Education cutbacks defended

On 2nd day of hearings, more criticism of schools

July 24, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Lawyers representing city students tried to build a case in federal court yesterday that the school system is delivering inadequate education as it tries to recover from a financial crisis.

It was the second day of what was supposed to be a two-day hearing in a court proceeding that combined three long-term lawsuits over the quality of city schools.

But because the two judges overseeing the cases did not have time to hear from schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland or Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, they set another hearing for Aug. 3.

The system's chief academic officer, Linda Chinnia, spent several hours on the witness stand defending the administration's academic plans.

She had to defend summer school, which has been scaled back to a $500,000 program available only to some high school students, from a more than $11 million program last year that served elementary through high schools.

Chinnia, on the job since March, testified that some summer educational activities still were available to elementary and middle school pupils, including school-based programs, a summer-reading list and a Mayor Martin O'Malley-sponsored math challenge.

American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, anticipating her testimony, had put an education expert on the stand earlier in the day to testify that nothing could replace a well-organized, systemwide summer program.

As for the math challenge, the expert, University of Memphis Professor Steven M. Ross, said: "I don't want to sound cynical, but I don't think ... kids are going to rush home to do the mayor's math problems and compare answers."

In a rapid-fire style of questioning, William H. Murphy Jr., a prominent defense attorney and former Baltimore judge who is intervening in the case on behalf of a community group, elicited an acknowledgement from Chinnia that the summer-school cuts have harmed students.

Murphy said after the hearing that he thinks Chinnia conceded an even greater point during his cross-examination, and he had already requested a court transcript to prove it.

"It was unequivocal," Murphy said. "A flat-out admission that the city schools are not providing a constitutionally adequate education."

Chantel Morant, 16, who testified that budget and staff cuts had harmed students, hoped that she had made her point. "I think the judges favor the students, and they understand what's going on," the Baltimore City College student said.

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