Board of Education for AACPS votes in support of bill to create training for special education advocates

By Caitlyn Freeman 

The Board of Education (BOE) for Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) voted to support Maryland Senate Bill (SB) 1016 during the meeting of the board on Wednesday, March 20th. The bill would require the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to create a “Voluntary Ethical Special Education Advocate Certificate Program” for those who are special education advocates. The bill would not make training a requirement, but it would make it available to advocates, whereas, currently, there is not any training available.

As Jeanette Ortiz, who presented the bill to the BOE and is a part of the legislation and policy counsel for AACPS, explained that the program would include online training and an exam.

“We just thought it was a good idea to have such a program that’s moving in the right direction because you may have individuals out there who report to be advocates or experts in special education but are not. And so, while this is voluntary, it’s a step in the right direction,” Ortiz said. She added that the program would be voluntary and people who don’t receive the certification are still eligible to be special education advocates.

She went on to explain that AACPS had posed some amendments to the legislation. The amendments, which are listed on the document located on the AACPS BoardDocs, are:

  •  A face-to-face component to the training, which would allow for greater opportunity for learning;
  •   Clarification on how “good moral character” can be determined; and
  •  A mechanism for others to express concern to MSDE when a certificated advocate is not acting professionally or in the best interest of students and families.

When asked by Dana Schallheim, a member of the BOE, if the counsel has heard any response in regards to the posed amendments, Ortiz explained that the counsel has yet to submit them because a board vote is required before submission.

Ortiz also explained, after being asked for more clarification about the bill,  that parents who have children with special needs are allowed to have an advocate present during the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings or other meetings with school officials. However, in the state of Maryland,  there are no regulations in place for said advocates. She mentioned that the individual seeking the certification must be at least 21 years old, an individual of good moral character, and complete the online training course, which MSDE will create.

After more board discussion and clarification, the board members voted 8-0, with the absence of Candace C.W. Antwine, to support the bill.