Disabled students not tracked, lawyers say Filing accuses schools of insufficient data

March 05, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for disabled public school students in Baltimore filed a memorandum in federal court yesterday saying that the city can't even keep track of its special education students, much less compensate the ones it already has failed to help.

"The city is supposed to track the kids and they've never had a computer system that works," said Leslie Seid Margolis, an attorney for the Maryland Disability Law Center. "We're finding kids all the time who aren't getting timely services. What we ultimately want is for kids to get their education on time in the first place. It would be easier."

The memo was filed in U.S. District Court in support of a November motion that asked Judge Marvin J. Garbis to take control of special education away from Baltimore and give it to an outside manager.

Yesterday's memo and the November motion are the latest wrinkles in the complicated, 11-year-old lawsuit.

In June, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hired Sister Kathleen Feeley to manage special education for city schools, hoping to avoid the possibility of a takeover.

With the hiring of Dr. Feeley, city school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey lost authority to manage special education services for about 18,000 of the system's 113,000 or so children. Dr. Amprey retains control over the entire school system's budget.

Lumped in with a jumble of other litigation between the city, the state and the American Civil Liberties Union over education in Baltimore, the special education case is not scheduled for trial until the end of this year.

Ms. Margolis said she would like to see specific arguments over special education separated out of the combined suits for a more timely hearing.

At the heart of yesterday's memo was the way in which the city deals with disabled children who never received proper services. The suit seeks to force the city -- which receives millions of tax dollars to educate disabled children -- into somehow meeting its obligation, whether through training or materials.

Baltimore has has acknowledged that between 1991 and 1995, it has failed to deliver acceptable services to less than half of its eligible students.

Compensation is not in the form of cash. One young man pursuing a vocation received a set of carpentry tools for special education he never received.

Yesterday's memo said that "many students entitled to compensatory services have never been identified. The total number of students entitled to compensatory services is not known because [the school system's] tracking system produced notoriously incomplete and inaccurate data."

If nothing else, Ms. Margolis said, the compensatory program should be taken away from the city and put into the control of an outside monitor. Because the city often fails to make good on meet its obligation to provide special education, it could at least give disabled students things such as books and computers to help them learn, she said.

Pub Date: 3/05/96

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