- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Baltimore school officials to adhere to a strict reporting regimen on their progress providing services to special-education students after their repeated failures to make up for a massive breakdown in services last year.

Maryland’s governor criticized the city for running up legal fees appealing the case while students are not being helped.

The twin blasts aimed at beleaguered school officials marked the latest legal and political fallout of a 1984 lawsuit on behalf of students with disabilities. Plaintiffs in the 21-year-old case maintain that the city and state have failed to provide special-education students with the education mandated by federal law.

Although the city and state are co-defendants in the case, the two jurisdictions blame each other for the problems. The city says the state has not provided adequate resources and support. The state says the city squanders the resources it receives through mismanagement.

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.

But a budget crisis last year, marked by squabbling between city and state officials, paralyzed the system with widespread teacher vacancies, class sizes as large as 50 students, buses that failed to arrive, and layoffs at the central office that left schools with inadequate support and technical assistance.

The city eventually acknowledged that it owes special-education students 48,000 hours of speech and language therapy, 2,200 hours of psychology, 9,700 hours of occupational therapy, 1,500 hours of physical therapy, 18,000 hours of counseling and 10,000 hours of social work.

State officials have complained, however, that those numbers seem to change constantly.

In August, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ordered the state to appoint managers to oversee eight departments affecting special education, a decision the system has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Last week, Judge Garbis ordered the system to begin submitting monthly reports detailing the number of students in need of makeup services and the progress being made.

The judge warned that system officials face “most serious consequences” if they fail to comply. Although the order doesn’t mention specific penalties for contempt, they could involve jail time or fines.

On Wednesday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, expressed outrage at the mounting legal fees.

“This appeal has set me off,” he said at the state’s weekly Board of Public Works meeting. “Appealing what? Dysfunction? … We have a situation where we’re paying money to the city to pay for a lawsuit to oppose a judge who has had the guts to bring the state in to fix a system that fails 99 percent of the time.”

School board Chairman Brian Morris disagreed.

“We’re not going to run this school system based on some politicians’ polling data,” he said after the meeting. “The ongoing grandstanding that’s been focused on tearing down the children of Baltimore city is both sad and reprehensible. Our motivation is increased outcomes” for students.

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