A federal judge called city and state school officials into court yesterday to express his concerns that Baltimore's special education students won't receive the services they need amid leadership changes in the school system.
City schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland is stepping down this week, and most top administrative positions overseeing special education are vacant or filled with interim replacements.
School system and state officials told the judge they will work together to ensure that services are provided. The system and the state were sued 22 years ago and accused of denying special education students an adequate education.
Charlene Cooper Boston, who takes over Saturday as interim CEO, assured U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis over speaker phone that special education will be her "highest priority."
The hearing came a day after the city school board approved $1 million to cover legal fees in the case for the next year. The system uses the Washington firm Hogan & Hartson.
This summer, the system is required to provide special education students with thousands of hours of makeup services, such as speech therapy and counseling, that they missed during the 2004-2005 school year.
Last year, after the breakdown in services, Garbis authorized state managers to oversee all city school system departments affecting special education. Throughout the past school year, state and system officials continued to bicker over who was at fault for the failures.
Garbis and Amy Totenberg, the special master in the case, said it is imperative that children receive makeup services this summer, and that schools be prepared to serve special education students when classes resume Aug. 28.