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Posted at 12:25 PM ET, 06/28/2011

Mediator: District cuts corners in special ed suit

Despite significant progress in some areas, the District has failed to meet its commitments in the “Jones” segment of the Blackman-Jones special education lawsuit, a court-appointed mediator reported Monday.

Former federal judge Richard A. Levie concluded that the District cut corners when it counted as implemented in a timely manner a number of hearing-officer decisions and settlement agreements to provide students with special education services.

The District entered a consent decree, or settlement, in 2006 for Blackman-Jones, a 1997 class action brought by parents of D.C. special education students who contended that the city had failed to provide adequate services.

In 2009 the plaintiffs invoked the Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADR) provision of the decree to force the city to live up to its agreements. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman named Levie and former D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer to preside over the ADR process.

The two sides agreed that the requirements of the Blackman segment of the suit--which called for elimination of the backlog of cases pending before hearing officers--have been met. It means that the city could exit that part of the case in the near future.

But Levie said in a 27-page report issued Monday that the District has fallen short on Jones. “The hard reality is that the required level of timeliness has not been met,” he wrote.

Levie essentially agreed with the findings of a court-appointed evaluation team that issues annual progress reports on District compliance with Blackman-Jones. In December 2010, the team cited “fundamental misjudgments” and “short cuts” in the handling and closure of “significant batches of cases as a result of the District’s rush to reach the finish line.”

The instances cited by Levie from the evaluation report included cases ”inaccurately closed as timely due to Defendants’ deliberate misrepresentation of the record or absence of critical documents.” It also included instances of cases closed and counted as implemented when parents failed to obtain an independent evaluation of their child within the required 45 days.

The District has 14 days to contest a series of recommendations from Levie, or they will be considered part of the consent decree. Most of the recommendations involve halting practices like the ones described above.

DCPS general counsel Robert Utiger was out of the office Tuesday and unavailable for comment. Nathaniel Beers, the new deputy chancellor for special education, did not return an e-mail request for comment.

By  |  12:25 PM ET, 06/28/2011

 
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