This baby isn't over yet

August 16, 1993

Last Thursday was a good-news, bad-news day for the Baltimore County school system's inclusion plans -- its attempt to push special-education students into regular schools -- starting with the academic year that opens in less than a month.

The good news for the system and Superintendent Stuart Berger was that a federal judge denied a request, made by a group of parents of special-ed students, advocates and the county teachers union, for a restraining order blocking the system's inclusion plans.

The bad news was that the investigative panel of a task force commissioned by the school board found the Berger administration had seriously botched its implementation of the inclusion plan, possibly to the point of violating federal law.

Dr. Berger might have spoken too soon when he said after the judge's ruling, "This baby is over."

That's far from the case. This baby could be more problematic than ever. The ruling of a U.S. District Court judge is one thing, but the judgment of a backyard panel that has examined copious testimony and is attuned to the public mood is another matter altogether. It may, in fact, have greater bearing on the immediate future of Dr. Berger and his proposed changes to the school system.

Anyone hoping some answers would have emerged by now -- with the new school year a few weeks away -- is left only with more questions. If the task force and, ultimately, the school board agree with the harsh judgment of the investigators, might the inclusion plans be stopped or drastically altered at the last minute? If the final report of the task force is very critical, would it create an environment even more hostile to Dr. Berger, affecting not just inclusion but many of his other ideas? Will Dr. Berger stick to his threat of resignation in the event of a damning report?

We might also ask: When will Dr. Berger learn to avoid such lapses of diplomacy as "This baby is over"? That only serves to alienate his opponents and supporters alike. This is no time for gloating. Rather, it's a time for the system to be working to rectify what everyone agrees was the school administration's poor handling of inclusion. Special-education staffers reportedly have been doing just that, contacting unhappy parents to ask what might be done to ease their concerns.

That would suggest some school officials have learned from past mistakes. They'd be wise to do so. After all, this baby isn't over yet -- not by a long stretch.

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