schools named in complaint
System failed to provide enough special education teachers,
by Jonathan D. Rockoff,
Baltimore Sun, September 25, 2002
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Several Baltimore County parents have filed a
first-of-its-kind complaint with the State Department of
Education, accusing the school system of violating the law by
failing to provide enough teachers and instructional
assistants for the 9,000 special education students taking
The six-page complaint contends that Baltimore County school
officials devised a staffing plan based on the number of
teachers the system could afford, rather than on the needs of
students with disabilities, as required by federal and state
"The plan is based on how much money is available, not based
on what the kids need," said Teresa K. LaMaster of
Catonsville, the complaint's author. Seven other parents
signed the document, which was filed with the Education
Department last week.
The school system declined to comment while state education
officials review the complaint. "It would be premature and
improper to discuss issues associated with the plan while it
is being reviewed," said Charles A. Herndon, county schools
The complaint is the first in the state to challenge a public
school system's staffing plan for special education students,
rather than a program for a particular child.
In 1999, Maryland dropped a statewide mandate for staffing and
began requiring school systems to develop their own plans.
The allegation has prompted state education officials to
question how they would investigate. They expect to review the
staffing available to a sample of special education students
in county schools, collect data and interview school
"It really is going to be a challenge," said Carol Ann Baglin,
assistant state superintendent for special education and early
intervention services. Her office has 60 days to investigate,
report its findings and, if required, order corrective action.
The Baltimore County school system has more than 13,000
students with disabilities ranging from pronunciation
difficulties to a combination of physical, emotional and
intellectual problems. Of those, 9,000 take regular classes.
Under federal and Maryland law, the system is required to give
the students a free education. If appropriate, the child
should be educated in a regular classroom.
The complaint accuses school officials of quietly dropping a
staffing plan this year that would have required the hiring of
400 teachers and instructional assistants, adopting in its
place a plan that didn't provide enough faculty to educate
every special education student eligible for regular classes.
As a result, the complaint contends, some children are put in
special education classes outside their neighborhood schools.
Kelli P. Nelson, a Reisterstown parent who signed the
complaint, said parents hope that if violations are found,
county officials will be forced to confront the fact that the
school system could lose millions of dollars in state and
federal aid if they don't allocate more money for special
"We're looking for some teeth so when we go to the county
executive and County Council we'll be able to get additional
staff and resources," said Nelson, chairwoman of the county's
Citizens Advisory Committee for Special Education.
In a written response to the parents during the summer, which
was included in their complaint to MSDE, the school system
said it formulated a staffing plan after reviewing federal and
Maryland law, consulting with teachers and checking the plans
of other school systems. It said the plan is rewritten every