Special-education tutoring to replace missed services

The Baltimore Sun

A federal judge is allowing the Baltimore school system to give special-education students tutoring in place of making up the speech therapy, counseling and other services they missed two school years ago.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who oversees a decades-old special-education case, had previously required the city school system to make up nearly 90,000 hours in services that children did not receive during the 2004-2005 school year.

With the current school year almost complete, the system still has thousands of hours of services to make up, plus more services that have been missed in subsequent years.

In an order signed yesterday, Garbis conceded that giving the students tutoring would be better than giving them nothing. The school system will be allowed to contract with outside tutoring providers to do some of the work.

The state and the city school system are co-defendants in a lawsuit filed in 1984 by lawyers for students with disabilities, alleging they are being denied their right to an adequate education.

Attorneys representing the students were unhappy with yesterday's ruling.

Robert Berlow, an attorney with Maryland Disability Law Center, argued in court Monday that tutors in place of specialized instructors would be insufficient.

"If a child needs counseling, at best they're going to get tutors," Berlow said upon hearing the judge's ruling yesterday. "But we don't know who these tutors are, what their qualifications are."

The breakdown in services two school years ago was so severe that it prompted Garbis to order the state education department to send outside managers to oversee all school system departments responsible for special education.

Yesterday's order allows the system to use tutors for 318 students owed more than 10 hours of service each, a total of more than 5,400 hours. The system has permission, granted last month, to use tutors for the 775 students owed less than 10 hours of service.

Garbis wrote that the choice is between providing nothing at all to the special-education students or providing "all of them with tutorial services that will greatly benefit some, modestly benefit some, be of little or no benefit to some and probably not do any harm to any of them."


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