded with calls from parents who say school administrators are encouraging their children to drop out of school.

Special help for students

Attention deficit disorder is a neurological condition that causes a person to be impulsive and have a very reduced ability to concentrate, according to experts. Kids can also be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, as in Mitchell Davis' case, officials said.

Children with attention deficit disorder are prone to outbursts and other disruptive behavior, said Debbie Pryor of the Parents Place of Maryland Inc., a nonprofit group that consults parents with attention deficit disorder children.

Children with certain forms of the disorder are normal to highly intelligent people, but they often do not reach their potential because they find concentration difficult, experts say.

Students can be put on a "Section 504" plan or an Individual Education Program, often referred to as an IEP, to help them excel in class, said Pryor. Most attention deficit students that are eligible for special education in Washington County Schools are put on a Section 504. A Section 504 is a generalized classroom plan that can set up special seating for the student or supplement verbal instruction with visual instruction for the child, Pryor said.

The problem is, said Pryor, school officials are not following the Section 504's or the Individual Education Programs.

Linda Harrison of Cascade, Md., claims her 15-year-old attention deficit son failed English when his teacher did not follow the boy's Section 504.

"You're looking at a dropout and it's not fair," said Harrison.

Martha Roulette, director of special education for Washington County schools, said she cannot discuss individual cases, but said there is a process parents can follow if they do not believe their attention deficit child is getting the services they need.

First, school officials encourage parents to discuss problems with administrators at the child's school. If parents believe that has not resolved the problem, they can meet with special education officials at the central office on Commonwealth Avenue, Roulette said.

If that does not resolve the situation, parents can appeal their child's educational plan before an administrative law judge, said Roulette.

Roulette said there are one or two appeals a year.

Although Roulette said school officials work hard to respond to parents' needs, she said the recent controversy has "given us some new energy" to expand the efforts. Roulette said her office plans to ask the Board of Education for more staff workers to help special education students.

More one-on-one

One of the complaints about the school system is there is not enough one-on-one instruction for special education students.

In addition to Roulette's request for more staffing, the Board of Education last week announced the formation of an advocacy team at the central office to deal with parents' concerns.

"We are serious about engaging in those activities," Roulette said.

"We're looking at completing the process," said Board of Education President B. Marie Byers.

Roulette could not provide exact statistics on how many attention deficit disorder children are in the system, but she estimates they make up between 5 and 15 percent of the student population. Roulette could not say how many attention deficit students may have dropped out.

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