A Live Controversy


Eastern Loudoun Times Articles

Schools win inclusion case

December 22, 1994
By Tim Farmer

A hearing officer has concluded that a nine­-year-old autistic student should be taught in a spe­cial education program because attempts to edu­ cate him in a regular classroom failed and jeopar­dized his classmates' education.

The decision brings to a close the due process hearing school officials filed against Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann of Ashburn to compel them to change their son Mark's education plan. Mark, who is unable to communicate verbally, is in the third grade at Ashburn Elementary School alongside typical children his own age. School officials argued that Mark did not learn satisfactorily while being included in a regular classroom last year at Ashburn and that other students' education suf­ fered because of his presence.

The Hartmanns have 30 days to appeal the decision.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick released a written statement approving the deci­sion. "I am pleased that the hearing officer has that have been made in this case by the professional staff at Loudoun County Public Schools. Since the beginning, this has been a case about one student's education, not about inclusion in general. We remain committed to providing appropriate educational opportunities to our disabled students in accor­ dance with their needs, and will continue to make professional judgments on a case-by-case basis.

"I hope the Hartmanns will agree to proceed with the recommended Individual Education Plan in accordance with the hearing officer's decision," Hatrick said in the statement.

School officials refused fur­ ther comment.

The Hartmanns said they will decide after the holidays whether to appeal the decision, but added that they were disappointed by the verdict.

"I was disappointed but not surprised," Roxanna Hartmann said. "We were prepared for it."

Hearing officer Nancy McBride was appointed by the VIrginia Supreme Court to hear the due process suit which school officials filed after the Hartmanns refused to transfer Mark to a special program for autistic students at Leesburg Elementary School where he would have been "main­ streamed" for art, music, PE, recess and lunch. The Hartmanns were notified of the suit at the end of the 1993-94 school year in which Mark was included in a regular second grade classroom at Ashburn Elementary. School officials said Mark was unable to learn in a regular classroom and that his frequent noisy outbursts inter­ rupted the classroom atmosphere.

The Hartmanns maintained that school officials did not make a commitment adequate to make Mark's classroom placement successful and that the schools did not understand how to educate an autistic student in an inclusive environment.

The Hartmanns moved to Ashburn from the Chicago area in 1993. Mark attended school in a Chicago suburb and was fully included in kindergarten and first grade.

The Hartmanns point to Mark's successes in Chicago as evidence that inclusion can work if done properly. Loudoun school officials said the academic demands of the higher grades left Mark frustrated by his inability to keep up with his classmates and led to temper tantrums and other inappropriate behavior.

In her decision, McBride said Mark's outbursts were not enough to remove him from the classroom but that his lack of progress showed he was unable to learn satisfactorily without the one-on-one instruction of a segregated program for autistic children.

The school system has established that Mark cannot be educated satisfactorily when he receives all, or almost all, of his instruction and related services in the regular classroom, even with the use of supplementary aids and services.

The proposed placement in a self-contained autism class, located in a regular education school and providing opportunities for interaction with non-disabled peers is appropriate and constitutes the least restrictive environment," McBride wrote in the decision.

Under federal law, disabled students are entitled to a free, appropriate public education "in the least restrictive environment, provided that they can learn satisfactorily."

McBride also found that the schools had made a reasonable effort to accommodate Mark in the regular classroom.

"In view of the fact that the schools system provided training for the regular education personnel, hired a full-time aide, addressed behavior management issues, modified and adapted the curriculum, and increased services when the need became apparent, I conclude that the school system's efforts to pro­ vide supplementary aids and services were sufficient," the hearing officer wrote.

The decision goes on to assert that Mark "has not demonstrated the receipt of any educational benefit from education in an included setting.

"It is clear that Mark learns best, and perhaps only, when he is being taught by a special education teacher in a 1:1 setting," McBride wrote.

Mark's classroom outbursts also weighed in her decision, according to McBride, but were not enough to remove him from the classroom.

"Accepting the view that these behaviors are communicative and a direct result of his disability, they are, nonethless, disruptive and have a negative effect on the environment in the classroom," she wrote. "Considered alone, the negative effects of Mark's placement in the regular classroom might not be enough to justify removing him from the regular classroom, but they do come into the balance as a negative .... Although the children apparently learned to tune out some of this behavior, the daily disturbances do result in down time while the children are distracted and then redirected."

McBride added that Mark's presence in the classroom was also not without its benfits to the other students.

"To be sure, there are positive effects to having Mark in the classroom. Nondisabled children learn to accept and accommodate differences among people," she wrote.

The written decision further asserts that the schools' proposal to place Mark in the autistic program and in regular classes for art, music, PE, library and recess, includes him to the maximum extent possible.

"The program proposed by LCPS provides for mainstream­ ing in all non-academic activities .... This gives Mark a significant opportunity to interact with non-disabled peers on a regular and daily basis, while receiving his academic instruction and related services in a manner from which he will derive educational benefit," according to McBride.

Schools appeal decision

Inclusion case will continue
December 12, 1996
By Tim Farmer
Staff Writer

The Loudoun County School Board moved quickly last week to appeal a judge's decision that the school system violated an autistic student's right to be educated along­ side his non-disabled peers.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled Nov. 27 that the school board violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law which requires disabled students to be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with children who are not disabled.

The case centers around Mark Hartmann, an l l-year-old boy who is autistic. The boy's parents, Joseph and Roxana Hartmann of Ashburn, have sought to have Mark included in a regular education classroom but school officials sued the Hartmanns to force them to agree to transfer Mark to a special education classroom for autistic students.

After a legal battle that has gone on for more than two years, Judge Brinkema ruled two weeks ago in favor of the Hartmanns. An order accompanying the decision gives the two parties 15 days to develop an agreement for Mark's education and also orders the school board to pay the Hartmanns' attorneys fees, which are estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The school board, at its Dec. 5 meeting, authorized an appeal of the U.S. District Court ruling.

"The Board disagrees with the decision and believes its staff made the appropriate placement decision for Mark Hartmann at the May 31, 1994, IEP meeting," states a news release issued by the school board following the decision to appeal. An IEP meeting is a conference intended to work out a student's Individual Education Program. In the Hartmann case, the school board sought to change Mark's IEP, which calls for him to be schooled in a regular education classroom. School officials want Mark trans­ferred to a program for autistic students at Leesburg Elementary School, but when his parents refused to agree to the change school officials filed suit against the Hartmanns to compel them to agree to the transfer.

After five days of testimony spread over several months, a Virginia Department of Education hearing officer ruled in favor of the school system. But rather than agree to the change, Mark's mother Roxana Hartmann moved to Montgomery County, Va., and enrolled Mark in school there after learning of that school district's reputation for success in educating disabled students in a regular classroom setting. Mark is now in the fifth grade there.

However, Mark's father Joseph Hartmann is a resident of Loudoun County so the question of Mark's education here remains an issue.

School officials have maintained throughout the case that they believe he cannot learn satisfactorily in a regular classroom, a key element in the IDEA law.

"The school staff had an obligation to pursue the educational program that they believe met Mark's needs," according to the written statement from the school board. "The School Board is concerned for the needs of all its students, includ­ ing Mark Hartmann. This appeal reflects the Board's concern for the appropriate education of its students."

But Mark's family argues - and the District Court judge agreed - that Mark has demonstrated the ability to learn in a regular class­ room with the support of a full time aide.

Because of his autism, Mark is unable to speak and communicates through a picture board.

A videotape of Mark in the Montgomery County classroom shows him correctly pointing to a picture of Monticello when asked to point out the home of Thomas Jefferson from a series of pictures.

The Hartmanns' lawyer, Herndon attorney Gerard Rugel, said he believes the District Court decision will stand up to the appeal process.

No date has been set for the appeal to be heard.

Inclusion decision could come Friday

December 15, 1994
By Tim Farmer
Staff Writer

A decision in the due-process hearing to decide the appropriate educational setting for an autistic third grader at Ashburn Elementary School could come as early as Dec.16, according to those involved in the case.

Hearing Officer Nancy McBride postponed her ruling in the case by one week to allow attorneys additional time to file briefs in the case.

The parents of Mark Hartmann are fighting efforts to have their son placed in a self-contained classroom for autistic children at Leesburg Elementary School.

Mark was included in a regular second-grade class last year at Ashburn Elementary, but Loudoun County Public School officials went to court this summer to compel the in Hartmanns to change Mark's Individual Education Plan and have him transferred to the autistic program while being mainstreamed for art, music and by physical education.

The case gained national attention when the Hartmanns requested that the hearing take place in public sessions. Such hearings are rarely open to the public and little information is available because of confidentiality concerns for those involved.

By going public, the Hartmanns have focused attention on the county school system's attitudes toward the education of disabled students generally and in particular whether adequate training was provided to staff to make Mark Hartmann's placement in a regular classroom successful.

School officials counter that they provided appropriate training and support for Mark, but that he is unable to learn satisfactorily in a regular classroom and ought to be educated in a special program that allows more individual attention from instructors trained in educating autistic children.

Mark's parents, Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann, point to his successful inclusion in kindergarten and the first grade at a school near Chicago as evidence that inclusion can work for Mark if it is done with appropriate support in place. Mark is unable to communicate verbally and uses a device similar to a laptop computer to communicate. He is assisted in the classroom by a teacher's aide, but his parents contend that the aide is not adequately trained in the education of autistic children.

In recent weeks, some parents of Mark's classmates have come forward to express concerns that Mark's presence jeopardizes the education of other children in his class. Mark often has outbursts that include screeching and tantrums, according to testimony from IDS second-grade teacher at Ashburn Elementary, which school officials attribute to frustration over his ability to keep up with other students in his class.

Mark's parents argue that his frustration stems from school personnel not knowing how to teach a youngster with autism. They are asking that Mark's education plan be based on a model from the Virginia Institute for Developmental Disabilities and that he be allowed to remain in his regular class at Ashburn Elementary.

Decision allows autistic child to enter school

March 9, 1995
By Tim Farmer
Staff Writer

An autistic child from Ashburn will be allowed to enter third grade in Blacksburg, a judge ruled last week.

Mark Hartmann, 9, has been at the center of a debate over what constitutes an appropriate education for him after Loudoun school officials won a suit to remove him from Ashburn Elementary School and transfer him to a special program for autistic children at Leesburg Elementary, despite the objections of his parents, Roxana and Joseph Hartmann of Ashburn Village.

The Hartmanns are appealing that decision, but in the mean­ time Roxana Hartmann rented an apartment in Blacksburg in an effort to establish residency and enroll Mark in the Montgomery County (Va.) Public Schools, which has a highly acclaimed inclusive education program.

But as Mark was preparing to enter school there, Montgomery County school officials questioned the validity of Roxana Hartmann"s residency and filed for an injunction to block Mark's enrollment.

Last week, Circuit Judge Ray W. Grubbs denied the injunction and cleared the way for Mark to begin school in Blacksburg as early as this week. While the decision is not the last word in the debate over Roxana Hartmann's residency, it is dearly a victory for the Hartmanns.

"It's going to work out wonderfully," Roxana Hartmann said Eriday after learning of the decision Thursday evening. "Mark is excited. He knows this is the place for us to be." She added that a meeting is planned for Monday, March 6, to establish an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for Mark to enroll at the newly-opened Kipps Elementary School in Blacksburg as early as March 7.

In issuing his ruling March 2, Judge Grubbs wrote that Roxana and Mark Hartmann were in fact residents of Blacksburg and therefore likely to prevail on the question of residency, and saw no compelling reason to block Mark's enrollment in school there.

In addition to renting an apartment for herself and Mark, Roxana also registered her car in Montgomery County and acquired a library card, all in an attempt to establish residency. The judge also wrote that Roxana's motive for moving to Montgomery County to enroll Mark in school there was immaterial to the case.

Roxana Hartmann said the Blacksburg community has been very supportive of her efforts to enroll Mark there. "They feel very strongly about their inclusive education program," she said, adding that residents had donated a number of items to help furnish the apartment.

Although the judge acknowledged that adding another special needs student to the rolls would place additional demands on the personnel and financial resources of the school system, he added that Mark is one of 68 new special needs students to enroll this year.

"The court is convinced that an additional child could readily be immersed within this system," he wrote.

The Hartmanns' attorney, Gerard Rugel of Herndon, said the appeal of the decision in favor of Loudoun County Public Schools' efforts to transfer Mark to a program for autistic students would move forward as planned. A decision on that appeal is due May 8.

Meanwhile, a number of disability advocacy groups came out in support of the Hartmanns in recent weeks, including the Loudoun Association for Retarded Citizens (LARC), Virginia TASH (The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps), Parents of Children with Downs Syndrome (PODS), and The Autism National Committee (AUTCOM).

In a two-page news release, the groups outlined the chronology of events in the Hartmann case to date and charged that school officials discriminated against the Hartmanns and singled them out for special treatment.

"Virginia's children and youth with disabilities are deeply loved and valued by their families," the groups stated in a prepared release. "We cannot and will not stand by in silence while these coercive and discriminatory actions are engagec in by public school officials."

A question of commitments

Inclusion debate focuses on attitude
Oct. 6, 1994
By Liz Frost
Staff Writer

Loudoun County schools' commitment to making inclusion work is the issue being raised by the parents of an autistic third grader at Ashburn Elementary fighting to keep their child in a regular classroom setting.

"The law says you cannot remove a person from a class if he can be educated with appropriate supplementary aid or services," said Gerard Rugel, attorney for Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann. Their nine-year-old son Mark is the focus of a due process hearing filed by the school administration when his parents refused to have him transferred to a self-contained program for autistic students at Leesburg Elementary School.

"The attitude of administrators greatly influences the success or failure of programs," said Jamie Ruppmann, a special education consultant who testified at the hearing for the Hartmanns. Ruppmann previously advised the school system on developing an inclusion program for Mark. She contends that the school administration was not committed to making inclusion work in Mark's case.

Over vigorous objections from school administration attorney Kathleen Mehfoud, Ruppmann testified last week about a 1993 meeting she attended with Ned Waterhouse, director of pupil planning services for county schools, and teachers involved in working with Mark. Ruppmann quoted Waterhouse saying parents, "will come to us and demand the same things we're doing for Mark. That will destroy special education in Loudoun County."

Mehfoud objected to Ruppmann's testimony saying it violated attorney-client privilege since Waterhouse was relaying concerns he had discussed with the school administration's attorney. She also noted Waterhouse had told those at the meeting not to discuss what was said outside.

Saying the attorney-client privilege did not apply to those attending the meeting, Hearing Officer Nancy McBride allowed the testimony.

"He literally poisoned the well," said Ruppmann after the hearing had adjourned. "That meeting was a turning point. Camaraderie stopped (in the teaching team) along with expectations that something could be done for Mark."

When contacted for comment about the county's commitment to inclusion, Waterhouse noted he could not talk about the Hartmann case in particular but emphasized the school administration is committed to making "inclusion in general work."

"This issue and many others are not unidimensional. It's complex and everyone's best interests and viewpoints should be considered," said Waterhouse. "We wouldn't be pursuing the course of action we are pursuing if we didn't think it was in this student's best interest."

According to Mary Kearney, director of special education for Loudoun County Public Schools, there are 1,902 students with disabilities in the school system as of December 1993.

"Of those students," said Kearney, "there are six at the elementary level with disabilities comparable to (Mark's)."

The county receives $377 in federal funds for each handicapped student. School districts have seven categories in which they can spend any or all of the money. Kearney noted Loudoun County spent the $717,054 it received for this year on personnel services.

The hearing in the Hartmann case resumes Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Douglass Support Facility in Leesburg. It is open to the public.

Hearing Officer McBride has up to 45 days after the hearing closes to make her decision. Meanwhile Mark Hartmann remains in a regular third grade class at Ashburn Elementary.

School says reports show compliance with federal regs

Oct. 13, 1994
By Liz Frost
Staff Writer

The Loudoun County Public Schools are in compliance with all 181 federal standards for special education programs despite a 1993 report that found the school system out of compliance in 13 areas.

"We had 30 days to correct those areas," said Marx Kearney, director of special education for Loudoun County Public Schools. "Everything was brought into compliance in that time."

The 1993 report is the most recent available and is based on data from the 1992 school year. The monitoring reports are developed every five years.

Some of the areas of non-compliance involved four students who had not been evaluated every three years as required; three students whose Individual Education Plans (lEP) had not been updated annually; student files misfiled by category; and the amount of time students participated in regular education programs was outlined by percentages rather than hours and minutes.

Corrective action on the last item was necessary to ensure that special education students receive at least five-and-a-half hours of instruction each day. The federal monitoring report is compiled by the Virginia State Department of Education. The next report in the five year cycle is due in January of 1998."

Special education and particularly inclusion, the incorporation of a handicapped student into a regular classroom setting with appropriate aides and services, has been the focus of much interest in Loudoun County recently.

Last summer, the school system filed for a due process hearing to have Mark Hartmann, an autistic third grader included in a regular class at Ashburn Elementary School, removed to a self­ contained classroom for autistic students at Leesburg Elementary.

The hearing began in August shortly after the American Federation of Teachers recommended a moratorium on inclusion of special needs children in a regular classroom setting.

The National Education Association (NEA) stopped short of recommending such a moratorium at its annual convention in New Orleans, La., in July.

"The concept of inclusion can be a positive force if it is done right," said Bob Chase, NEA president in an Associated Press report on the convention. "Appropriate inclusion helps break down attitudinal barrier. Where it is not being done properly it should be stopped."

The same article noted that federal legislation providing for education of special needs students also calls for the government to pay 40 percent of the cost, but NEA officials were quoted as saying between 1980 and 1991, federal aid dropped from 12 to 7 percent of above average expenditures per student.

A December 1993 census counted 1,902 special needs students in Loudoun County schools.

According to Kearney, the county received $377 this year for each child bringing the total of federal funds earmarked for special education to $717,054.

Ashburn case attracting attention of national press

Interest in the case of an autistic Ashburn Elementary School student whose parents are fighting to keep him in a regular classroom set­ ting reached the national level this week as People Magazine included a two-page story on Mark Hartmann, son of Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann of Ashburn.

The Hartmanns are also considering an invitation to appear on NBC-TV's Today Show to tell the story of their battle with Loudoun County Public Schools.

The attention stems from the school system's suit against the Hartmanns to compel them to change Mark's educational plan. Currently, Mark is in a regular classroom at Ashburn Elementary, but Loudoun school officials filed due process against the Hartmanns when they refused to agree to the change in Mark's Individual Education Plan that would have him placed in a special program for autistic students at Leesburg Elementary School.

A hearing on the matter resumes Oct. 27.

Court closes book on Hartmann case

Ashburn couple won't have autistic son educated in Loudoun County
Jan. 15, 1997
By Shannon Sollinger and Liz Frost
Staff Writers

An Ashburn couple's three and a half year struggle to have their autistic son educated in a regular class­ room in Loudoun County has come to an end, at least in the court system.

Joseph and Roxana Hartmann's petition to have the Supreme Court hear their case has been denied. Attorney Gerard Rugel, who has represented the Hartmanns since the case started in June 1994, said that he was disappointed but not surprised.

"This leaves the Circuit Court of Appeals decision standing," said Rugel. "Nothing more can be done with respect to that decision. There is no other course of appeal."

The Hartmanns' battle with the school system started in June 1994, when the Loudoun County Public Schools filed due process proceedings to have Mark Hartmann, then in second grade, removed from a regular class at Ashburn Elementary School and placed in a self-contained class for autistic children in Leesburg.

The schools won that round, but the decision was reversed on appeal at the District Court level. The schools took the case to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which decided in favor of the schools, saying the lower court "had simply substituted its own judgment regarding Mark's proper educational program for that of local school officials."

The petition rejected by the Supreme Court argued that the Circuit Court decision prevented a District Court from making an independent judgment on the evidence in the case, and that the Circuit Court decision "improperly thwarts the will of Congress in passing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act."

The Hartmanns moved Mark to Kipps Elementary School in Montgomery County, where he has continued his education in a regular classroom.

Roxanna Hartmann has travelled between Montgomery County and Ashburn since that time, and Joseph Hartmann has maintained the family residence in Ashburn, which enables Mark to return to Loudoun County Public Schools.

"The Hartmanns can still ask to have Mark placed in a regular classroom (in Loudoun)," said Rugel. "The previous request was in second grade. This is a different issue because he would now be returning from a different system."

Joseph Hartmann said he would not be moving his son.

"Are you kidding me? Take him from a wonderful program and bring him back here? Loudoun County is not acting in the best interests of disabled kids. From Roxanna's and my perspective, the winner here is Mark. We wouldn't have him in Montgomery County unless Loudoun County sued us."

Supreme Court plea in Hartmann case

Oct. 8, 1997

Roxana and Joseph Hartmann have petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling which reversed an order that the Loudoun County Public School Board educate their son, Mark, in a regular classroom.

The Hartmanns are asking for a reversal of a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In an announcement last week, the Hartmanns said the reversal by the Fourth Circuit limits the ability of a Federal District Court Judge to independently weigh the evidence of the boy's success in a regular classroom in Montgomery County, Va.

Roxana Hartmann relocated to Montgomery County in 1995 and enrolled Mark in a regular education classroom instead of placing him in a class exclusively for children with autism in Loudoun County. During the original federal trial, the Hartmanns said, evidence showed that he benefitted from the regular classroom.

"They now believe that this Fourth Circuit's decision condemns Mark, who is now in the sixth grade, to be segregated from his regular classmates as a result of difficulties he experienced in the second grade," according to the announcement.

The Hartmanns maintain their home in Loudoun County, but Roxana Hartmann maintains a residence in Montgomery County to keep her child in a regular classroom.

"The Hartmanns find it difficult to understand why the Loudoun County School Board is unable to provide Mark with the type of program which he is now receiving and has been receiving since the first grade. They believe it is extremely regrettable that the Loudoun County School Board has made the legal battle over Mark's education more important than the reality of Mark's actual ability and need to be educated with his non-disabled peers," according to the statement.