Lawyers representing disabled students asked a federal judge yesterday to strip Baltimore of its authority over special education -- or if necessary, all of its schools.
Their request served notice of the lawyers' lack of faith in the school system's ability to correct its special education problems under new management brought in during the summer in the latest attempt to end long-standing litigation.
In April, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke separated control over special education from all other school matters managed by Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.
Mr. Schmoke hired Sister Kathleen Feeley as the administrator for special education in June to lead the school system's efforts for improvement. The hiring was part of an agreement intended to avoid the ultimate remedy the judge could choose to resolve an 11-year-old special education lawsuit -- a takeover.
But that step was requested by the lawyers yesterday in a motion filed in that case. If U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis agrees, the city would lose control over some part -- or potentially all -- of its school system to ensure that the rights of physically and mentally disabled students are guaranteed.
"The measures agreed to by the parties are not producing sufficient progress," the court filing says.
"Dr. Feeley has made valiant efforts, but there is confusion. There are some people in the school system who are marching in line, and cooperating with her, but others who are not," said attorney Winifred DePalma of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which represents the students.
Ms. DePalma said the plaintiffs' goal is a "partial receivership," in which the court would appoint a manager for special education. Under the current arrangement, Dr. Feeley reports to the mayor.
Dr. Amprey lost authority to manage special education services for about 18,000 of the schools system's estimated 113,000 children, but retained control over the entire school system's budget.
Both Dr. Amprey and Dr. Feeley since have said publicly that they are trying to make this arrangement work, but the children's lawyer's request yesterday reflects impatience with it.
Neither Dr. Amprey nor Dr. Feeley could be reached late last night.
Judge Garbis has given parties in the lawsuit until Dec. 15 to respond. The lawsuit filed against the school system alleged that it failed to comply with federal laws governing the education of children with disabilities.