A Live Controversy


Roanoke Times Articles

Letters to the Editor

Inclusion can lead to chaos in education

I CONGRATULATE Steve Holladay on his Feb. 7 letter to the editor, "Learning challenged kids shouldn't be in regular classrooms."

I think most of us believe that seriously disruptive students (special­education or otherwise) should be excluded from school settings where others are trying to learn academic material. Perhaps fear of being perceived as politically incorrect prevents more people from speaking out against total "inclusion." I believe inclusion is the tip of an iceberg on which public-school education is foundering.

Go to almost any middle school (especially in Montgomery County) and you'll find teachers don't teach - they mentor and facilitate. Learning how to learn has superseded learning-specific facts and skills. Group work is stressed. What students learn depends on what goes on in each group.

How students feel about themselves and how much they enjoy school is considered more important than teaching what they need to know. Ability grouping is frowned upon; all students are considered capable of learning practically everything.

These practices result in educational chaos that shortchanges students. None gets the kind of instruction from teachers that is needed to maximize achievement.


Letters to the Editor

Schools reflect nation's diversity

STEVE HOLLADAY'S letter to the editor (Feb. 7, "Learning-challenged kids shouldn't be in regular classrooms") was a sad dissertation from someone who calls himself an educator.

Our public-school systems are a reflection of our greater society filled with individuals from different socioeconomic levels, ethnic groups and ranges of intellectual and social ability. To assume that all learning-challenged students disrupt the educational process is to assume that all learning­challenged students are behaviorally the same.

Would he want his daughter judged by a similar opinionated standard that could preclude her access to society's mainstream? Thanks to our nation's founding principles, all children are entitled to a free and appropriate education."

Perhaps Holladay should teach his daughter the qualities of tolerance and compassion rather than elitism and a desire to be segregated. Diversity is what makes our country great.


Letters to the Editor - February 20, 1998

Lessons in mutual respect benefit all

HAVING moved to Montgomery County this past summer in large part because we want our children to be educated in a school system that wel­ comes all children, we'd like to add our voices to those who disagree with Steve Holladay's thinking about inclusive schools (Feb. 7 letter to the editor "Learning-challenged kids shouldn't be in regular classrooms").

Children learn an incalculable number of concepts and values throughout their school careers. We feel that none is more important than a sense of worth and belonging. Those lessons are best learned in schools where each child and adult is welcomed as an integral, precious and unique member of the learning community. In such an environment, all children learn that ours is an interdependent world where we each must - and can - contribute.

There are - and always have been - some children who find ways to disrupt the academic-learning processes.

We believe that it's precisely in those "disrupted" situations where some of the most important learning occurs for children and adults alike.

We believe that all of our futures ultimately depend on the lessons all children are now learning. We are thankful the children in Montgomery County are learning lessons in responsibility, belonging and mutual respect.


January 14, 1998

Supreme Court denies Loudoun County family's appeal

Autistic pupil loses fight to be "included"

By Kathy Lu
The Roanoke Times

BLACKSBURG - A three-year legal war has ended in defeat for Mark Hartmann, an 11-year-old autistic boy who came to Montgomery County with his mother after Loudoun County schools denied him access to regular classrooms.

The lawsuit filed by Mark's parents, Roxana and Joseph Hartmann, ended Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear their appeal.

The Supreme Court's rejection means that a decision in favor of Loudoun County by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will stand. The Appeals Court threw out a lower court ruling that would have forced Loudoun County to put Mark in a regular classroom.

The case had received national attention because of the issue of how to best educate handicapped pupils.

"The decision hit me pretty hard," Roxana Hartmann said Tuesday. "But I"m happy to have put up a pretty good fight."

Lawyers for the Hartmanns and the Loudoun County Board of EdU8rt\WRQ!CouTd "not be reached fori~offiment "Tuesday.

The "Hartmanns" fight began shortly after they enrolled their autistic son in second grade in 1994 in Loudoun County. Autism is a developmental disability that often prevents people from inter­ acting socially.

After allowing Mark to be ina regular classroom for an entire day, the Northern Virginia school system decided to place him in a smaller class for autistic students because he was considered too disruptive.

Mark's parents filed suit to keep him in a regular class. In December 1996, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in Mark"s favor; in July 1997, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court"s decision.

In the meantime, Roxana Hartmann had brought Mark to Blacksburg, where she enrolled him in Kipps Elementary School.

She had first heard about Montgomery County's inclusion program at a conference in Richmond. "It was wonderful," she recalled.

In Montgomery County's nationally acclaimed inclusion program, physically and mentally handicapped students are placed in regular classrooms with aides.

"I thought that this was just what I wanted for Mark," she said.

Mark is now a sixth-grader at Blacksburg Middle School. He attends regular classes and has an aide with him at all times. He cannot communicate verbally and has difficulty controlling his movements, but his mother said she can see the difference being "included" makes.

"He understands language. I can talk to him like I can talk to you. I don't have to speak differently," Hartmann explained.

"The other day it was raining and I didn't feel like taking him swimming, so I said to him that I didn't want to go. He just waved his hand a little, saying we didn't have to go. There was no screaming, no tantrums."

The one-bedroom Blacksburg apartment Roxana and Mark share is not their permanent home. Every weekend, the two drive 253 miles back to their Loudoun County home, where Joseph Hartmann looks after Laura, Mark's sister.

"He has blossomed in a very nurturing environment here with people who are dedicated and understand him and his disability," Roxana said. "He'll stay here until he finishes school.

"This is not about winners and losers; this is about schools doing the right thing for the children."

In the 1996 decision that found for the Hartmanns, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema cited the videotapes and teacher testimony gathered during Mark's stay at Kipps Elementary as proof that he benefited from a regular classroom environment.

Brinkema said the Loudoun County school system violated federal laws that require schools to educate disabled pupils with children who are not disabled as much as possible. Brinkema also ruled that the people chosen to evaluate Mark's performance in Loudoun County classes lacked adequate training and experience and therefore "doomed the inclusion efforts to failure."

But judges on the appellate court argued in July that Brinkema disregarded the expertise of Loudoun County educators and substituted her own notions of sound educational policy for those of "local school authorities." Chief Judge Harvie Wilkinson also said that hearings conducted earlier by the Virginia Department of Education, which agreed with Loudoun County's placement of Mark, should have weighed more in Brinkema's decision.

For the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to hear Mark's case, the Hartmanns had to argue a technical point and show that his case holds some significance for the nation. The Hartmanns' petition said the appellate decision would limit the ability of federal judges like Brinkema to consider other factors in Mark's case, such as the evidence from Montgomery County schools.

Roxana Hartmann said she has already told Mark about the Supreme Court's rejection, and she senses that he's relieved that it's over.

"This is the end, but it's not going to stop me from talking about inclusion," Roxana said, "No, if anything,it's made me more of a believer than ever."

Kathy Lu can be reached at 381-1679 or kathylu@roanoke.com.

July 12, 1997

Parents of autistic child may take their case to high court

The parents of Mark Hartmann, 11, are fighting to keep their son in a regular classroom.

By Lisa Applegate
The Roanoke Times

The parents of an autistic child from Blacksburg who are battling Loudoun County over whether their son should be allowed in regular classrooms may take their case to the U. S. Supreme Court.

The case involves Mark Hartmann, an 11-year-old boy with autism whose parents are fighting the Loudoun County school system in Northern Virginia to keep him out of special education classes.

For the past two years, Mark and his mother, Roxana, have lived in Blacksburg so that he could be in a class with "regular" pupils.

This week, a federal appeals court threw out an earlier ruling that would have forced Loudoun County to accept Mark in a regular classroom.

Now, the couple has less than two weeks to decide whether to appeal that ruling. They could and present the case again to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider it.

"The Justice Department has filed a brief on behalf of Hartmann's," said their lawyer, Gerald Rugel. "It will probably be going to the Supreme Court, but we haven't ruled out the possibility of trying the appeals court again."

"There's hundreds of parents out there who are accepting what their school system offers," he said. "They"re scared to death that the little support they"re getting will dissolve if they speak out."

But Frank Barham, executive director of the Virginia School Board Association, said the Court of Appeals decision rightly places the decision-making power in the hands of school administrators and boards.

The issue involves "how much control parents of disabled children have over the educational system more so than the parents of a regular kid or the school board," he said.

The Hartmanns first butted heads with Loudoun County shortly after they enrolled Mark in second grade. After allowing him to be in a regular classroom for the entire day, the school system decided to move him to a smaller class with only autistic pupils.

Autism often prevents people from communicating verbally, interacting socially or having control over motor skills. Mark needed to be around normal students, his parents argued, to learn how to behave in society.

While the case was disputed, the couple searched for a school system that would fit their needs. A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge allowed Roxana Hartmann to enroll Mark in county schools because she had rented an apartment in Blacksburg.

The Hartmanns have said they are pleased with Mark's progress. He will begin sixth grade at Blacksburg Middle School this fall.

Joseph Hartmann said he would like the family to be together - his wife and son commute home each weekend - but "we're not going to bring Mark back to Loudoun County if it means he can't get the same education as he does now."

In a December decision, U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema cited the videotapes and teacher testimony gathered during Mark's stay in Montgomery County. If it can be done there, she reasoned, it must be done in Loudoun County.

"In effect," countered Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson this week, "the court simply substituted its own judgment regarding Mark's proper educational program for that of local school officials."

Wilkinson, writing for the Court of Appeals' unanimous decision, said that Brinkema disregarded the expertise and experience of educators in Loudoun County.

That pleased Ned Waterhouse, the county's assistant superintendent for pupil services, who said this decision sets the record straight as to Loudoun"s efforts to include disabled students in regular classes. The media and some advocates for the disabled have wrongly portrayed the school system as opposed to those efforts, he said.

But the decision ignored the evidence of success in Montgomery County and relied on stereotypes and fears about people with disabilities, argued Jamie Ruppman, a member of the Autism National Committee who served as Mark's advocate while he was in Loudoun County.

Lisa Applegate can be reached at 381-1679 or lisaa@roanoke.com

March 11, 1996

Handicapped kids mustn't be segregated

REGARDING your Feb. 23 article, "Handicapped students like being included," you missed the mark. Inclusion of severely handicapped children alongside their peers in neighborhood schools was mandated by the federal government as early as 1972. Roanoke County should have been offering an inclusion option to parents for their disabled children since that time. Shame on the special-education professionals for not having done so.

The word "like" in your headline is misleading. It implies a choice. You should have used "deserve." The vast majority of handicapped students in the county have never had a choice to be included.

Regardless of the adjustments that administrators and teachers must make, we should dispose of our costly segregated special-education programs because they don't produce results. Let's commit ourselves to do inclusion right to prepare our handicapped children to become productive members of our society. That should be our ultimate goal. We shouldn't be complacent with the status quo that only produces more inmates for mental-health institutions. Tax­payers are tiring of the burden and deserve relief. Inclusion is a step in resolving the issue so all will benefit.


March 7, 1995

Mainstreaming in Montgomery

IN DECIDING last week that an autistic 9-year-old boy is entitled to attend Montgomery County schools, Circuit Court Judge Ray Grubbs appears to have ruled properly and objectively. Beyond the narrow and now-decided issue of legal residency, however, lie troubling questions that persist.

In January, Roxana Hartmann moved with her son from Loudoun County to Montgomery, which has an excellent reputation for "mainstreaming" disabled children in regular classrooms. Hartmann's husband and other child still reside in Loudoun, where the family had filed a well-publicized suit against educators' decision there to move the boy from a regular classroom to a special-education program. The Loudoun case is still pending.

One set of questions involves the initial attitude of Montgomery school officials. Was it necessary to go to court and thus interrupt the child's education? Would Montgomery school officials have questioned Hartmann's legal residency if she had moved to a one-bedroom apartment in the county and attempted to enroll a non-autistic child in the schools? Would her legal residency have been questioned had her husband and daughter also moved to Montgomery? Why should it make a difference?

And did the Hartmanns' suit in Loudoun figure into Montgomery officials' actions? It's easy to speculate that a show of solidarity with Loudoun officials might have crossed Montgomery officials' minds as appropriate. But, says Montgomery Superintendent Herman Bartlett, "that's malarkey and, absent evidence to the contrary, the school chief ought to be taken at his word."

A second set of questions involves the situation in which Montgomery finds itself. Though Virginia law requires school divisions to provide appropriate educations for disabled children, mainstreaming is not necessarily mandated. For parents like the Hartmanns who think their disabled children should be in regular classrooms (not all parents do), is mainstream-minded Montgomery becoming a magnet? If so, should Montgomery taxpayers subsidize the education of youngsters who in other jurisdictions have been deemed too disruptive to be taught in regular class­ rooms? Should schools in one district be forced to take in children whose parents, for whatever reason, don't like the schools in another district where they've been living and paying taxes?

The Hartmann case should prompt reasonable discussion not only about Montgomery's response if similar situations should arise in the future, but also about the interlocking responsibilities of all local school divisions in Virginia.

Meanwhile, don't stick Montgomery with the label of discriminator against handicapped children. After all, the boy's mother chose Montgomery specifically because of its nationally recognized work in integrating physically and mentally disabled youngsters into regular classrooms.

March 4, 1995

Judge lets autistic boy attend Montgomery School


BLACKSBURG - A Circuit Court judge has ruled in favor of the Loudoun County parents who want to send their autistic son to Montgomery County schools.

The judge made "a very strong decision this time and we were very excited," Roxana Hartmann said Friday.

She said she hopes to get her 9-year-old son, Mark, into his new classroom at Kipps Elementary School next week.

"The community has been very positive and supportive," Hartmann said. "A lot of people have called me and a lot of people have asked if they could baby-sit Mark so I could do anything."

In January, Roxana and Mark Hartmann moved to Montgomery County, lured there by the school system's nationally recognized inclusion program. Her husband, Joseph, and their daughter, who attends a private school in Nort Virginia, are staying in Loudoun County.

Montgomery County school officials questioned the Hartmann's living arrangements, saying the bedroom apartment Roxana Hartmann rents does not constitute residency. The Montgomery County School Board asked Judge Grubbs last month to issue injunction prohibiting Mark from entering school in the county.

Grubbs ruled in favor of Hartmanns.

"At this preliminary stage, the court finds that Mark and his mother meet the residency provisions," Grubbs wrote in his ruling released late Thursday.

The Hartmanns are no strangers to the courtroom.

The parents garnered national attention last year after they challenged the Loudoun County school system's decision to take Mark out of his regular classroom and put him in a special-education class.

The Hartmanns wanted their son to remain in a regular classroom to learn positive behavioral habits from his classmates, but the school system said he was too disruptive.

The Hartmanns lost the case but have appealed the Loudoun County Circuit Court's decision.

In the meantime, the Hartmanns decided they no longer wanted their son to attend Loudoun County schools and ended up in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County School Superintendent Herman Bartlett has said throughout the case that the issue in question was residency and nothing else.

"I want to stipulate that the attorney and I will talk to the School Board to make sure how they feel about it, but I feel the issue has been resolved," Bartlett said Friday. "I"ll do everything I can to make the student and parent comfortable in Montgomery County and provide them with the same educational opportunities that we afford all of our students."

The county School Board will review the case and decide whether to appeal the decision, but Grubbs warned in his ruling that the Hartmanns probably would succeed in the end.

Roxana Hartmann, who said she had received many phone calls from those who had read of her situation, said Blacksburg is beginning to feel like home.

She said that after a Feb. 17 Roanoke Times & World News article mentioned her sparsely furnished apartment, people offered furniture and kitchen items.

"I have to tell you that they have been so nice; this is home," she said. "Even one of the local furniture companies called me to offer furniture."

Regina Smith, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, said she is not surprised by the community support.

"I have heard nothing negative about having this child stay," Smith said. "What I have heard is why did the school system take a negative stand against this child in the first place? From a parent standpoint, this woman did everything she could for her kid [in Loudoun County], then set out to find what she could for [him] somewhere else."

Smith acknowledged that there has been an influx of special­education students as a result of publicity the county has received for its inclusion program, but no parent has had to prove residency before.

"It's almost a magnet [the way] we're attracting," she said. "We need to show that it works so other school systems can try to do the same thing. This child has been out of school long enough. This is where he should be."

February 17, 1995

Judge hears from autistic boy's mom, School Board

By Melissa DeVaughn
Staff Writer

CHRISTIANSBURG - A tearful Roxana Hartmann asked a Montgomery County circuit judge Thursday to allow her autistic son to enroll in a county school.

Judge Ray Grubbs did not rule at the end of the hearing but said he would have a decision "shortly."

Hartmann and her 9-year-old son, Mark, moved to Montgomery County in January, after battling Loudoun County school officials for months to keep her son in a class with nonhandicapped children.

After a year in a Loudoun County class, school administrators said Mark Hartmann was too disruptive and would have to be moved to a special education class. Mark's parents disagreed with the ruling, and a legal battle ensued. The Hartmanns lost the case and are appealing the decision.

In the meantime, the Hartmanns said they have lost faith in Loudoun County schools and have been searching for a school system that routinely includes disabled children in all classrooms.

Now they're in Montgomery County, which boasts a nationally acclaimed inclusion program in which physically and mentally handicapped children are included in regular classrooms.

But Montgomery school officials are questioning the legality of the Hartmanns' arrangement. Roxana Hartmann and Mark are living in a one-bedroom, sparsely furnished apartment in Blacksburg. Mark's father, Joseph Hartmann, and the couple's daughter are staying in Loudoun County. School officials are asking the court to prohibit Mark from entering school.

"Montgomery County would be required to spend limited resources on someone who has not proved residency... It would be to the detriment to the children who undoubtedly are residents," School Board attorney Kim Ritchie argued Thursday.

Gerard Rugel, the Hartmanns' attorney, said if residency is the issue, then the Hartmanns have fully complied. Roxana Hartmann has signed a lease, transferred her car registration, changed her legal address, obtained a new driver's license and has a county library card.

"A person may have more than one residence," Rugel said. "The only time a school system is free not to enroll a child is when that child is living with someone other than the natural parent for the sole purpose of education... Mrs. Hartmann is there and intends to be there."

Furthermore, Rugel said, "money should not be an issue because, by federal law, all children regardless of handicap are entitled to an appropriate education."

According to both Ritchie and Rugel, while the Loudoun County case is under appeal, Mark is entitled to be in the same inclusive Loudoun County classroom he was in before his parents pulled him out of school in December. Local school administrators want a temporary injunction to keep Mark out of Montgomery County schools until all legal action is resolved in Loudoun.

"He should attend school in a regular educational setting [in Loudoun County] rather than staying in a one-bedroom apartment and cammuting back and forth," Ritchie said.

Regardless of the outcome, Roxana Hartmann said, she will nat send her son back to Loudoun County.

"Not next year, not in 10 years," she said. "We will not send our son back to Loudoun County Schools. My intent is to live here [in Montgomery County], keep my son in school and bring my daughter down when she is out of school."

Roxana Hartmann said she would return to her little apartment in Blacksburg and wait for Grubbs' ruling.

"Mark's been out of school for a month and a half," she said. "I'd like to see him in school again."

February 16, 1995

Residency is the only requirement

YOUR front-page headline in the Feb. 10 edition of this newspaper was grossly inaccurate ("Autistic pupil not welcome"). It doesn't represent the truth of the matter, and injects an issue into the situation that's unassociated with the cause for the school division's action.

Montgomery County's school division has an exceptional record in dealing with children, and it wouldn't enter into an action to discriminate against any child, Our case is simple. Are the Hartmanns residents of Montgomery County? Per Virginia Code 22.1-3, "The public schools in each division shall be free to each person of school age who resides within the division."

We're willing to abide by the court's decision, and will provide a free education to this child if the court upholds the family's claim to residence in Montgomery County. Once again, the issue is: Are they residents in Montgomery County? Your headline made it look like other issues are under consideration, and they're not.

It seems only fair that a retraction of a grossly erred headline be made. A modificcation of the guidelines for headline writing is also in order.

Superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools