Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

County’s secondary learning centers will close, state board says

Ruling sides with Montgomery school board, even though it violated its own rules

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The state school board has given the go-ahead for the Montgomery County school system to close its eight secondary learning centers for special-needs students.

The Clarksburg Civic Association and 12 parents filed two separate appeals to reverse the county board’s decision. The county school board filed motions to dismiss both appeals, saying that the groups ‘‘lack standing” to challenge the decision.

County schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast wants to include at least 80 percent of the county’s special-education students in regular classrooms. He initially wanted to close the centers over three years, but after public outcry tweaked his plan to instead close the centers in six years.

Advocates say the county’s general education curriculum is too fast-paced for special-education students, and the learning centers’ slower pace and smaller class sizes help the students learn better.

On Wednesday, the state school board agreed that the civic association lacked standing and dismissed its appeal. The group had not ‘‘demonstrated a direct interest or injury ... in its own right or on behalf of its members,” the ruling said.

The board also voted 10-1 to dismiss an appeal filed by a group of 12 parents in Montgomery protesting the learning centers’ closing. State board member Blair G. Ewing, who cast the lone dissenting vote, wanted to reverse the Montgomery board’s decision. Ewing is a former Montgomery County school board member.

The state board ruled that although the local board violated its own policy for putting changes out for public comment by a specific deadline, the parents did not establish that they were harmed, or ‘‘prejudiced,” by the violation.

Indeed, the state board ruled, there was copious evidence that the closing of the learning centers was subject of public hearings and comment for two months before it was amended and voted on as part of the budget process.

‘‘We’re pleased with the ruling by the state board which validates our board’s ruling,” said county schools spokesman Brian K. Edwards.

The Clarksburg group specifically appealed the closing of the Kingsley Wilderness Project, an alternative program for at-risk students, and an increase in high school parking fees and extracurricular activity fees.

According to state board policy, groups must show that they are directly affected by a local board’s decision.

The Clarksburg group ‘‘has not alleged that its members are parents of a clearly definable group of students affected by the local board’s decision,” the state board wrote in dismissing its appeal. ‘‘[Clarksburg] does not state that its members are parents of special education students who are impacted by the phasing out of the SLCs, parents of students enrolled in the Kingsley Wilderness Project, or parents of middle or high school students subject to the student activity fee or student parking fees.”