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Cedar Chapel, WCDC await state decision

(May 1, 2015) New philosophies in the way disabled adults enter into and maintain employment could force major changes in the way students at the Cedar Chapel Special School are taught and adults at the Worcester County Developmental Center gain employment.

Of course, it first boils down to funding.

“The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services contributes 50 percent of the funding for disabled adults and since they contribute so much money they have decided to start making rules,” Jack Ferry, executive director of the developmental center, said.

The Affordable Care Act mandates this change and Maryland has until 2019 to develop an implementation plan. Both the WCDC and Cedar Chapel school, as well as the Eastern Shore delegation in the Maryland Assembly, have written letters in support of the existing system.

Currently, students at the school follow a needs-based curriculum designed to prepare them to enter the workforce or continue developmental at WCDC. Ferry said the goal is to prepare every client for eventual entry into the workforce, “no matter how long it takes.” Ferry said one client had been with them for 17 years before he was ready.

Clients of the WCDC may choose to work at the developmental center in jobs earning less than minimum wage. For example, clients work to produce soap that the WCDC then endeavors to sell at venues including next weekend’s Springfest. Soap sales brought in about $6,000 last year, Ferry said, and total salaries for clients are expected to break $100,000 this year.

Critics of the federally required structure maintain that its regulations eliminate client choice.

Outlined in the plan is an “employment first” approach that obligates students or clients to fail to obtain regular employment before being diverted into programs such as the WCDC.

“It’s like Henry Ford said, you can have any color you want as long as it’s black,” Ferry explained.

The impact would trickle down into student instruction at Cedar Chapel.

“The goal is to establish that we’ve tried everything we can to get adults out into the community. As a parent, I would find it difficult to place my child into that situation,” Belinda Gulyas, principal of the Cedar Chapel school, said. Gulyas is also a member of the board of the WCDC.

“Our staff understands our students’ needs. They understand the schedules, structures and the things they need. The child is set up to transition easily. Some may only be able to work for 30 minutes at a time successfully. At a normal job this isn’t provided for,” Gulyas said.

She also thinks it’s counter to the goals of her school.

“What we do all day is proactive and sets our students up to be successful. Instead of success, it will prove they are unable,” she said.

Yet Gulyas has no desire to demonize other avenues of discussion concerning her students.

“The motivation for the change is inclusion. I understand that. Every person should be included in life, but we’re eliminating a part that has been really successful and is all-or-nothing in presentation,” she said.

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