Hundreds of complaints filed annually against schools for individualized education programs

Complaints trending down in some counties

In 2010, a Baltimore City mother filed a complaint with the Maryland Department of Education over a grievance she had with her son’s individualized education plan, according to complaints posted online on the Maryland State Department of Education website.

She said mediation happened without her knowledge. She was considering a lawsuit.

Another Baltimore City mother filed a complaint after learning her son with special needs went three months without proper transportation to school.

A year later, city school officials failed to implement special education services to a student incarcerated in Maryland’s Department of Juvenile services, online records show . He went a year without the extra course load.

Since 2010 state education officials have received hundreds of complaints against IEPs.

While the plans are designed to help students with special needs get the extra help they need, grassroots activists say they aren’t doing enough to ensure special-need students are getting the support services they need to succeed.

WATCH ABC2 In Focus Thursday for an in-depth look at the grassroots effort behind correcting IEPs.

The activists come from all over the state. All have the same belief: IEPs are failing.

Between 2010 and 2013, IEP complaints to the Maryland State Department of Education have remained steady, fluctuating from 117 to 123. Baltimore City and Baltimore County public schools had the highest amount of complaints filed by parents, compared to neighboring counties.

Under Maryland law, when a student has a disability, schools will issue an IEP to provide support services.

Considered a binding document, services can range from extra test time and special classes to having a teacher aide in the classroom.

Rusty Gray, Director of Special Education for Carroll County Public Schools, said there are always challenges to implementing IEPs.

“The point is safeguards have been put in place to ensure the plan is executed,” he said. “If there is a problem, we work with mediation to help overcome a potential issue.”

Gray said the school continues to see a decrease in complaints filed compared to other counties.

To ensure that the plans are implemented Carroll County schools operate in a “three step process.”

Students with IEPs are assigned to a caseworker. Caseworkers then work with educational consultants and special education supervisors.

“Another part of the team is the parent,” Gray said. “They work with us so plans can be implemented accordingly.”

Gray stressed that one setback to special education needs is ensuring caseworkers aren’t overwhelmed with their caseload.

Under Maryland law, a teacher does not have a cap on how many students they could be helping, compared to West Virginia.

“When I worked there -- if a teacher had a certain amount of students on their caseload, another teacher was hired,” Gray said. “That’s not the case here.”

Casey Huether is the mother of a 15-year-old girl with an IEP at a Carroll County High School. Huether successfully lobbied with a lawyer to make sure her daughter was placed on the graduation track as part of her IEP, according to a public record posted to the Maryland State Department of Educaiton website. She filed a complaint in June 2013. The matter was resolved by August.

“[But] most families just don’t have the resources to fight them. …The process is expensive, exhausting and biased. … They’re using our tax dollars to fight us,” she said.

Students are either placed on graduation tracks or certificate tracks, which Huether said do not adequately address her daughter’s educational needs and her desire for her daughter to live as normal a high school life as possible.

“I have a beautiful 15-year-old daughter. She’s a cheerleader. She has a lot of great friends. Everything is perfect. She has a disability,” Huether said. “Having a disability and having to go to public school is the problem. It’s truly a battle.”

Huether’s daughter will graduate in seven years when she is 21 years old, as part of her IEP.

“It’s different school to school because some people get it and some people don’t,” Huether said. “We’ve got this huge budget crisis up here. There’s no question about it. … Students with special needs are taking the brunt of it.”

Gray said he could not discuss details about complaints and deferred to the numbers that show complaints in Carroll County are going down.

Students on the diploma and graduation track must also take statewide standardized testing. Student who receive a certificate do not. Under state law, students with IEPs are re-evaluated every three years. The students on the diploma track are given an IQ test, which could disqualify them from the track.

Schools system can't remove a student from the diploma track and place them on the certificate track unless the student scores below a certain percentile on the IQ test. 

Huether said this is an unfair practice.

“It’s certainly not the best indicator,” she said.  “I think a lot of people would have a problem with using an IQ test to determine

the future for your child, even if they didn’t have an intellectual disability.”

At the same time she recognized Carroll County Public Schools are struggling to get by under the weight of a “huge budget crisis.” The Carroll County Board of Education discussed potential spending cuts after premilinary funding figures were released in late March, reports the Carroll County Times

“Every year they’re being asked to do more with less,” she said. “There’s no question about it  … students with special needs are taking the brunt of it.”

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