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District of Columbia Settles Lawsuit Over Transport of Special Ed. Students

After nearly 18 years, the transportation of students with disabilities in the District of Columbia is expected to soon become free of federal oversight.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said last week that the end of the oversight, triggered by a 1995 lawsuit, Petties v. District of Columbia, is a major accomplishment.

In recent years, District of Columbia public schools has spent about $28 million to upgrade the district's school bus fleet used to take about 3,100 students with disabilities to class. Overall, 77,000 students are enrolled in the district, although many students with disabilities attend classes at private schools found to be better able to meet their needs than public schools.

Over the years, a special master appointed to oversee transportation, Elise Baach, had found that some students were never picked up or picked up late, missing valuable time in school. Then two years ago, the district regained control of oversight of transportation of students with disabilities from the special master.

In October, the transportation supervisor found that the district was meeting requirements of 33 of 34 performance measures. The sticking point remains on-time-arrival performance, although the district continues to improve in this area. And earlier this month, the district took control of the payment and dispute-resolution process related to transportation.

Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia set a Dec. 19 date for a hearing for a final hearing on dismissal of the case.

"Looking back, we understood that we were facing an enormously difficult task when we took over student transportation services two years ago," said Hosanna Mahaley Jones, state superintendent of schools. "Because of this extraordinary team effort and the commitment to excellent service provided by everyone at the Office of the state superintendent of education's department of transportation, we are now awaiting a decision that will reassure all of those that have helped us achieve this milestone that their efforts have been formally recognized."

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