THE DISTRICT

Judge Allows Lawsuit Against EPA

A federal judge cleared the way yesterday for citizen groups to pursue a lawsuit accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of failing to ensure that the District meets its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

The suit, filed by the Kingman Park Civic Association, Friends of the Earth and the Anacostia Watershed Society, alleges the EPA has been lax in getting the city to set and abide by caps on the discharge of pollutants into the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, Rock Creek and other waterways. The groups contend that EPA officials should have set their own limits.

EPA officials maintain that they have been working with the District to reduce pollution and have asked Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to dismiss the suit.

In a 16-page opinion released yesterday, the judge refused to toss out the case, saying the District's waterways have become increasingly polluted over the past two decades with toxins, bacteria, metals and other substances.

She cited a D.C. government report calling the Anacostia River one of the most polluted rivers in the nation and said the Clean Water Act of 1977 gives citizens the right to file suits accusing the EPA of failing to take action.

Buses Late for Special-Ed Students

Twenty-three D.C. special education students were not picked up on time for their first day of classes yesterday because of an administrative error, a school spokeswoman said.

After the error was discovered, buses were provided for 18 of the children. One child was taken to school by a parent, and four youngsters missed class altogether.

The students attend the private Frost School in Silver Spring at city expense because they require special education services unavailable in D.C. public schools. The school system, which also must provide bus transportation, had entered the wrong start date in its routing system, spokeswoman Denise Tann said.

The school system, she said in a statement, "regrets the error" and will transport all Frost students today, in addition to calling parents and sending home letters of apology.

Yesterday's apology and written account of the transportation error was rare for the school system, which for years has failed to provide enough buses and drivers to transport special education students to school on time, prompting lawsuits and complaints.

VIRGINIA

Switched Girl's Mother Appeals Deal

The mother of a child switched at birth has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to hear her appeal of an $875,000 settlement for the girl and the families raising her.

Paula Johnson claims that as Rebecca Chittum's biological mother, she has a right to approve or reject any settlement for the child. The court, which conducted a hearing yesterday, is expected to decide within three weeks whether to consider the case.

Rebecca, 4, was sent home with Whitney Rogers and Kevin Chittum a few days after her birth at the University of Virginia Medical Center. That couple's biological daughter was sent home with Paula Johnson. Chittum and Rogers died in a car crash on July 4, 1998, without ever learning of the switch. The parents of Chittum and Rogers have been raising Rebecca.

On April 5, a judge approved the settlement between the hospital and Rebecca and the grandparents who have been sharing custody of her. Terms of the agreement call for Rebecca to get $200,000 up front and $400,000 in an annuity that would be worth $1.5 million in 25 years. The grandparents would share $125,000, and their lawyer would get $150,000.

Paula Johnson is suing the hospital for $31 million. She maintains that the settlement is insufficient.

MARYLAND

Schools Chief Makes Staff Suggestions

Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T. Metts has informally recommended to the county's Board of Education her five choices for area superintendents in the new management structure that she had proposed.

The 185 schools in the state's largest system now are grouped into 20 clusters, each overseen by a chief educational administrator who is also a principal. Metts, who took office July 1, believes that those administrators were overworked by having dual roles.

In the new structure, the five area superintendents would oversee clusters of 37 to 42 schools apiece. According to sources, Metts has recommended Parkdale High Principal William LeFevre, Oxon Hill High Principal David Stofa, acting personnel director Eleanor White, director of student support programs Marcus Newsome and Friendly High Principal Penny Largay to fill the new positions.

Metts will formally recommend her selections at the school board's Sept. 9 meeting, when the board is to vote on them.

Hearing Stalled on Howard Development

Hearings on a proposal to develop a large tract of land at a prime location in Howard County, already beset by months of delay, got off to a slow start last night as opponents sought further delay.

The county's zoning board was supposed to begin hearing testimony on Greenebaum and Rose Associates' plan to build 1,168 housing units and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space on 508 acres in southern Howard. Instead, the five board members, who double as the County Council, spent the first two hours of the hearing addressing motions sought by the opponents, who numbered more than 150 at the meeting.

Two moves called for by John Breitenberg, representing the opponents, that would have further delayed the proceedings were denied. He succeeded in having the next meeting rescheduled from a daytime start to a 6 p.m. start. Opponents have complained that they would not be able to participate in daytime hearings.

The next meeting is set for Sept. 8, when the developer will continue to present his plan for the acreage in Fulton, which is now farmland.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"In the annals of Montgomery County, it's about as horrible a case as you get in terms of gruesomeness and what they did to the body. . . . I think they were damaged kids, but I don't know if we have a good explanation."

-- John McCarthy, a Montgomery County prosecutor, on the slaying of Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr. One of the alleged assailants commited suicide, and the second, Samuel Sheinbein, fled to Israel and is scheduled to be sentenced there today.