Special-ed students still lack services

164 children listed as underserved

October 09, 2005|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

Even as the Baltimore school system plans to provide tens of thousands of hours in makeup services to special-education students for lapses last school year, it has had trouble delivering services in the first month of this academic year.

According to court papers filed this week, 164 special-education students missed 570 hours of services between the first day of school, Aug. 29, and Monday.

The bulk of the hours came from a small number of students with disabilities missing classroom instruction because buses did not show up to take them to school.

State officials and lawyers for students with disabilities say the failure exacerbates a bad situation. But school system officials said the numbers show significant progress over the first month of last school year, when 136 special-education students missed 3,456 hours of services.

"While it's not where we want to be, it's vastly improved," said Bonnie S. Copeland, the system's chief executive officer.

As the new problems emerged, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said school system administrators have not been cooperating with the state managers a federal judge authorized her to send to fix the city's troubled special-education program.

"There are serious problems in the level of collaboration and cooperation," Grasmick said in an interview. She expressed the same concern in court Wednesday.

Copeland said Grasmick had not told her of those concerns before she brought them up in court. She said she would look at how her staff is working with the state.

The school system and the state are both defendants in a 21-year- old lawsuit filed by lawyers for students with disabilities. In August, U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis authorized unprecedented state intervention, allowing Grasmick to send managers to oversee eight school system departments that affect special education, from human resources to transportation.

On Wednesday, Garbis told the school system and the state that if they can't make that arrangement work, more drastic intervention will be necessary.

The parties were in court to hash out the details of a plan for the school system to provide tens of thousands of makeup hours that special-education students should have received last school year. They had reached a tentative agreement Sept. 21, but it broke down in the ensuing weeks.

Under a final agreement reached this week, the provision of makeup services will be overseen by a two-person team: one representative from the school system and one from the state. But the school system will cover the cost of the services, likely to be millions of dollars, and bear legal responsibility if there are problems.

While the state is responsible for making sure students get services this school year, state officials said the school system has not been providing the managers with basic information they need to monitor service delivery. Copeland responded that "if people were having difficulty getting information, I would have expected someone from the team to come to me directly, and I've not had that."

A document the school system submitted to the court this week shows that 15 children did not receive 375 hours of classroom instruction in the first month of school.

In 14 of the 15 cases, system officials said, the problem was that children were not transported to school. In some cases, that was because system administrators had not entered students' addresses into a computer program, Copeland said, but other times the problem was that students had moved and not provided the system with their new addresses.

In addition, 135 children did not receive 164 hours of speech therapy in the first month of this school year. School system administrators have blamed the problem on a national shortage of speech-language pathologists. But preparing for court this week, the system discovered that some of the clinicians it has on staff did not have full caseloads, a mistake it is working to correct, said Douglass Austin, the system's chief of staff.

Under the consent agreement about making up services from last school year, children and their families can choose to receive makeup services during school, after school, on the weekends or next summer.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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