School Board may be in violation


July 31, 1997


Staff Writer

After nearly 15 parents and former students described obstacles to getting appropriate special education services, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney said he believed there were grounds for a civil lawsuit against the Washington County Board of Education.

"We still have to do a lot of research. There's a lot here, though," said Dwight Sullivan, an ACLU staff attorney invited by Maryland Delegate Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's, to a community meeting Thursday night.

It was the second such meeting called by Benson, and nearly 50 people attended - more than double the number at the July 16 meeting.


The school board may be violating the state constitution and federal statutes that guarantee "a system of thorough and efficient education," especially to those with disabilities, Sullivan said.

He said he plans to consult with other ACLU attorneys, Maryland Department of Justice and Maryland Disability Law Center before contacting Benson again next week and mapping legal strategy.

All those at the meeting supported legal action against a school board that many alleged have been negligent in giving quality education to their children, most of whom suffer from learning disabilities or disorders or otherwise do not fit "school board norms."

"I'm finding that teachers are very unaware of children with attention deficit disorder and other disabilities," said Debbie Pryor, a parent consultant with Parents Place, a statewide children's advocacy group.

Many parents stressed the need for mandatory in-service training for all school system teachers to prepare them for handling students who learn at different paces.

But Martha Roulette, school board director of student services, said training already exists. "Teachers do a very fine job working with students with all kinds of needs," she said.

Tim Keller, 21, said he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a sleeping disorder and never received help, leading him to drop out of North Hagerstown High School.

When he returned to school to finish his secondary education, "I was told by the principal that I would never make it. And not only won't I make it, college shouldn't even be in the picture," he said.

Finishing up three semesters at Hagerstown Junior College with a 3.5 grade point average, Keller now plans to attend James Madison University in the fall, he said to rousing applause.

Other former students spoke of teachers suspending them, isolating them in the back of the room or placing them in a cardboard box, even though they were diagnosed with learning disorders that made it difficult for them to focus in class.

"God help the ones responsible for destroying children's self-esteem," Leslie Rutherford, a Hagerstown mother, said to spontaneous applause.

Rutherford said she plans to file for legal mediation because she believes her daughter's individual education program violated special education standards.

Benson asked all those present to attend and voice concerns at the next school board meeting Aug. 5 at 7:30 in the board conference room.

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