Filing faults 3 city schools

Facilities fail to provide special-ed services, Md. says

Summer sessions compensatory

State is seeking to manage much of Baltimore system

August 02, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

To further their case that a federal judge should give them control over much of the operation of Baltimore schools, state officials said in court papers yesterday that staff at three city schools were unaware last week of their obligations to provide compensatory services to students with disabilities this summer.

The compensatory services to 8,000 special-education students - six hours of summer sessions in such services as speech and physical therapy and counseling - are intended to make up for breakdowns over the past school year.

The failure to adequately provide services prompted U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis to ask the parties in a 21-year-old lawsuit over special education to submit proposals last month for increased state control over the city school system.

The Maryland State Department of Education has proposed sending state managers into eight school system departments, including human resources, guidance and transportation, as well as a lead administrator. The state is a co-defendant in the case but contends it does not have the authority to compel the school system to improve.

Lawyers for students with disabilities, who filed the lawsuit in 1984, say Garbis should impose an outside administrator to run the city's special-education program and school system departments that affect it. They argued in filings yesterday that the state's plan is inadequate, saying the state hasn't committed the capacity or resources to bring about institutional change.

But since there is less than a month before school begins, they recommend that the state plan be implemented as an interim solution for the coming academic year. They wrote that students are "in desperate need of intercession by this Court."

The city says both proposals amount to an unwarranted outside takeover of the school system. Garbis is scheduled to preside over a hearing Aug. 10 on how to proceed.

In the latest round of court filings, submitted yesterday, the state said it sent administrators last week to monitor the services being provided to students at three schools. "In each school they found no students receiving services, principals and staff who did not even know that their school was a Summer Remedy site, and ... service providers left on their own to muddle through student files," the state's filing says.

School system spokeswoman Edie House said last night that system officials have concerns about the accuracy of that information. "We are fully prepared to respond in court," she said.

Janet Jacobs, an education program specialist in the state's special-education division, wrote about her experience at the three schools in an affidavit.

At West Baltimore Middle School, the new principal was unaware that her school was one of 11 sites identified to provide compensatory services this summer, she wrote. Other school administrators said the speech pathologist had provided some services to pupils but was now on vacation.

At Commodore John Rogers Elementary, a service provider told state officials, "There was no system in place for either assigning or distributing cases to providers," Jacobs wrote. She added that "folders were stacked haphazardly on the floor, and it was up to the providers to go through the stacks and choose their own cases and determine where they would provide services."

At Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School, the assistant principal and special-education department chair said they did not know students were supposed to be receiving services this summer, Jacobs wrote.

In their filings, city school officials outlined steps they have taken to prevent a repeat of the breakdown in services that occurred last school year. They include hiring new directors of special education and human resources and an agreement to create a parent-complaint hot line. They also reiterated areas in which the state could better help the school system to serve special-education students.

"Comprehensive takeover remedies are extraordinary, last-resort measures reserved for the rare situation when all else has failed," the city's filing says. "The record before the Court demonstrates that all else has not failed, and indeed that plenty else remains to be tried."

The school system again criticized the state for proposing that the system pay the $1.4 million a year it would cost to send state managers into the system. The state responded that the school system has failed to spend millions of dollars it received to serve students with disabilities.

The students' lawyers wrote in their papers that the measures the city is taking to improve "are simply too little, too late."

Whatever is decided in federal court is expected to have significant political implications, particularly for Maryland's gubernatorial race.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who has said the city schools are turning around, is expected to challenge Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in next year's election. Last year, Ehrlich and O'Malley sparred over who would bail the city schools out of their financial crisis.

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