- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — State officials have called for a takeover of Baltimore’s public school system, saying its leadership is “incapable of delivering the very basics of a free appropriate public education to more than 15,000 special-needs children.”

In documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court, state education officials called Baltimore’s special-education program “a failure of extraordinary magnitude.”

Problems are so pervasive that the court should appoint someone to take control of “transportation, human resources, finance, information technology and general education,” the officials said.

The filing was made before U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who is overseeing a 21-year-old class-action lawsuit in which attorneys for disabled students said the city schools failed to give them appropriate services and to accurately diagnose disabilities.

The state is also a defendant in the lawsuit, but says it does not have the authority to compel the city schools to improve.

Baltimore officials argued in the filing that the state has broad authority over its special-education program.

They said the state can better help the city schools by eliminating redundancies in auditing and monitoring, and improving the training and technical assistance it provides. City officials said the state has failed to provide timely and adequate technical assistance.

School officials also described their efforts to improve their track record, from hiring more buses to transport disabled students to school to restructuring the staff hierarchy.

More than 15,000 of Baltimore’s 86,000 students have a physical, emotional or learning disability. Most of those students attend regular classes but need extra services, such as counseling, tutoring and speech therapy.

Among the statistics included in the state’s filing:

• Nearly 99 percent of Baltimore’s 10th-graders with disabilities failed the state reading test this year.

• The school district has failed to increase the high school graduation rate for students with disabilities from 32 percent to 41.6 percent, as it agreed to do in a 2000 consent decree.

Attorneys for children with disabilities say financial problems are partly to blame for a major breakdown in services that occurred last school year, reversing a few years of progress.

They say special-education students were hurt by widespread teacher vacancies, class sizes as large as 50 students, buses that failed to show up and layoffs at the central office that prevented the district from providing schools with adequate support and technical assistance.

“We are literally right back at the same point we were at the beginning,” said Janice Johnson Hunter of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which filed the suit in 1984. “This case keeps going full circle. Every day we’re losing students.”

The parties in the suit have until Monday to file responses.

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