By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO,

When given the chance to speak up for her son Marcus, Rachel West speaks with the loudest voice.  She has to, since her precocious four year old struggles to speak for himself. Marcus has apraxia of speech an acquired oral motor speech disorder affecting his ability to connect speech messages from the brain to the mouth.

It is a condition that Rachel brought to the attention of the community forum, where residents of Prince George’s County were presenting their opinions on who and what they were looking for in the next CEO of its public school system.  While approximately eight of every 10 speakers advocated for interim CEO Monica Goldson to the get permanent job, West spoke objectively about challenges facing parents with children who have disabilities that will affect their immersion into early childhood because they can’t receive adequate therapy in the County.

Prince George’s County parents are expressing concerns about children with special needs getting the proper attention in the public school system. (Courtesy Photo)

“I’m not comfortable with the ability to deal with children who have special needs,” West told the AFRO.  “The County where I pay these taxes should be better than this.”

West’s family has been challenged to get Marcus the consistent speech therapy he needs to be ready for school when in Prince George’s County.  She and her husband live in Bowie, but have to take Marcus to Columbia, in Howard County, in order to receive the type of consistent therapy he needs.  That puts an additional strain on their two income household logistically when both parents have to work.

After testing Marcus in the PGCPS system acknowledged the speech apraxia diagnosis, but could only provide two hours per month of speech therapy where the options in other bordering Counties – such as Anne Arundel – offer those in home service with enough frequency so that kids with disabilities are equipped to enter elementary school with their peers.

“Marcus needs three to five hours of therapy per week if he’s going to be ready by the time he’s supposed to start school,” West said.  “The staff was great, but the frequency of visits should’ve been longer. What am I paying all these property taxes for?”

West took her plight to the community forum where she and Marcus stood before the gathering at Charles H. Flowers High School as advocates for themselves and other families whose children have learning challenges with limited opportunities to receive adequate therapy.

“My ask tonight of all of you, as administrators of the school system of Prince George’s County, is to consider more resources to families and schools for children residing in Prince George’s County diagnosed with disabilities from mild to severe,” West said. “Invest and build more schools and centers, recruit staff who are certified and can help kids that face challenges – be it physical, mental, developmental, social to become productive citizens of Prince George’s County.”

After her presentation Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks promised to have a representative contact her to discuss her issues the following day.  She was under the assumption that follow up would have helped her by now. However, she has yet to be given the chance to speak with that representative but she still presses forward until changes are made.  

“The lack of additional resources in these areas need more awareness in our County. We must do better for our children and I will do everything I can to help my son and others whose voices cannot be heard, West concluded. “I will advocate for them until they can advocate for themselves and the generations that come after them because Prince George’s County Public Schools helped them.”