Walter G. Amprey, the superintendent of schools, lost the authority to manage special education services yesterday in a series of federal court orders redirecting Baltimore's effort to comply with laws protecting students who have learning and physical disabilities.
U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis yesterday ordered Baltimore to hire a new administrator to manage the programs; to develop short-term goals for improving the services for those students; to map a long-range plan for following the laws governing the students' education; and to replace the districts' computer tracking system for special education cases.
"Hopefully, today's actions will mark the beginning of the end of this case and of this Court's oversight of the School System's operations," Judge Garbis wrote.
His action divides the school administration in a manner proposed last month by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who, by intervening in the case, now will become a defendant in the 11-year-old lawsuit.
Mr. Schmoke suggested the shift of powers in March because he feared Judge Garbis had lost faith in Dr. Amprey's ability to give disabled children adequate education. Although child-advocacy and school-management groups disagree about the viability of this arrangement -- in effect an unorthodox, dual superintendency -- the judge's memo makes clear his willingness to let the parties in the case give it a try.
"The concept will be given a chance to work," he wrote. "It is viewed by the Court as a genuine effort to bring BCPS into compliance with federal law and not as an excuse for further delay in providing legally required services to affected students."
Dr. Amprey, who will retain authority for the rest of the school system, was ordered to continue attending meetings of the court-appointed management team that oversees improvements to the services received by about 18,000 students.
When necessary to advance the school district's plans for special education, the judge's order says, the new administrator will have "the full authority to reprimand, transfer, suspend, demote, promote and terminate the employment of any BCPS personnel."
Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke declined to comment on the orders or on his new responsibilities for special education. The new administrator will report to him.
"We welcome the mayor's involvement, and we hope that a person can be found who can move this case toward resolution," said Winifred DePalma, an attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center, which represents the student plaintiffs.
Earlier yesterday, Dr. Amprey said he was not "crazy about" the reorganization, but believed it was best for the affected students and for Baltimore.
"I'm going to do all that I can to make sure that we hold this effort together. I'm going to be cooperative. The mayor and city have a lot at stake; the children have a lot at stake," he said.