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Baltimore Chief in Contempt Over Spec.-Ed. Reports

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A judge has found Superintendent Walter G. Amprey of the Baltimore schools in contempt of court for failing to comply with a consent decree that mandates regular reports on the city's special-education programs.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis cited Mr. Amprey for civil contempt but said he would consider citing him with criminal contempt pending evidence from the Baltimore-based Maryland Disability Law Center, the plaintiff in a long-running lawsuit against the city.

The judge had ordered Mr. Amprey to appear before the court after the schools chief failed to provide by an Oct. 24 deadline a complete quarterly report on the district's special-education services. The district estimated that 18,000 of the system's 113,000 students receive such services.

The judge ordered the district fined $100 a day until it files a complete report, which Mr. Amprey agreed to do within 60 days after the Nov. 1 ruling.

The district has been under a mandate to file the reports since 1988, but Judge Garbis, in court documents, called previous reports "manifestly inadequate." He wrote that the district has avoided contempt proceedings in the past by promising to comply with federal and state special-education rules but consistently has failed to follow through.

The reports are supposed to include information on students with disabilities who are not evaluated in a timely manner or whose individual education plans are not being fully implemented.

'Not Business as Usual'

The law center filed a lawsuit in 1984 on behalf of one group of students, but the suit has since grown into a class action for all the district's students in special education, said Steven Ney, the center's legal director.

In 1988, the district signed a consent decree that requires the reports as a measure of the schools' progress toward compliance with special-education laws. Without complete reports, Mr. Ney said, there is no way of knowing the extent of the problem.

Donna J. Franks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Amprey, said the district acknowledges that its special-education programs have problems. But, she said, the report filed on Oct. 24 was "a good-faith effort" in moving toward compliance with the consent decree.

In a letter to Judge Garbis, Mr. Amprey said he could not certify that the report was complete and accurate because not all the district's schools had reported on their special-education students. Ms. Franks said there was too much data to load into the district's computerized-tracking system to meet the deadline.

Last week, the judge appointed an outside computer expert to advise the court on the city's computer system.

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