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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Special Education Disputes in an Affluent County

Montgomery County is a wealthy Maryland suburb just north of Washington, DC.  The Washington Post reports:
“I’m proud of our special education department, and I know they work hard,” said Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski, who asked for the external audit. “But there are things that need to be seriously looked at.”

Smondrowski, the parent of a child with autism, said Montgomery parents often complain to her about how difficult it is to obtain appropriate special education services for their children. Frustrated families then turn to lawyers for help.

Montgomery parents are more litigious than those from any other school system in Maryland and Virginia when it comes to special education cases, according to data from both state departments of education. Montgomery is home to about 12 percent of Maryland’s disabled students but accounted for about half the state’s special education disputes from 2010 to 2012. The county, with nearly 40 cases, had more special education due-process hearings that went to a judge for resolution than all Virginia school systems combined.

But just because the county has more hearings than other school system in Maryland doesn’t necessarily mean that there are disproportionate issues with the quality of county services, said Gwendolyn J. Mason, director of the Department of Special Education Services for Montgomery schools.

“When you think about Montgomery County, you think about a community of parents that do have access to resources,” Mason said. “They are informed parents who may be attorneys themselves or have the means to secure some of the region’s or the nation’s best attorneys to represent families.”
[emphasis added]