Harris tours Benedictine School
RIDGELY — U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1, visited the Benedictine School on Tuesday, April 18, to learn more about the school and the vast range of services it offers to children and adults with developmental disabilities.
The stop was the first throughout the First Congressional District on his schedule this week, while Congress takes a recess.
Harris took a tour of part of the sprawling campus outside Ridgely, seeing classrooms, residential halls and the school’s graphic design business, and talked to administrators about the school’s future.
Students presented Harris with gifts created by the school’s multiple in-house businesses, and Harris gave the school a U.S. flag that flew Feb. 13 over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in recognition of the school’s mission.
The Benedictine School was founded in 1959, by the Sisters of St. Benedict, and today serves 67 students, ages 5 to 21, from throughout Maryland and the MidAtlantic region, most of whom live on campus fulltime.
In 1982, it added its Adult Services program, now serving more than 120 adults ages 22 and up, offering employment in its own businesses, including graphic design, a greenhouse, landscaping, a bakery and mobile cleaning services, or employment training for adults seeking jobs elsewhere.
The Adult Services division also provides residential support to more than 70 adults living in 18 homes in Annapolis, Easton, Henderson, Denton and Ridgely.
In total, Benedictine employs about 425 full- and part-time people, making it one of the largest employers in Caroline County.
Scott Evans, executive director of Benedictine programs and services, is the first lay person to head the organization in its history, after co-founder and longtime executive director Sister Jeannette Murray retired in 2012.
Evans said the school has transformed many times over the years to meet the changing needs of its students, and is facing yet another transition in the near future.
For one, the Sisters of St. Benedict, who are part of a diocese based in Wilmington, Del., will move to the Wilmington area in the next couple of years, as convents merge due to declining numbers.
Evans said only two active sisters work on the campus now.
To prepare for that shift, Evans said, Benedictine’s board of directors bought 130 acres from the sisters, to make sure it still belongs to the school if the sisters leave.
Benedictine is also talking to potential local, state and federal partners, who might be able to use the massive infrastructure already in place on the campus.
For instance, the Caroline County Department of Recreation and Parks is in talks to use the school’s pool to offer summer swimming lessons, Evans said.
“We weren’t in a position to do that before, but now we can look at what resources we have, and see how we can be of further service to Caroline County and the entire Eastern Shore,” Evans said.
New federal regulations are also coming, Evans said. Of particular concern is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rule change.
Passed in 2014, it says all settings for people with disabilities must be integrated into the community, and non-residential settings must meet the same standards to ensure people receiving supports are experiencing the greater community just as much as they would were they not receiving Medicaid services.
The compliance deadline is March 2019.
Evans said while he agrees with the spirit of the rule change, he is worried about the deadline.
“Not having our funding changes answered is our biggest concern,” Evans said.
Harris said he would look into the deadline.
“If federal regulations are impeding your ability to do what you need to do, let me know,” Harris said.
Sister Mary Agnes, left, one of two Sisters of St. Benedict still active in the Benedictine School, has been a member of the convent for 60 years, and has worked at the school for 42. She met U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1, right, during his visit to the school.