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District regains control of special ed transport

After seven years of court supervision, a federal judge has agreed to return to the District the responsibility of busing its special education students. An order signed by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman sets the stage for the city to exit the Petties case, a 1995 class action brought by parents of special needs children because the District couldn't get them to class on time.

In 2003, Friedman appointed a transportation administrator, David Gilmore, to oversee the system, which spends about $80 million a year carrying 4,000 special-needs students across the region, some of them to private institutions as far as 75 miles outside the city. The order, signed by Friedman a week ago, says Gilmore reports that the District is now providing "safe, timely and appropriate transportation services," and that it is time to begin a transition back to full city control.

Gilmore is scheduled to join Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other District officials at a Thursday mid-morning press conference to discuss the transition. It was billed by Fenty's office in a Wednesday evening press advisory as an "historic accomplishment" under the school reform initiative.

There have still been serious recent glitches in the transportation system. For several days at the beginning of the current school year, about 100 special education students were not picked up by their buses because of problems with a new computerized routing system.

Plaintiff's attorney Stephen Ney said the order is actually more of "a glide path toward an exit," in which the District will be given a chance to show, during summer school and the August re-opening, whether it is up to the task. Gilmore will still be in the picture, serving as a "supervising court master" during the interim period.

"It's a trial period like in a drivers ed situation, where there's another driver who retains the power to take back control if they go off the road," said Ney.

If all goes well, the District would officially exit the Petties case on Oct. 1. It is still operating under court-appointed monitors in the Blackman case, a class action brought by parents protesting delays in providing their children with special education services.

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By Bill Turque  |  May 12, 2010; 8:37 PM ET
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Maybe it is time to revisit this, with consideration of nudges, incentives, or legal bribes? If average transportation costs are $20,000 per pupil, some must be higher, say $30,000. For that expenditure, a family could be relocated and a $2500 monthly rental allowance given so the child could live next door to the educational institution he/she requires.

Posted by: incredulous | May 18, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

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