Groups representing Baltimore County teachers and families of disabled children yesterday asked a federal judge to stop the "dismantling" of special education schools and classes and the transfer of disabled youngsters into neighborhood schools.
The request for a temporary restraining order, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, also asks the court to stop the school system's "current pattern and practice of coercion, intimidation and threats against parents and special education teachers who seek to help" the youngsters involved and their families.
The motion says the plan to move youngsters out of the county's five special schools must be stopped because the school system did not follow federal procedures for educating children with disabilities. "The means for providing the affected students with an appropriate education have been totally ignored by [the] defendants," the motion says.
If the order is granted, the school system could have to restore some of the classes it has moved out of special schools. At Chatsworth, for instance, nearly three-fourths of the students have been reassigned to special education classes or regular classrooms.
However, parents who were satisfied with the new placements would not have to send their children back to the special education schools.
No hearing date has been set for the motion.
The plaintiffs' request comes more than two weeks after the Learning Disabilities Associations of Maryland and Metropolitan Baltimore, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and five families sued the school system, charging it with "implementing a policy under which the individual needs of children with disabilities are being ignored."
The county and state school boards, county Superintendent of Schools Stuart Berger, county Director of Special Education Marjorie Rofel, state Superintendent of Education Nancy Grasmick and Assistant State Superintendent Richard Steinecke were named as defendants.
County schools spokeswoman Myra Treiber said there would be no comment on yesterday's action.
Baltimore attorney Leslie Stellman, who is representing the school board, Dr. Berger and Ms. Rofel, said he had not received a copy of the motion.
He did say he filed a motion Friday to dismiss the original suit on grounds that the plaintiffs had not exhausted all available means through state and federal laws for ensuring appropriate placements for their children.
The federal law governing the education of the handicapped requires each student to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that spells out how the child will be educated and what services he or she will receive. Teachers, parents and administrators must be involved in developing and evaluating this plan annually, the law says.
Some Baltimore County parents say their children's IEPs were changed to meet the needs of the school system. They also have charged that teachers were ordered "to lie" on the IEPs to accommodate the school system.
The school system is under a ruling by the federal Office of Civil Rights to move as many disabled children as possible out of special education schools and into neighborhood schools.