Special-Ed Law Violated, Judge Rules
Theola Labbé, Washington Post Staff Writer,
Friday, August 9, 2002; Page B02
The Calvert County school
system violated federal law when it failed to
provide a blind student with a
certified vision teacher last year, a state
administrative law judge has ruled.
In his 38-page decision,
Judge William C. Herzing found that without a
teacher trained in Braille, 11-year-old
Aaron Richmond fell behind in fourth
grade and was denied a "free and appropriate public education," as
required by the Individuals With
Disabilities Education Act. The school district's
efforts to find a vision teacher amid
a national shortage did not excuse it,
Herzing ruled in a lawsuit filed by Aaron's parents.
"While there is no doubt
[the district] faced difficult circumstances
regarding the availability of vision
teachers, and made extensive efforts to find
a replacement . . . the child was denied a free and appropriate
education," he wrote in a decision Monday.
Herzing also determined
that the school system failed to give Aaron all the
technology he needed in third grade,
but he agreed with the district that Aaron
received Braille versions of his textbooks and appropriate
technology last school year.
Superintendent James R.
Hook said the district never disputed that it needed
to hire a vision teacher. "We were
wrong because we didn't have one, but we
were trying to do everything that we could," Hook said.
After Aaron's parents, Jill and Kyle
Richmond of Port Republic, filed their lawsuit in
February, the district offered a
$10,000 signing bonus to recruit a certified
teacher for blind and visually impaired students. A
teacher was hired last month and will
start in January. Hook said the district is
searching for a second teacher to work with
the 20 visually impaired students in Calvert
County's public schools. Under the judge's
ruling, the district will be required to pay
for a tutor to help Aaron make up for missed
schoolwork. Robin Welsh, the district's
director of special education, called the
decision "favorable." The Richmonds viewed it as
a victory. Their attorney, Mark B.
Martin of Baltimore, said the district's
inability to provide Aaron with a teacher
was at the heart of the lawsuit. "You always
want to prevail on every issue. However, the one thing
that dominates Aaron's case is the
need for 16.5 hours of service a week from a
teacher of the visually impaired," he said.
Jill Richmond agreed.
"Aaron needed a Braille teacher," she said. "Should
the county have to hire a teacher of
the visually impaired? You can see, yes, we
Mark Richert, executive
director of the Alexandria-based Association for
Education and Rehabilitation of the
Blind, said parents and school districts can
learn from this decision.
"Schools, with a good
amount of effort, may stand a better chance of finding
a teacher," he said. "Parents can
fight to get a specialized teacher for their
kids-they don't have to accept the status quo."