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Three schools run by EAI are cited by state for special education omissions


Three schools run by Education Alternatives Inc. have failed to provide some special education services required by federal law, and the city must craft a plan to correct violations by Aug. 1, the state Department of Education says.

A 17-page report, including the state order, capped a two-month investigation by a team appointed by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

In response to the American Federation of Teachers' charges of numerous violations of state and federal laws, the team visited the schools and reviewed reams of student records and other documents.

The investigation, which focused on Dr. Rayner Browne and Mary E. Rodman elementaries and Harlem Park Middle School, found:

* Some students with disabilities have been placed in regular classes without sufficient parental notice or consent, in violation of federal law.

* Teachers had not participated enough in student placement decisions, and many teachers remained unaware of a student's disabilities or need for special education programs.

* Programs for disabled students who are included in mainstream classes failed to meet educational requirements.

* Evaluations of disabled students were not always completed in the required time period.

"Cleary, there were and continue to be some serious problems with compliance," said Richard J. Steinke, assistant state superintendent for special education. "But none of these problems are insurmountable."

He said EAI made "significant strides" toward compliance during its second year running the schools, 1993-94.

The state investigation concluded that the most serious and widespread lapses were at Harlem Park, the only middle school among the nine "Tesseract" schools that EAI began running in 1992 as part of a five-year city experiment.

The state ordered the city to evaluate special education staffing at Harlem Park to ensure that handicapped students' needs are met.

EAI released a statement saying: "All of the accusations are either without merit or are being corrected in partnership with EAI and [city schools]." Company officials declined further comment.

City school officials pledged to correct any violations at Tesseract schools or any others, said Nat Harrington, school system spokesman.

In March, the 850,000-member AFT asked the Clinton administration to investigate whether Minneapolis-based EAI violated federal law by cutting services for disabled and poor students at Baltimore's Tesseract schools. The U.S. Department Education, in turn, asked the state to investigate.

At Harlem Park, the union charged, the company "dismantled" ** programs for nearly 300 special education students during the 1992-1993 school year, while reducing the number of special education teachers from 24 to 11.

Without completing required "individual education plans," the company routinely moved special education students to regular classes, sometimes over the objections of parents, the union said.

In the 1992-1993 school year, Harlem Park had the worst record for complying with special education requirements. Violations there exceeded the total number of cases at the other 176 city schools.

But state officials stressed that special education woes are not limited to EAI-run schools. On Wednesday, a federal judge, ruling in the latest volley in a decade-old lawsuit over the city's failure to provide required services to thousands of special education students, ruled that a court-appointed team must have some say in key staffing decisions.

At the heart of that legal battle is the city's failure to comply with federal law on the length of time handicapped students must wait for formal evaluations and services such as physical therapy and psychological counseling.

Federal law requires that the city assess a child's needs within 45 days of referral and place a child within 30 days of development of an individual education plan.

The city has consistently failed to meet the requirements, forcing some students to go without services and others to wait more than a year for services, city officials have acknowledged.

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