Judge upholds plan to transfer disabled students Protest by parents, teachers rejected

August 13, 1993|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Staff Writer Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

A federal judge refused yesterday to block a plan by the Baltimore County schools to move hundreds of disabled children from special education centers to neighborhood schools.

Reversing the plan would cost $4 million to $5 million and would harm the school system and taxpayers more than going ahead with it would harm the children affected, U.S. District Judge Alexander Harvey II said.

The plan is to be implemented when school starts Sept. 7.

Groups representing county teachers and families of disabled children had asked the court for an emergency order to halt the plan, which they described as a "dismantling" of special education schools and classes.

"The very sad thing is that once again, the almighty dollar has won out over the rights of children," said Aime Rudolf, PTA president at Chatsworth, a special education school in Reisterstown. About three-fourths of the school's students are being moved to special education classes or regular classrooms.

Judge Harvey said a restraining order would be an "extraordinary remedy" and would be inappropriate because parents had not pursued other forms of appeal open to them. He also said the order would affect all students in the special education schools even though only a few parents joined the suit.

Judge Harvey also said he could not see how the plan would irreparably harm the Learning Disabilities Associations of Maryland and Metropolitan Baltimore and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, which joined the families in making the request.

"Undoubtedly, they will continue to function as before," he said.

Federal law requires that each disabled child have an individual education plan detailing the services he or she needs and how they will be provided. Parents, teachers and administrators are to hold annual meetings to develop and evaluate those plans. Parents say the schools reassigned many children without involving parents or teachers.

Stuart Berger, the county superintendent of schools, said there would be no further negotiations with the plaintiffs.

"This baby is over," he said. "This case shows there is a process. The irony is that they have yelled at us for not following the process."

School officials said yesterday that those dissatisfied with the moves can appeal them through the special education office. Parents who take that option can make subsequent appeals to a state panel and to an administrative law judge.

The initial appeal would automatically preserve the "status quo" but wouldn't necessarily preserve a child's place in a special education school if the child could get the same level of services at a regular school, said Leslie Stellman, an attorney for the school system.

Some parents say the new plan shortchanges their children by offering fewer hours and less intensive education. Not all of them felt comfortable with appealing through the schools, they said.

The parents and the three organizations that asked for a reversal of the plan said school officials coerced, intimidated and threatened parents and teachers.

School officials have staunchly denied those allegations.

Beth Goodman, the lawyer representing the Learning Disabilities Association and others, said her clients will pursue an injunction to block the plan. Their request will be heard in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before Judge John R. Hargrove. No date has been set.

The request for a restraining order came two weeks after five families and the three organizations sued the school system.

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