Special education court case showed law at its worstHaving...


October 21, 1998

Special education court case showed law at its worst

Having read the spate of articles and commentary about the special education lawsuit that has bedeviled the city schools ("Lost Learning," Sept. 20-22), I can only concur with Charles Dickens: "The law is an ass."

How else to explain millions of taxpayer dollars spent on legal fees, impossible compliance requirements, and a bizarre giveaway of TVs, VCRs, computers and even a Caribbean cruise to compensate special-education students for the learning they failed to receive?

How else to explain that a presiding judge denounced the office that made these awards as "a glaring example of bureaucratic inefficiency" and then inexplicably turned it over to a court monitor who for 10 years did nothing discernible to improve school system accountability -- and who earned $1.8 million for her efforts? Even more troubling, she was permitted an inordinate amount of business to be steered to a single salesman at a local Circuit City outlet. Some $2 million more in electronic toys were given away.

How else to explain one of the students' lawyers who said, "If more of these kids were being served in the regular classroom . . . you'd have fewer children in special education," when her lawsuit drained so much money from the regular classroom it undermined the very education she complained was not being provided?

And how else to explain that it took 14 years before the insanity of this legalistic nightmare was finally confronted by Circuit Court Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, who noted that the students' lawyers had so lost their focus they couldn't see they were no longer helping their clients?

This travesty borders on the surreal. If it teaches anything, it is that prolonged litigation often creates more problems than it solves. It also suggests we may be relying too much on litigation to solve our education problems, many of which are simply not amenable to judicial wrangling.

Howard Bluth


Smart guns would protect people from selves, others

It appears that Colt will soon produce handguns that will fire only for authorized users. Susan Glick's Oct. 4 Perspective article, "Smart guns, dumb idea," on these so-called smart guns suggests that she is either a very unconventional safety advocate or someone who does not understand how products regulations tend to affect sales of the regulated product.

Smart guns, more commonly known as personalized guns, would provide a clear safety advantage over other guns. Young children, adolescents and burglars cannot harm themselves or others with a personalized gun if it comes into their possession. Prohibiting manufacturers from offering safety features of this sort would be unprecedented and unwise.

The real question is whether forcing manufacturers to offer this safety feature on all handguns would have a net benefit for public safety over a free-market scenario that will soon offer consumers a choice between personalized and non-personalized handguns. Ms. Glick suggests that requiring all handguns to be personalized would boost handgun sales and thus make us less safe.

Yet that is not the way consumers tend to respond to regulation. If all new handguns had to be personalized, handgun consumers would face an increase in price and a narrower range of options. It would be hard to find a credible economist who would predict significant increases in handgun sales under these conditions. A much more likely scenario for all handguns being personalized is fewer, yet safer handguns being sold, and ultimately, fewer deaths.

Daniel W. Webster


The writer is an assistant professor with the Johns Hopkins University's School of Hygiene and Public Health, Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Can't stand the love among Clinton, governor, Kennedy

The Sun reported that Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend helped reunite the president and governor with the help of Sen. Edward Kennedy, the lieutenant governor's uncle. Now the governor says he is "real proud" of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. All that love gives me goose bumps.

Hats off to Ellen Sauerbrey.

Jean Clancy


Democratic defectors defy their party's principles

I am amazed and depressed by the decision of some prominent Democrats to support Ellen Sauerbrey. What do they find in Ms. Sauerbrey's record that bears any semblance to party principles?

Although I am a Democrat, I am not a party die-hard and there have been Republicans for whom I have had respect. The Democratic Party simply represents my core principles more than the Republican Party generally does. That is why I have voted for candidates like Parris N. Glendening and Bill Clinton, even though I disagree with them on some issues.

To vote for their opponents would have required me to compromise my basic beliefs. Unfortunately, some Democratic Party leaders appear to have no such adherence to the basic principle of their party.

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