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Four ways schools failed in the case of Maurice Bellamy, a 17-year-old charged with two killings

School buses. (iStock)

Maurice Bellamy became a killer at age 17, according to D.C. police. The youth shot a Secret Service officer during a robbery just before Christmas 2015, police say. In March, he allegedly gunned down a 15-year-old at the Deanwood Metro station, over a glance he thought was disrespectful.

There’s still plenty that is not known about Bellamy’s story. But a review of hundreds of pages of education records obtained by The Washington Post provide a window into one key aspect of his life. The account below is based on those documents.

Bellamy grew up in Prince George’s County, in suburban Maryland, where educators concluded that he could not be adequately served in public schools and placed him in private schools at taxpayer expense. He continued to have trouble with behavior, but records show that he was making progress in those highly structured settings. Then, in December 2013, his family moved to Southeast D.C.

Records show at least four ways in which schools failed to live up to their obligations to Bellamy, a special education student who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

1. Immediately upon moving to D.C., Bellamy’s mother tried to enroll him in the city’s Ballou Senior High. But officials kept missing meetings and putting her off.

Bellamy drifted for five weeks before he was allowed to start classes at Ballou. An independent hearing officer, hired by the city to help resolve special education disputes, later said the delay was “due to unresponsiveness of and lack of communication” of school staff.

It’s not clear what Bellamy was doing during those weeks. But his records show that his previous teachers had noticed that his behavior deteriorated even after short breaks from school — such as over the Thanksgiving holiday or winter break.

D.C. schools officials declined to comment.

2. Once Bellamy was enrolled, D.C. Public Schools placed him in a special education program at Ballou instead of paying for him to attend a specialized private school.

Federal law requires special-education students to have an Individualized Education Program, a legally-binding blueprint that spells out the services that the student’s school district will provide. And when a student moves from one state to another — as Bellamy did in 2013 — the receiving state is supposed to comply with the IEP unless and until it completes a new assessment of the student’s needs.

The IEP that educators in Maryland drew up for Bellamy in August 2013 specified that he needed to be placed in a private day school, and that because of his disability he required “a highly structured small group learning environment with a low student-teacher ratio as well as a behavioral management component, therapeutic counseling support, adaptive daily living skills, social skills training, motor control and communication (speech/language therapy).”

The IEP went on to say: “Maurice’s needs cannot be met in the regular classroom even with appropriate behavioral supports, strategies or interventions.”

But Bellamy moved to the District at a time when then-Mayor Vincent Gray had promised to save tens of millions of dollars by reducing the number of special education students who were going to private school at taxpayer expense.

School system officials did not re-assess Bellamy and initially placed him in a special education program within Ballou, one of the city’s lowest-performing and most chaotic schools. Though most of his classes were in special-education classrooms, he also took two classes — music and physical education — with the general student body. He wandered the halls and fell asleep in class, and let his impulsive behavior take over. Absences, bursts of anger and failing grades quickly piled up. He threatened staff, was arrested and put on probation.

3. Ballou also failed to provide an hour of counseling for Bellamy every week, as his IEP required.

He also was not added to the Ballou social worker’s case load until May 16, 2014 — three months after he started classes there. The hearing officer ruled in June 2014 that D.C. Public Schools had violated federal law by failing to give Bellamy the services that he needed. The officer ordered the District to pay for  private school, and Bellamy enrolled at the High Road Upper School of Washington.

4. High Road allowed Bellamy to be truant for more than 10 weeks before reporting him to D.C. court.

D.C. law outlines how public and private schools are supposed to respond to chronic truancy. When students between the ages of 14 and 17 miss 15 or more days of school without an excuse, their schools are supposed to refer them to the office of the D.C. attorney general and the Family Court Social Services Division.

But it appears that didn’t happen in Bellamy’s case. His mother told school officials in November and again in February that Bellamy had run away, and she didn’t know where he was or when he would return to school.

Between August 3, 2015, and January 7, 2016, he missed 51 days of school without an excuse. He was listed as “inactive” starting on January 8.

But records show that High Road referred Bellamy to court for truancy on February 1. By then, according to police, he had already shot an off-duty Secret Service agent whom he mistook for a drug dealer. That crime occurred on December 15, 2015 — a date he was recorded as absent from school.

High Road officials declined a request for comment.

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