Special Education

Decades-Old Suit Over Special Education Services in Baltimore Comes to a Close

By Nirvi Shah — September 20, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A nearly 30-year-old lawsuit over special education services in Baltimore has finally been settled.

Vaughn G., et al., v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, was filed by the Maryland Disability Law Center as a way to address delayed evaluations for students with disabilities, a violation of the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

The 84,000-student district agreed, in 1984, to find ways to eliminate the delays in evaluation and improve special education overall. But for years, the district failed to meet any of the deadlines agreed to in the original consent decree. Several additional agreements between the district and the lawyers representing students with disabilities attempted to resolve the deep-rooted problems, with little success.

But in March 2010, Baltimore entered into a settlement agreement in the lawsuit, which the district called a probationary period. The city had to continue providing special-needs students with services, give them support in obtaining a regular education, and work to reduce the numbers that are suspended each year during that time. “The probationary period is now over,” the district said in a written statement today. The case “is officially closed.”

The end of the case marks a difficult time in the district’s history, school board chairman Neil Duke said the statement. “Difficult, because nearly 30 years of litigation has meant facing some difficult truths about how we failed our kids, not to mention the administrative and financial burden that long-term litigation places on a school district. And important, because the litigation has made us better at what we do—especially for our students with disabilities who, for too long, were denied the educational supports and services they deserved.”

Federal litigation over the district’s failure to meet the needs of students with disabilities—who make up 15 percent of the district’s students—began in 1984. Another consent decree in 2000 laid out Baltimore’s obligations to end the case. The district’s work toward meeting those obligations led to the March 2010 settlement.

As for Vaughn Garris, whose name the lawsuit bears, things have not turned out so well. In 2007, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his neighbor.

In an interview with Baltimore Sun, he said he didn’t know if the suit has helped students with disabilities in Baltimore.

“I don’t know if the lawsuit helped anyone,” he told the newspaper. “It didn’t help me. Look where I am.”

But a review of the district by the newspaper concluded that it had.

The Sun found that the lawsuit has helped the school system to improve, and in turn do better by thousands of students who two decades ago wouldn't have had a chance of being successful in the classroom. But there are still many students who continue to fall through the cracks, The Sun's investigation found. Sandra Spears, who heads the CityWide Special Education Advocacy Project, echoed the newspaper's findings. "All things must come to an end," she said. "But monitoring must continue. We must always be watching."

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Opinion Inclusive Teachers Must Be 'Asset-Based Believers'
Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Opinion 20 Ways to Support Students With Learning Differences This Year
Embed student voices and perspectives into the classroom is one piece of advice educators offer in this third pandemic-affected school year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Special Education Schools Must Identify Students With Disabilities Despite Pandemic Hurdles, Ed. Dept. Says
Guidance stresses schools' responsibilities to those with disabilities, while noting that federal COVID aid can be used to address backlogs.
2 min read
School children in classroom with teacher, wearing face masks and raised hands
Special Education Attention Deficit Rates Skyrocket in High School. Mentoring Could Prevent an Academic Freefall
Twice as many students are diagnosed with ADHD in high school as in elementary school, yet their supports are fewer, a study says.
4 min read
Image of a child writing the letters "ADHD" on a chalkboard.