Berger says he won't negotiate until suit is dropped

July 28, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Superintendent Stuart Berger says he won't negotiate with a group that sued the school department last week to stop changes in the county's special education programs unless it drops the legal action.

And the attorney for the group said yesterday that if Dr. Berger won't negotiate, she'll press for an injunction to stop the transfer of hundreds of disabled students from special education centers to neighborhood schools.

"If we were to agree to negotiate after the filing of a lawsuit, it would indicate that we were willing to negotiate only under that threat," Dr. Berger wrote in a letter to attorney Beth Goodman.

"We respectfully decline to give anyone that impression."

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seeks to stop the movement of special education students into neighborhood schools until the proper procedures spelled out in federal law have been followed.

It also seeks to keep students in the programs they attended last year until the suit is settled.

The original suit did not ask for an injunction blocking the transfers. If granted, an injunction would create serious problems for the school department, which has already transferred hundreds of students, along with teachers and support personnel, and has only six weeks remaining until the start of the new school year.

In a letter accompanying the original complaint, Ms. Goodman said that her clients would be willing to discuss a resolution out of court, if one was offered by today.

Ms. Goodman, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specializes in special-education law, filed the suit on behalf of the Learning Disabilities Associations of Maryland and Metropolitan Baltimore, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and five families whose disabled children have been moved out of the special centers.

Dr. Berger, who is a lawyer, said he regretted the time and money that would be spent in settling the lawsuit but thought the accusations of improprieties alleged in the suit deserved "full disclosure." He noted that it was not his decision to bring the suit.

If the lawsuit is dropped, the superintendent wrote, "we would be pleased to enter into negotiations."

Dr. Berger has refused to comment publicly on the lawsuit. But his letter was made available by Ms. Goodman when she answered it yesterday.

She said that because the superintendent's reasons were "without foundation, we can only conclude that you are not prepared to negotiate a satisfactory resolution of the issues. . . . As a consequence, the plaintiffs have no alternative but to move ahead with the lawsuit and to file a motion seeking injunctive relief."

In his letter, Dr. Berger defended the school system's decisions, which have been the subject of intense controversy for several months. Parents unhappy with the moves and how they were made have fought to stop them.

Recently, Marjorie Rofel, the school system's director of special education, asked administrators in the special schools to contact those parents whom they think may be unhappy with the plans for their children and work on other possible placements.

Ms. Rofel denied that the action was a response to the lawsuit threat.

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