Schools seek relief from court orders Progress claimed in educating youths with disabilities

Old lawsuit, new chapter

Limit on powers of oversight team, court monitor sought

March 08, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Claiming substantial progress in properly educating children with disabilities, the Baltimore schools moved yesterday to have court orders governing their handling of special education students changed or dismissed.

The schools' motion, filed late last night in federal court, seeks to restrict the powers of a three-person oversight team and a court monitor, both imposed by the court to help bring the schools into compliance with federal special education laws.

The motion came on the heels of a federal court order instructing Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to stop harassing employees whose job it is to set up a computer system to monitor the education of the schools' 18,000 students with disabilities.

The actions and counteractions are the latest chapters in a 12-year-old lawsuit brought against the school system by the Maryland Disability Law Center on behalf of individual students.

U.S District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who imposed the cease-and-desist order on Dr. Amprey this week, has shown increasing impatience with the school system's inability to comply with federal laws.

The school system now asserts that it has achieved significant progress in providing appropriate services for children with disabilities, especially since Sister Kathleen Feeley became the court-ordered special education administrator.

"The motion shows where we think we are," said Abbey Hairston, a lawyer for the school system. "We want to limit the role of the oversight team and the court monitor because it's another layer of bureaucracy."

Regarding the cease-and-desist order, a school system spokesman, Nat Harrington, defended Dr. Amprey, saying, "There's no evidence or finding of facts that Dr. Amprey has engaged in any wrongdoing. We interpret the order to be mainly for the purpose of having the top person in the school system be responsible for seeing that no person is impeding the process."

Mr. Harrington said the computer system employees are "overdue and over budget by millions of dollars" in creating a monitoring system that was to be finished in December and is still not complete.

Dr. Amprey is out of town, but Mr. Harrington said it would have been inappropriate for the superintendent to comment anyway. He did say that the superintendent and Dr. Feeley had discussed the issues in the cease-and-desist order and are working to resolve them.

Lawyers for the Disabilities Law Center refused to comment on Judge Garbis' order, as did the judge.

In April, Judge Garbis ordered a number of reforms, including the appointment of a special education administrator to oversee the city's special education curriculum -- which had been Dr. Amprey's responsibility -- and the replacement of the computer system.

In August, the court-appointed monitor, Felicity T. Lavelle, hired a new director of the schools' Management Information Systems, who is attempting to set up the new computer system.

"Other folks are now running special ed. Other folks are now running" Management Information Systems, Mr. Harrington said.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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