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 Article of Interest - Court Cases

Special-Ed Law Violated, Judge Rules

by 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 won."


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."


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