Bank Account Program for Special Ed Students Raises Concerns

Montgomery County special education program that ostensibly sought to teach students, some of them severely disabled, money management skills is under investigation after education advocates as well as parents protested that it was unethical and quite possibly illegal, Lunh Bui of the Washington Post reports. The program involved opening up bank account at the teachers' credit union in students' names and then take them to make withdrawals during the school day.

Parents claim that they had no knowledge of the accounts.

According to Bui, the program only came to light after families begun receiving denials of their applications for public assistance programs like food stamps because of the cash in the students' accounts. However, no one knows what happened to the cash as the documentation, including W-2 forms that came with them, was addressed to the school and not to the parents or the guardians of the students involved.

Every week, kids would be taken to the credit union location – now closed – to withdraw the funds. The money was turned over to the adults and no one is quite clear on what happened to it since.

"It's not a lot of money," said one Rock Terrace parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "But the purpose of using my daughter's name and Social Security number is totally so wrong. I'm so upset because my daughter's identity has been misused."

The parent said her child, 19, is non-verbal and unable to walk far without assistance. Going to a bank would be a useless educational experience.

"She doesn't have a way to understand whether 25 cents or a dollar is bigger or smaller," the mother said. "How would she benefit from using that bank account?"

The source of the money is the district's Transition to Work program which allows students to work in local businesses performing tasks like stuffing envelopes, and in exchange receive a small stipend from MCPS, in an effort to help them develop life skills necessary to live independently. According Rock Terrace employees, the money withdrawn from the account was used to fund a pool from which students were allowed to take money to go to the mall or restaurants or a store. Such trips were thought to promote skills like comparison shopping, budgeting and using public transport.

But parents said they sent their children off to school with cash to pay for community activities. If the money put into their children's bank accounts was used for community outings, parents want to know why they also sent money each week and where that money went.

Despite its aims, the program's structure is unusual and ripe for fraud and abuse, said Diane Smith Howard, the staff attorney for juvenile justice and education at the National Disability Rights Network.

"It sounds terribly well intentioned but tremendously poorly managed," Smith Howard said.

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