Special Education

Legal Fight Over Spec. Ed. in Baltimore Enters New Phase

By Christina A. Samuels — December 06, 2005 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In 21-year-old suit, judge OKs plan for state-appointed administrators to intervene

After more than two decades of court battles over problems in the Baltimore city school system’s special education department, the district and the state of Maryland have embarked on a far-reaching intervention effort.

Under a federal judge’s order, Maryland has selected nine administrators from school districts around the state to work directly with the Baltimore district in personnel, information technology, guidance, and transportation, among other departments. The five-year effort, at $1.4 million a year, is to be paid for with federal special education funds.

The move is the latest chapter in a 21-year-old lawsuit against the city school system that says the district does not provide timely services to students with disabilities. State officials are careful to call the work of the team a partnership with the 87,000-student school system, and to note that state-picked administrators are working with Baltimore district staff members, not supplanting them.

(Requires Macromedia Flash Player.)

“We’re not here to take over their jobs,” said Carol Ann Baglin, the assistant superintendent of special education and early-intervention services for the Maryland Department of Education.

Ms. Baglin said this effort is the first time another party has worked with the district to create the building blocks of a successful special education program in Baltimore. For example, under previous agreements in the lawsuit, the district had to improve graduation rates for students in special education. But there were no specifics on how the district should achieve that goal, she said.

“The only way graduation rates improve is if you get kids to school, and they have good instruction, and a meaningful program,” Ms. Baglin said, explaining why state administrators are working with the city in so many different departments. “We don’t know if it’ll work. But it’s what administrators all agree is how good systems are getting it done.”

Decision Appealed

But Baltimore school officials say that their special education system, while troubled in some areas, has some good programs that have been ignored or overlooked by the state. The outside administrators “have been very pleasantly surprised, and kept on with some things that we’ve had in place,” said Maryanne Ralls, the district’s interim student-support-services officer.

The school district has appealed the order by a U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore to bring in the state administrators, saying that the plan usurps their local authority to manage the district.

“I don’t think any of us would say it feels like a partnership at this point,” said Douglass Austin, the district’s chief of staff. The outside administrators themselves have been working well with district staff members, but Baltimore and the state have an adversarial relationship in this lawsuit, he said. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor, and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, have also been sparring over school district oversight. (“Looming Race Fuels Sniping Over Baltimore Schools,” Sept. 14, 2005.)

“Were we left alone without that central state oversight, I think we would have that partnership,” Mr. Austin said.

The back and forth between settlement and appeal is painfully familiar to observers of the long-running case. Several agreements have been reached in the past over the lawsuit, which was filed in 1984 by the Baltimore-based Maryland Disability Law Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for people with disabilities in the state. The parties, however, have continued to battle over the settlements and their implementation.

“It’s been sort of a challenge to watch from the sidelines and see the Maryland state department of education and the Baltimore city public schools system tussle over what needs to be done,” said Janice K. Johnson Hunter, the interim director of the Disability Law Center. The center wanted the judge to appoint a receiver for the school system, but understood that the judge wanted to try what he considered a less intrusive approach, she said.

‘Failed Enterprise’

The legal battle began when the plaintiffs said that the school district was not meeting timelines required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for assessing children for special education services and drawing up and implementing individualized education programs for them.

In 2000, the parties agreed on a program that would set 15 “ultimate measurable outcomes” that would improve special education programs in the city.

Ms. Hunter of the Disability Law Center said that process seemed to work well for a few years. But the district continued to have problems providing services such as speech and language therapy. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis stepped in when a district plan to offer compensatory services to thousands of students this past summer reached only about 300 students.

Since his August 12 order, Judge Garbis has reiterated to the Baltimore district that it must pay the outside administrators’ salaries and carry out the changes they recommend. State officials are “taking over a failed enterprise, and they’re there to tell you what to do,” the judge told a school system lawyer in court, as reported in The Sun of Baltimore.

Mr. Austin said the district believes that the court order has been vague, both on the matter of who has ultimate oversight and on just what goals have to be met to have the state intervention end.

Ms. Hunter said that the case has benefited from having a judge who is “really concerned that federal law be followed.”

Still, a child in Baltimore schools now is probably not able to see much of an improvement in services, three months into the working relationship, she said.

“They can’t magically fix all the vacancies. Interruptions in service are still an issue. They can’t magically solve the class-size issue,” Ms. Hunter said.

By the end of January, she said, the parties are required to give the judge a status report.

“I think it’s fair to say then, let’s see if it’s working,” she said.

Related Tags:

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

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 Florida Changed Rules for Special Education Students. Why Many Say It’s Wrong
The new rule contains a more specific definition of what it means to have a “most significant cognitive disability.”
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
7 min read
Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education sits next to Florida Department of Education Board Chair Andy Tuck as they listen to speakers during Thursday morning's Florida Department of Education meeting. The board members of the Florida Department of Education met Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's Advanced Technology Center in Jacksonville, Fla. to take care of routine business but then held public comments before a vote to remove critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, and Andy Tuck, the chair of the state’s board of education, listen to speakers at a meeting  in June.
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP
Special Education 6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences
For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. Here are 6 tips for bridging the communication gap between families and schools.
Marina Whiteleather
3 min read
network of quote bubbles
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
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.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
4 Ways to Support Students at Risk for Dyslexia
Read this white paper: Dyslexia Screening and the Use of Acadience™ Reading and discover four distinct ways educators can improve student...
Content provided by Voyager Sopris Learning
Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP