Lawsuit claims denied disability services, discrimination of City College student

Federal lawsuit against school system could seek at least $75,000 in damages

February 11, 2011|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

The mother of a former City College sophomore has filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore school system, alleging that her son was denied services for his disability and was repeatedly suspended, expelled and arrested at the school without due process.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Wednesday, names as defendants the city school board and city schools CEO Andrés Alonso, as well as officials with the offices of support and safety and suspension. It also lists former City College Principal Tim Dawson, current Assistant Principal Dale J. Halterman, city school police Chief Marshall T. Goodwin and two city school police officers.

The suit, which said the family will seek at least $75,000, claims a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It cited negligence on the part of city schools to enforce laws that protect handicapped students and said the schools intentionally discriminated against him and punished him for behaviors associated with his disability.

The suit was filed by Towson attorney Katherine Linzer on behalf of the unidentified family. City school officials declined to comment on the case because it is pending litigation. No trial date has been set.

Several incidents were outlined in the 24-page complaint, which detailed the student's education in Baltimore, beginning in 2003 when he was in third grade. It was then that the student's disability — which Linzer declined to identify — was documented, and his education was amended to provide for special accommodations in the classroom and counseling services, according to the suit.

The student did not have a state-mandated individualized education plan, which is customary for students in special education, Linzer said, but instead had what is called a 504 plan under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

Throughout middle school, the student needed and received counseling to address attention difficulties, social skills and self-esteem. He also experienced behavior problems "regarding male/female issues, and difficulties making academic progress," according to the suit.

By the time the student was a ninth-grader at City College, the complaint said, he was still eligible for services that would help him transition into high school but did not receive them. As a result, the student was suspended from the school repeatedly for his behavior. He was also arrested on several occasions — including over accusations of sexual harassment, robbery and assault — for cases that were ultimately dismissed in juvenile court, the suit said.

"The multiple suspensions … multiple behavioral referrals, and failing grades should have put the public school on notice and triggered an obligation to reassess and re-evaluate [the student]," the suit asserted.

The complaint said that when the student was suspended from City College, officials did not hold the "manifestation meetings" required to determine whether the incidents were a result of his disability. School police and administrators also did not properly present sufficient evidence for the student's arrests or suspensions or advise him of his right to counsel, the complaint said.

In addition to emotional distress, anxiety and humiliation, the complaint said, the student has suffered "substantial educational and developmental losses, causing a permanent decline in further development, which adversely impacts his future earnings and earning potential."

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