Officials disagree about EAI violations

August 04, 1994|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Sun Staff Writer

Federal and state officials are quarreling over the handling of special education students by Education Alternatives Inc., the for-profit company that runs nine Baltimore schools.

The state, acting on a complaint from the American Federation of Teachers, had launched a two-month investigation that found violations at three schools. Last month, it ordered city school officials to submit a correction plan by Aug. 1.

But on that same day, Thomas Hehir, director of special education for the U.S. Department of Education, sent the state a stern letter saying that it hadn't been critical enough. He cited six violations and warned, "We expect [the department] to exercise its general supervision responsibility."

"It's extraordinary from our point of view," state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday. "We aren't in accord with their observations and will write a comprehensive response."

The allegations had to do with the way EAI, the Minneapolis company that operates nine "Tesseract" schools, moved students from special education classes to regular classes.

The union charged that the shift was made without following federal procedures designed to protect students and parents.

Most of the charges centered on Harlem Park Middle School, where the union said EAI, in an effort to save money, "dismantled" programs for nearly 300 special education students two years ago and reduced the number of special education teachers from 24 to 11.

Some of the deficiencies at Harlem Park were corrected last year, according to state officials.

Baltimore met the Aug. 1 deadline, hand-delivering a correction plan on Monday, said Richard J. Steinke, assistant state superintendent for special education.

"My preliminary analysis is that all areas mentioned by [Mr. Hehir] are being covered, but we want to be sure, so we'll do a detailed analysis," Mr. Steinke said.

The state is involved in the special education matter because it distributes federal funds and is responsible for ensuring that local school districts comply with the law.

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