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School Board requests legal review

August 16, 2000

School Board requests legal review



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


The Washington County Board of Education will ask its attorney to review comments made at a July Washington County Circuit Court hearing at which concerns were raised about the future of the Job Development Center.

Some School Board members want the attorney to look into remarks made by Circuit Judge John H. McDowell, who questioned whether school officials were being deceptive about plans for the Job Development Center. Other board members want the attorney to look at school administrators plans for the center.

During a court case involving a 16-year-old former student of the Job Development Center, McDowell summoned Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett to testify about the future of the Job Development Center. McDowell questioned Bartlett about allegations school system personnel were told not to place students at the center even if they needed the specialized skills training offered there for retarded and challenged students.

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Bartlett said he had no plans to close the school that serves older special-needs students.

During the July hearing, McDowell said, "the Board of Education is trying to deceive this court" regarding its plans for the Job Development Center in Smithsburg. He added that Bartlett was "at best ... evasive, at worst perjurious" in his testimony about the Job Development Center.

At a Tuesday Board of Education meeting, member B. Marie Byers asked for an investigation into the comments, but later agreed the board should consult a lawyer for advice on how to proceed.

Board Chairman Paul Bailey said the request was made by Byers during the miscellaneous business portion of the meeting and no vote was taken. He said he had not yet discussed the matter with the School Board's attorney.

"Is it OK for a judge to make comments like this? I don't know," Board Vice President Doris J. Nipps said Wednesday. "We're hoping (board attorney) Judy Brezler will help us out."

Bailey said he wants Brezler to advise the board on "what course of action we need to follow."

Bailey said he felt the judge's remarks were directed at school administrators and not the elected School Board.

McDowell was not available for comment Wednesday.

Nipps said she hoped the comments and the issue that sparked them "could be put to rest." She said it was "time to tie up loose ends and comes to closure with this issue."

Contacted Wednesday, Byers said she wants Brezler to look at the special education issues raised in the case, as well as "look at the transcript to see how questions were answered."

Officially, the School Board has not discussed Bartlett's testimony.

Nipps said she believed "the superintendent told the truth and I hope staff told the truth."

Byers said she wants Brezler to look into whether school administrators have plans to reduce the number of students sent to the Job Development Center, to reduce the services the school provides, and to close the facility.

"What is the future of our special education students?" Byers asked. "We have a legal and moral responsibility to provide services to children with special needs. The quality of service is important to the children, their parents and this community."

The court case involved a teenager who was charged with making a series of false fire calls. During a juvenile hearing, the future of the Job Development Center was discussed because the teenage had been transferred from the center to South Hagerstown High School.

McDowell described the teenager's transfer as a reason the youth was frustrated and acted out.

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