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Howard County Councilwoman presses Superintendent Foose for full special education report

Place cards are set up on a table at the ceremony where the new Howard County Council would hold their first session after taking their oaths of office Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 at Glenelg High School in Glenelg.
Place cards are set up on a table at the ceremony where the new Howard County Council would hold their first session after taking their oaths of office Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 at Glenelg High School in Glenelg. (Jon Sham, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Howard County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa pressed Superintendent Renee Foose Wednesday for the full version of a report on special education that parents and elected leaders say school officials are hiding.

"For $300,000, I guess I'm just trying to understand," Terrasa said. "There is a 26-page document, but there was no more information?"

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In 2014, the school system paid District Management Council, an educational consulting firm, $300,000 to evaluate how it educates students with special needs. Despite several public information requests for a full report of the findings, the school system has only released a 26-page summary titled "Highlights for Sharing."

Foose told Terrasa at the County Council's quarterly meeting with the Board of Education on Wednesday that the "Highlights" constitute the whole report.

"So I guess I'm somewhat surprised that $300,000 went into a report that is 26 pages long and that it's called 'Highlights for Sharing,'" said Terrasa, a Democrat representing District 3.

Montgomery County Public Schools commissioned a review of special education in its schools for $150,000 and released a 144-page report on their findings last October, which Howard County parents and officials point to as evidence that there is more to the Howard County report.

"Did you guys ask for additional information from DMC?" Terrasa asked. "Were you given any additional information from DMC?"

In response, Foose said that the District Management Council looked at the school system's data and gave a full analysis of how special education students in Howard County are progressing in comparison to students around the state.

"Well it sounded like they did a lot of one-on-one interviews, they did online parent surveys, hard-data classroom visits, benchmarking against best practices in the community and other research," Terrasa said. "So I guess I didn't see that in the 26 pages."

"This is the report that we're sharing," Foose said. "Are you asking for that, Jen? We'll send it to you, if that's what you're looking for."

In recent months, Howard school officials have repeatedly been accused of hiding public, taxpayer-funded information by parents and county officials, at public meetings and in interviews with the Howard County Times.

At a work session of the Howard County Delegation in January, state Del. Warren Miller said about the school system's leadership, "They want to hide stuff that taxpayers have paid for."

The Maryland General Assembly is currently considering legislation proposed by Miller, a Republican representing District 9A, that would open an investigation into the school system's refusals to fulfill public records requests since Foose took office in 2012.

Miller consistently refers to the special education report as an example of why the bill is necessary.

At the end of their discussion Wednesday, Terrasa asked Foose repeatedly if there is more information from the District Management Council's review than what is contained in the 26-page document that the school system released.

Foose said, "That is all the information synthesized from the information, the data collection."

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"I just want to know what information you received from DMC," Terrasa said, "and whether we can receive a copy of that, given that $300,000 went to them."

"Certainly," Foose said.

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