Accord on special-education suit

Lawyers for city schools, state, disabled children reach a tentative agreement on services

Baltimore & Region

September 22, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sun reporter

Lawyers for the Baltimore school system, the state and children with disabilities reached a tentative agreement yesterday over how the school system will provide its special-education students with tens of thousands of hours in makeup services.

Many details of the plan have yet to be hammered out. But Amy Totenberg, the special master in a 21-year-old special-education lawsuit, told U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis that if the parties were always as cooperative as they were yesterday that "we'd be making a lot more progress in this case."

The parties spent nearly five hours behind closed doors hammering out the terms of an agreement to avoid having a hearing in which Garbis would have dictated a plan.

The tentative deal is designed to provide special-education students with up to 90,000 hours in makeup services such as speech therapy and counseling that they were legally entitled to receive last school year. The accord would cost the school system up to $10 million.

The state and the school system, co-defendants in a lawsuit filed by lawyers for children with disabilities in 1984, had submitted competing proposals. Under yesterday's agreement, the school system will contract with the provider it wanted, Care Resources Inc., though the company will not be the only one providing makeup services, Totenberg said.

Among the details of the agreement, which Totenberg outlined in court:

Parents will be able to choose when they want their children to receive services, which will be offered Saturdays, after school, next summer and during the school day.

There will be a major push for the school system to hire more staff members to provide the services. In the past, the system has relied heavily on contractors, a practice that has caused problems.

Some services will be provided to children in groups, while others will be provided individually, depending on their needs.

Between now and Sept. 30, officials said, the school system faces a daunting task: completing a database detailing what services children missed. Douglass Austin, the system's chief of staff, said the system will hire dozens of temporary workers to meet that deadline.

It is estimated that about 9,000 special-education students are owed 77,000 to 90,000 hours of makeup services that were missed or not properly documented last school year.

Under the system's initial plan, all 9,000 students would have received six hours in makeup services. Under yesterday's agreement, students who missed more than six hours in services will receive more than six hours in makeup services. Still to be decided is whether students who missed less than six hours will receive what they missed, or whether six hours will be a minimum for every child, Austin said.

Overseeing the project will be one representative each from the school system, the state and Care Resources.

As a result of the service breakdown last school year, Garbis authorized the State Department of Education last month to assume control of eight school system departments that affect special education. The system is appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The system does not dispute that it must provide students with makeup services, but it contends that state intervention is unwarranted.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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