Judge ends 26 years of special education oversight for city schools

March 08, 2010|By Liz Bowie | liz.bowie@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

Saying that Baltimore's schools have made great strides in the past several years toward providing better teaching to special education students, a federal judge ended 26 years of oversight of the school system and paved the way for a final settlement in two years.

U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis accepted an agreement from the parties in a lawsuit that began in 1984 when the Maryland Disabilities Law Center filed suit on behalf of several special education students saying they were not being offered adequate services.

Standing on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Baltimore near noon, a crowd of officials, lawyers and educators who had been involved in the lawsuit over the years celebrated a milestone that seems to be the end of the suit.

School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, Governor Martin O'Malley, Schools CEO Andres Alonso, attorneys for the special education students, school board members and other educators said there was now great improvement and collaboration. Under the agreement, the city will have to meet a set of criteria, that if met, will end the suit no later than September 2012. In addition, the state will continue to actively monitor the school system's progress.

Leslie Margolis, who represented the students for most of the 24 years, said since Alonso had arrived nearly three years ago, the school system had agreed "to work hard, to work well and to work in partnership."

But the animosity between MDLC and the school system was at times palpable over the years. "I never quite imagined that I would be standing here today," said Margolis today.

For two decades the court and plaintiffs were frustrated by their failure to improve services to those students who continued to achieve at much lower rates than their peers. "The court found there to be a significant breakdown in everything from evaluating children, providing educational programs to transportation for these students," said state superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Over the years, Garbis ordered a series of more and more wide-ranging controls to attempt to make the school system help children in special education. At one point, much of the control of the school system was under an outside administrator he had appointed. At other times, he installed state monitors to run the human resources department and transportation services of the system.

But that began to change in the past several years, Grasmick said.

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