Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr told parents of special education students that “something clearly went wrong,” but there’s no easy fix, at Rock Terrace School, where the staff’s handling of work-study program funds is under investigation.
Parents raised allegations earlier this year that Rock Terrace staff misappropriated money that their children earned. The Rockville school serves developmentally disabled students.
The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office is currently investigating how staff handled the program money.
Starr addressed the issue on Monday at a meeting of the school system’s Special Education Advisory Committee.
During a question-and-answer session, Lyda Astrove, a Rockville lawyer and special-education advocate, told Starr she wanted to see the school system hire an independent, outside, forensic accountant or auditor to look into how Rock Terrace School staff handled the money students earned.
Astrove said it has been about six months since the issue at the school surfaced.
“I want to know when you’re going to take action on that matter,” said Astrove, who is working with Rock Terrace parents.
Starr said the situation at Rock Terrace is “a complex and thorny legal issue.”
The school system will act when it’s clear what it should do following the state’s attorney’s investigation, he said.
“If this were just an easy fix that had one right answer, whether it’s reimbursement or something else, I would have done it,” he said.
Rhonda Turner, the parent of a former Rock Terrace student, said her son had hundreds of dollars taken from him and she hasn’t heard from the school system in several months.
Starr said school system staff would check on what communication had gone out to the Rock Terrace community; the school was expected to communicate with parents.
He also said he didn’t like the idea that some of the school’s parents were not given correct or any information.
A few parents at the meeting brought up issues related to the school system’s process for disputes with families of special education students.
Steve Zepnick, who said he was advocating for his 10-year-old grandson, asked Starr if he thought the dispute process should be examined and parents consulted to see what changes might be necessary.
Starr said a very small percentage of special education families request dispute resolution with the school system.
In some cases, it’s impossible for the the school system and families to agree, he said.
“I’m comfortable with where we are right now, I am,” he said. “The numbers are really, really solid.”
Other parents asked Starr about other issues, including training for paraeducators, the integration of Curriculum 2.0 in special education classes and a shift in the school schedule.
Laurie Karabinus of Damascus, whose sixth-grader attends Longview School in Germantown, told Starr she is concerned about the possibility that Longview’s day will increase by 30 minutes if Starr’s recommended bell times changes are adopted.
Karabinus said she thinks the longer school day at Longview, which serves students with disabilities, could hurt students’ health.
Starr said his proposal — which includes starting high schools 50 minutes later and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes — is currently open for community feedback.
“This is not a done deal,” he said.