Special ed progress?

October 10, 2005

There's at least some welcome progress in the ongoing struggle between Baltimore schools and Maryland's Department of Education over special education.

A consent agreement reached last week by the city, state and families of disabled students sets out a plan to provide make-up services to special ed students in Baltimore who failed to get them during the last school year or during the summer. City school officials must now deliver on their promise to students - with help from the state.

The agreement would restore about 90,000 hours of services such as speech and language therapy, physical therapy and counseling that a federal judge has determined are owed to disabled students. A joint panel consisting of a project manager appointed by the city school system and an oversight manager from the state will take responsibility for making amends. Among other things, the panel will analyze missed services, design and manage compensatory services to be provided in schools, recruit appropriate therapists and other providers and coordinate services that need to be given during non-school hours, including weekends. The city school system, which has conceded its failure to deliver these services, will foot the bill, possibly tapping into unused state special ed funds.

This latest development on compensatory services is an offshoot of the continuing lawsuit filed more than 20 years ago by families seeking better educational results for their disabled children. But the city school system's inability to provide these services when it should have undoubtedly helped convince the judge that overall supervision of the city's special ed system should be given over to a new team of managers selected by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. That team has started trying to make special ed work better.

In the past, families of disabled students have had reasons not to trust the city or the state, both having been defendants in the lawsuit. The new agreement gives city and state educators an early chance to show that, working together, they can be part of the solution, not just the problem.

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