A Live Controversy


Washington Post Articles

January 14, 1998

Loudoun Disability Case Won't Be Heard

The u.s. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by a Loudoun County couple who wanted their autistic son to be educated alongside non-disabled children. A federal judge ruled a year ago that Loudoun school officials violated Mark Hartmann's right to an equal education in 1994 when they transferred him from a regular school, where he had attended second grade, to a special program for autistic children. An appeals court overturned that ruling, citing testimony that Mark did not make. progress while he was in a regular classroom in Loudoun.

Since 1994, Mark, 12, and his mother have lived in Montgomery County, Va., where he is enrolled in regular classes. His father, Joseph Hartmann, said Mark, will stay there until the end of the school year.

July 10, 1997

Court Backs Decision to Remove Autistic Boy From Regular Class

Suit Against Loudoun Schools Is Thrown Out on Appeal

By Victoria Benning
Washington Post Staff Writer

A federal appeals court has ruled that Lou­ doun County school officials have the right to remove an autistic boy from a regular class­ room, overturning a judge"s decision that said the school district had violated the child"s right to an equal education.

The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit filed by Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann on behali of their son, Mark, now 11. The Hartmanns had sued the school district after Mark was trans­ ferred in 1994 from a regular class to a classroom with other autistic children.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled in the parents" favor last year. But the appeals court said this week that Brinkema did not give enough weight to school officials" testimony that Mark was not making progress when he was in school with non-disabled children and that his outbursts were disrupting the class.

"The evidence in this case demonstrates that Mark Hartmann was not making academic prog­ ress in a regular education classroom despite the provision of adequate supplementary aids and services," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote it, the unanimous decision. Wilkinson said the "lower court simply substituted its own judgment regarding Mark's proper educational program for" that of local school officials."

The case has drawn national attention as a test of how far school districts must go to include disabled students in regular school activities.

In their lawsuit, the Hartmanns argued that: Loudoun County violated a 1975 federal law: that requires schools to educate disabled children in regular classes whenever possible. The Hartmanns said Loudoun officials did not give Mark enough support during his years in regular classes at Ashburn Elementary, and they said that Mark had done well in a regular first-grade classroom in Illinois, where the family lived before moving to Loudoun.

In March 1995, Mark and his mother moved to Montgomery County, Va., where the school system has gained national recognition for its efforts to include disabled children in regular classes. His parents say he has thrived in the public school there and will enter the sixth grade this fall.

Joseph Hartmann, who continues to live in Loudoun with the couple's daughter, said the family wants to pursue an appeal of the latest ruling and still hopes to be reunited in Loudoun.

"All you have to know about this case is that Mark was successfully included in Illinois and in Montgomery County," Hartmann said. "The only place he could not be successfully included was Loudoun County, and that's clearly because the school system did not have the commitment to do it."

Loudoun officials said they felt vindicated by the ruling.

"We"re obviously pleased with the decision," Loudoun Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said. "We are especially pleased at the court's finding that Loudoun County public schools staff were properly trained and qualified and that Loudoun decisions and actions on Mark's behalf were found appropriate and reasonable."

Gerard S. Rugel, an attorney representing the Hartmanns, said he would seek outside legal counsel before deciding whether to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Elizabeth Latts, of the National Center for Youth with Disabilities, predicted that the appeals court ruling will lead other school districts to scale back programs to "mainstream" disabled children and said that she expects advocacy groups will help the Hartmanns if they decide to appeal.

"I think school systems will jump on this and use it as an excuse to continue excluding these children from regular classrooms," Latts said.

Latts and other supporters of the so-called theory of inclusion say that, children with disabilities develop important social skills when they go to school with non-disabled students­ skills that will benefit them greatly as adults. But many school administrators and teachers argue that putting severely disabled children in regular classrooms can be disruptive and a strain on already-scarce school resources.

In Loudoun, Mark was placed in a regular classroom with a full-time aide and a team of specialists to help with his education. Halfway through his third-grade year, school officials decided that Mark -- who cannot speak or write with a pencil -- had made little progress and that his tantrums made it hard for his classmates to concentrate on their work.

December 7, 1996

Loudoun to Appeal Ruling

The Loudoun County School Board has voted to appeal a federal judge's decision that the county must teach an autistic child in a regular classroom setting.

Last week, U.S. District judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled in favor of joseph and Roxanna Hartmann, who sued after school officials removed their son Mark, now 11, from his regular second­ grade class at Ashburn Elementary School and placed him in a class for autistic children.

"The school staff had an obligation to pursue the educational program that, they believe met Marks needs," the School Board said in a prepared statement. "This appeal reflects the Board's concern for the appropriate education of its students."

Jerry Rugel, the Hartmann's attorney, said he will ask the court to order the school to hire a consultant to train staff members on the needs of autistic children while the appeal is heard. Rugel said the Hartmanns hoped that Mark, who now attends elementary school in Blacksburg, Va., could be part of a regular sixth-grade class in Loudoun County next fall.

"The School Board's action shows that it's not interested in working with the Hartmanns to develop an educational program for Mark," Rugel said. "I think it's very disappointing."

December 5, 1996

Loudoun Must Mainstream Autistic Boy

Judge Backs Parents Of Disabled Student

By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer

A federal judge has ruled that the Loudoun County school system must teach an autistic child in a regular classroom rather than with other disabled students, giving advocates of mainstreaming a victory in a two-year battle that drew national attention.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema found that Loudoun's 1994 decision to remove Mark Hartmann, then in second grade, from his regular classroom violated a federal law compelling school districts to make every effort to mainstream children with disabilities.

In a 27-page decision, Brinkema also ruled that the Loudoun system "inadequately" trained its staff at Ashburn Elementary School to su­ pervise Mark, now 11, who was the first autistic child to attend regular classes at that school.

"The Loudoun County Board of Education ... failed to follow the advice of properly qualified experts ... and instead placed staff ... who had inadequate training and experience [in charge of Mark], thereby dooming their inclusion efforts to failure," Brinkema wrote in a decision handed down last week.

"We're ecstatic," said Roxanna Hartmann, Mark's mother. "We've been at this for so long. Some people thought we were hysterical parents to go on like this. But the judge's decision shows we were right this whole time."

The school board's attorney, Kathleen Menfoud, said the system is considering whether to appeal the ruling. "No decision has been reached," she said. "Obviously, I'm disappointed."

A spokeswoman for Loudoun County schools declined to comment.

Interest groups that support teaching disabled children in regular classrooms hailed the judge's decision as a major victory.

"A Iot of us were hoping this would happen," said Mary Lynn Corcoran, of Fairfax-based Neighborhood Schools Now, which advocates mainstreaming. "Even though each student should be assessed individually, we feel children benefit greatly from inclusion, What's happening in Loudoun can't do anything but help us with our cause. I think school officials will see the writing on the wall."

Mark, who is unable to speak and has severe problems with fine motor coordination, moved with his mother to Blacksburg, Va., in 1995 so he could attend regular classes there. His father, Joseph Hartmann, still lives in Loudoun, but Mark and Roxana probably won't return until the next school year, said Jerry Rugel, the Hartmanns' attorney.

Rugel said he would be meeting with school officials in the next few weeks to discuss how Mark will be taught when returns.

"There are still some differences we have to iron out, and that's going to take some time," Rugel said.

Brinkema's ruling overturned 1994 decisions by the Loudoun schools and a Virginia Department of EducatiQn hearing examiner that Mark would be better educated with other disabled children.

The judge based her decision on evidence presented at a two-day triaI in September, including a video showing Mark during a typical day in a fourth-grade classroom at Epps Elementary School in Blacksburg, which has drawn national recognition for its efforts to include disabled children.

At one point on the tape, Mark was asked to find the home of Thomas Jefferson, and he pointed to a picture of Monticello. Mark also was asked to select the correct coins when a teacher's aide asked him for 35 cents.

School officials argued that Mark had learned nothing during the time time spent at Ashburn Elementary and that his behavior made it hard for otIter children to learn.

Brinkema ruled the evidence showed that Mark was no more disruptive than his schoolmates and that he was making educational progress.

"There was no evidence of uncontrollable behavior," she wrote, "Mark learned to tolerate change better... He interacted better with peers."

Brinkema's decision is a "strong interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act," said Kathleen B. Boundy, co-director of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Center for Law and Education.

"The judge found that Loudoun couldn't just give up after putting Mark in a regular classroom; rather, the county also had to provide him with well­trained teachers," Boundy said.

The ruling "not only looks at the physical setting ot the classroom but seeks to ensure a child's full participation in the curriculum," Boundy said.

Although Mark's case became part of a national debate about the education of disabled children, Brinkema wrote that the case was not "a battle between proponents of inclusion and separation. This case is solely about what is in the best interests of one disabled boy."

"The answer for Mark does not necessarily mean that the same answer would be appropriate for all other autistic children," Brinkema wrote.

October 13, 1996

Fairfax's Exclusive Public Schools

More than 30 years ago, the civil rights movement ushered our nation into a more enlightened era. Thanks to those who struggled for justice then, few people today question the moral imperative of integration - that is, except when it comes to children with disabilities.

Fairfax County, for example, has decided that it is okay to segregate children with disabilities, despite the directives of the 21-year-old Individuals With Disabilities Actand the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed into law five years ago by President Bush.

Like most young people, our children love fast food and playing with their neighborhood friends. Unlike most of their peers, however, they have disabilities: 6-year-old James has Down syndrome and 13-year-old Layla has autism. Unlike their peers, our children are not allowed to attend their neighborhood schools. We believe that this is wrong. Segregated education for children with disabilities is an anachronism. Yet special education programs in Fairfax remain, on the whole; exclusive and discriminatory.

More than 40 states are reforming their educational programs to include students with disabilities in the mainstream. In Virginia, the City of Falls Church, Blacksburg, parts of Loudoun County, Norfolk, Arlington and Manassas City are doing the same. Across the river in Montgomery County, several schools already practice full inclusion.

Inclusion means that students with disabilities are educated with their non-disabled peers while being provided the special education they need to succeed. Studies show that students with and without disabilities perform better in an integrated environment in neighborhood schools. For example, Blacksburg, which has practiced full inclusion since the 1980s, has seen increased scores for all of its students following the decision to integrate.

Through inclusion, children learn to see people as individuals, not stereotypes. Students without disabilities increase their learning opportunities and become more socially responsible. Students with disabilities improve their language skills and generally are held to a higher standard than in segregated programs. More important, as these children with disabilities become adults, they have the social skills needed to sustain employment. This is important because employers say it is the lack of social skills, not job skills, that is the greatest barrier to employment for adults with disabilities.

Officials in Fairfax County say inclusion will cost more than segregated programs. Yet inclusion is being done cost effectively in many jurisdictions throughout the nation. If implemented properly, that can be the case in Fairfax too. The county now spends more than $15 million a year just to transport special-education students to schools far from their homes, money that could be saved if the county abandoned its exclusionary policies.

We need to put aside old prejudices about people with disabilities. All our children deserve the right to receive a quality education in their neighborhood school.

-Leila and Anthony Head

May 20, 1996

Autistic Boy Doing Well

Mark Hartmann, the autistic boy whose parents have been fighting for two years to have him educated in a regular classroom in Loudoun County, is completing the fourth grade in a Blacksburg, Va., school and "has made tremendous progress," his father said last week.

Meanwhile, the Loudoun County school system has lost its bid to have the family's lawsuit against it dismissed on the ground that the issue is moot because Mark no longer lives in Loudoun.

The suit, filed in Loudoun Circuit Court, is likely to go to trial this summer.

Two years ago, Mark became part of a national debate about the education of disabled children when Loudoun school officials moved to take him out of his regu lar second-grade class at Ashburn Elementary School and place him in a special class for autistic children at Leesburg Elementary.

School officials argued that Mark had learned nothing during the year he spent in a regular classroom and was disruptive. The Hartmanns long had argued that Mark has a better chance of success as an adult if he is educated with non-disabled students.

In March 1995, Mark and his mother, Roxanna Hartmann, moved to Blacksburg, where the school system has gained national recognition for its efforts to mainstream disabled children into regular classes.

Mark's father, Joe Hartmann, who continues to live in Loudoun with the couple's daughter, Laura, said Mark, who will be 11 in August, is "doing wonderfully" in his regular fourth-grade classroom at Kipps Elementary School. The boy is included in all class activities and has reached a point where he is able to eat his lunch in the cafeteria with other students. It's a goal his parents set for him at the beginning of the school year.

-Victoria Benning

May 6, 1995

Finding on Autistic Boy Upheld

A Virginia hearing officer, appointed by the state Board of Education, has upheld a preliminary finding that Mark Hartmann, a 9-year-old boy with autism, should be educated with others who share his disability.

Mark's parents, Joseph and Roxana Hartmann, want their son educated in a regular classroom. Loudoun County educators tried it for a year before deciding that Mark wasn't learning and that his classmates and teachers were suffering. Loudoun educators want to place Mark in a class for autistic youngsters, mainstreaming him for nonacademic activities.

In March, Roxana Hartmann and her son moved to an apartment in Blacksburg, Va., where the public schools have gained national recognition for including disabled youngsters in regular classes.

Mark's lawyer, Gerard Rugel, said the Hartmanns are pleased with their son's new third-grade class but still want a similar setup in Loudoun, where Mark's father and sister still live.

If the Hartmanns want to appeal further, they must file suit against the Loudoun school system in federal court.

March 11, 1995

After Battle in Loudoun, Autistic Boy Enters Public School in SW Virginia

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

Mark Hartmann, the autistic Loudoun County boy whose schooling has become part of a national debate about the education of disabled children, yesterday joined a regular third-grade class in Blacksburg, Va., 250 miles southwest of Washington.

The 9-year-old"s arrival at Kipps Elementary School marked a victory of sorts for his parents, who long have argued that Mark has a better chance to succeed as an adult if he is educated with his non-disabled peers.

Loudoun school officials said last spring that Mark had learned nothing during the year he spent in a regular second-grade classroom at Ashburn Elementary School. They said he was disruptive and belonged in a special class. A local hearing officer ruled in the county's favor in December, and Joseph and Roxana Hartmann appealed. A new ruling by state hearing officer Alexander Simon is expected by May 8.

In the meantime, the Hartmanns pulled Mark out of Ashburn Elementary in January, and Roxana Hartmann rented a one-bedroom apartment in Blacksburg, hoping to take advantage of the Montgomery County, Va., school district's national reputation for teaching disabled children in regular classes.

The day before Mark was to en roll, Montgomery school officials balked, asking the circuit court for an injunction to keep Mark out until Roxana Hartmann proved that she was a resident. Superintendent Herman Bartlett backed down when a judge issued a preliminary ruling in the family's favor. Bartlett said the school system has dropped its lawsuit.

"The issue had to do with the residency question - nothing more, nothing less," Bartlett said. "Once that was settled, I told my staff, "Offer them whatever's available in this county ... and make them as comfortable as possible."

Yesterday, an ebullient Roxana Hartmann said she was thrilled with the staff at Kipps and the way Mark had acted upon arriving at school.

"He went straight to his desk, just as if he'd always been there," she said. "He's in the hands of people who know what to do. I don't have to worry about it. It's such a relief. I've longed for this for so long."

Mark's educational program will be supervised by an "inclusion facilitator" who specializes in keeping autistic youngsters in regular classrooms, Roxana Hartmann said. He will have two teacher's aides, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Hartmann said she and her husband will continue to fight for a similar setup for Mark in Loudoun, where Joseph Hartmann remains with the couple's daughter, Laura.

A lawyer for the Loudoun school system last week mailed a letter to the Hartmanns' lawyer asking that the family drop its appeal or risk being sued by the school system for reimbursement of attorneys' fees.

"If he is a resident of Montgomery, then he is not a resident of Loudoun, and Loudoun has no obligation to him whatsoever," the lawyer, Kathleen Mehfoud, said yesterday.

Gerard S. Rugel, the Hartmanns' attorney, said the Loudoun case "is not moot" because Mark "could always be returned."

February 17, 1995

Loudoun Parents Seek New School For Autistic Son

The parents of a 9-year-old autistic boy who lost their bid to keep him in a regular classroom in Loudoun County now are involved in a legal fight to enroll him in a school district in Southwest Virginia.

An attorney for the Montgomery County, Va., public schools argued yesterday in Circuit Court that Mark Hartmann should not be allowed to attend classes in the school district because his family has not established residence there.

The attorney for Mark's parents, Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann, disputed that, saying that Mark's mother has signed a six­ month lease for an apartment and registered her car in the county.

A state hearing officer gave Loudoun school officials permission in December to transfer Mark from a regular classroom at Ashburn Elementary School to a special program for autistic youngsters. His parents are appealing that decision and could have kept Mark at Ashburn while pursuing the appeal.

But they decided instead to try to enroll him in Montgomery County during the interim because of its reputation for including severely disabled children in regular classrooms. Judge Ray W. Grubbs did not issue a ruling yesterday on the school system"s request for an injunction to prevent Mark's enrollment.

January 15, 1995

All Children Need to be Able to Compete

Theana Yatron Kastens's thoughts on the rights of disabled or handicapped children "My Children Have a Civil Right to Learn," op-ed, Jan. 4 were the first reasonable ones I've seen since the beginning of this debacle called "inclusion." And I thank her for seeing more clearly what is involved here, for both the handicapped and the normal.

I, too, have a handicapped child - retarded, but not profoundly so. However, my pediatrician pointed out to me some years ago that all children - everyone, in fact - need to be in an environment where they can compete, where they can sometimes excel, where they are not always the last or poorest performers.

Once he had gotten his point across to me, I had to agree. And, although it was a painful process, my mildly retarded daughter was placed in a group home with four other girls of similar disabilities, with whom she could compete on a fairly level playing field and was often able to excel. Even though she had been the oldest child at home, her three younger brothers and sisters were always kind but always able to win against her, which had led to her withdrawing more and more into her own room.

After moving to the group home, she was enrolled in a sheltered workshop where she was again often able to excel. These were good experiences for her and she became more outgoing, ceasing almost entirely to retire to her room alone.

Prior to the group home, she had been placed in numerous schools and classes, as most instructors thought they would have her performing normally in just a few months. However, she never did perform normally. And, even now, after 20 years have passed, she expresses painful memories of those experiences in normal classrooms (in private schools where the classes were small and her progress could be monitored). Even then, I would never have placed her in a regular classroom in a public school.

This would have seemed, and still does, like a cruel thing to do to her or any handicapped person.

It is good to know someone can see around the rhetoric about plac­ing a handicapped person in a nor­mal environment for her own good.

Bryantown, Md

December 27, 1994

In Autism Case, Hearing Is Over, But Battle Isn't

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

No one knows how much Mark HartMann comprehends about the legal battle that is swirling around him. He can't tell his parents, or his attorney, what he thinks of a hearing officer's order that he be moved into a class with other autistic children.

But Mark's mother believes that although the 9-year-old can't speak or write, he knows his place in Mrs. Fatz's third­-grade class at Ashburn Elementary School is in jeopardy. She cites the tears that flowed unexpectedly at dinner recently when Mark's sister asked if he would be going back to school.

"It was different than Mark's normal crying, when he's angry," Roxana Hartmann said, stifling her own sob to tell the story. "It was sadness. It was grief."

On Dec. 15, a Board of Education hearing officer ruled in favor of Loudoun County school officials who want to place Mark in a special education program. But her decision didn't end the anguish of parents on both sides of the dispute. For Roxana and Joseph Hartmann, the agonizing question is what their next move should be.

Should they appeal the ruling and continue to carry the torch for a national movement that seeks full inclusion of disabled youngsters in school activities? Should they leave their brand-new home in Ashburn, and Joseph Hartmann's senior-level job at the State Department, to search for a school system in the United States or abroad that might be more accommodating? Or should they seek a compromise with Loudoun officials that would provide Mark with a mix of special education and time in a regular classroom?

More text to come...

December 17, 1994

Educating Mark

Nancy McBride, a hearing officer for the Loudoun County Public Schools, filed her decision this week in the case of Mark Hartmann, a 9-year-old autistic child now attending the Ashburn elementary school. Her task was neither simple nor pleasant. It involved choosing between the insistence of Mark's parents that he be continued in a "mainstreamed" placement in this neighborhood school and the wish of those in the school system to place him elsewhere. Her decision in favor of those in the school system was the right one.

Any parent can empathize with the Hartmanns' determination to provide the best possible education for their child. They believe that he would benefit by continued attendance at Ashburn, where he has been placed in a class with children who are not disabled. Federal law requires that special-needs children be given an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible, and the school system tried to provide that for Mark at Ashburn by reducing the num­ ber of children in his class, providing a full-time aide and special tutors to work with him and sending his teachers for special training.

The hearing officer concluded that was not enough. The boy had made no discernible academic progress in learning with his peers -- he does not speak, read or write -- though he did acquire skills in one-on-one sessions with his tutors. Moreover, his presence in the classroom was extremely disruptive and included continuous vocalizations and physical assaults on teachers and other children. The school system proposes now to place him in a special program for autistic children where the ratio of students to teachers is 5 to 2. He will also attend art, music and physical education classes with children who are not disabled.

The federal government and school systems across the country are still struggling to develop programs for special-needs children with the objective of providing the best possible education for these youngsters while keeping in mind the needs of other children with whom the learning environment is shared. No single model fits all cases, of course. There are degrees of disability, some of which can easily be accommodated in an ordinary classroom. And there are certainly benefits to non-disabled children in knowing, accommodating to and building friendships with peers who are different.

In the final analysis, though, while the school system must take into consideration the wishes of individual parents, it has the ultimate responsibility for determining placement in the interest not only of a single child but of the community.

December 16, 1994

Loudoun Can Take Autistic Boy of Regular Class

By Peter Pae
Washington Post Staff Writer

A Virginia hearing officer granted Loudoun County's request yesterday to remove an autistic boy from a regular classroom over his parents' objection, handing at least a temporary victory to educators who have argued that such placements are disruptive to teachers and other students.

After reviewing five days of testimony, Hearing Officer Nancy McBride concluded that 9-year-old Mark Hartmann"s educational needs were not served last year in his second-grade classroom at Ashburn Elementary School.

McBride gave Loudoun school officials permission to place Mark in a special program for children with autism, in a school 10 miles away, although he would continue "to attend art, music and physical. education classes with non-disabled students.

Her 26-page decision, released yesterday, was a bitter disappointment to Mark's parents, who had said that their son's future depended on his going to school with non-disabled children.

"They are quite disappointed," said Gerard S. Rugel, the Hartmanns' attorney. "They put their heart and soul into this. [Text Missing] Not only did it not benefit Mark, but it was detrimental to the best for their child."

More text to come...

December 8, 1994

Ruling Due On Boy's Schooling

Autistic Third-Grader Won't Change Class Soon

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

A hearing officer will decide by next week whether an autistic 9-year-old should remain at Ashburn Elementary School or be transferred -- despite his parents' objections -- to a special program for similarly disabled chi1dren.

But regardless of what educational setting is deemed better for Mark Hartmann, the boy with the toothy smile and thick brown hair will remain in his regular third-grade classroom for a while.

Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann will appeal to the state Board of Education if they are ordered to enroll their son in a class for autistic children at Leesburg Elementary School, said their attorney, Gerard S. Rugel."

The law allows Mark to retain his current educational placement while an appeal is pending. Any ruling by the state board can be appealed in court at the local and state levels; the process could take years.

"He will not be removed," Roxanna Hartmann said. "He stays there until all this is squared away."

Hearing officer Nancy McBride said last week that she will make her decision by Dec. 16.

The case, which is being closely watched by educators and parents of special needs youngsters from Northern Virginia and elsewhere, pits the much-lauded theory of full inclusion against the very real difficulties of teaching a child such as Mark in a regular classroom.

Almost halfway through his second year at Ashburn, Mark cannot speak or write with a pencil. He types a few words on a special keyboard. School officials say he cannot read and cannot add or subtract; his parents disagree.

Mark's lessons are modified by an instructional aide, who is assigned to him full time. But school officials say he has learned little in his second- and third-grade years and has disrupted the classroom by hitting, pinching, screeching and throwing tantrums -- behavior that specialists say are the way a nonverbal child expresses frustration.

In five days of testimony this fall, Loudoun County educators said they have done every­ thing possible to help Mark succeed alongside, his non-disabled peers to no avail. They want him bused to Leesburg, where be would attend class with four other autistic youngsters and join non-disabled children for music, art and gym.

The Hartmanns say Mark needs to learn to survive in a non-disabled world and should not be surrounded by other autistic youngsters who also are struggling to communicate and socialize.

Instead, they say, Mark's role models should be the 9-year-old chatter­boxes who live in his neighborhood, visit his home to play Nintendo and accompany the family on outings to restaurants and shopping malls.

The Hartmanns, and several educators and specialists who testified on their behalf, blame inadequate preparation by the staff at Ashburn for many of Mark's problems in class -- an allegation the school system vehemently denies. Witnesses for the family included the principal of the Dlinois school where Mark attended kindergarten and first grade. She said he thrived in a regular classroom setting there.

If McBride rules in favor of the family, the school system then would decide whether to appeal. So far, legal fees for each side total about $20,000; Loudoun County must pay costs for each side if it loses.

The Loudoun School Board cited legal costs in its decision last year not to appeal a court ruling in an expensive graduation prayer case. But in her brief summarizing the school system"s case, attorney Kathleen Mehfoud said the current dispute is about learning not legal fees. "Mark is at a crossroads" in his education, she wrote. "Mark needs no further wasted academic time."

October 28, 1994

Mother Says Regular School Is Crucial for Autistic Boy

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

The mother of an autistic boy whom Loudoun County school officials are trying to remove from a regular third-grade classroom testi­ fied yesterday that her son"s future depends on his remaining with his nondisabled peers.

"We want Mark to be a member of our society," Roxanna Hartmann said in an urgent voice. "Mark has gained many skills in the last three years, skills that would be lost if he is put in a class with four other autistic children, as school officials have recommended.

Her testimony came on the last day of a hearing that the school system requested when the Hartmanns refused its recommendation for the boy last June. The hearing officer, Nancy McBride, said she will rule by Dec. 9. "Nine-year-old Mark cannot speak and easily is upset by noise, distractions and changes in routine. He was in a regular kindergarten and first­ grade classroom in Illinois and started second grade at Ashburn Elementary School when the family moved to Loudoun last year.

Parents and school officials agree the year was a disaster, with Mark throwing repeated tantrums, rarely participating in group activities and showing no academic progress.

The school system says those results prove Mark belongs in a special education classroom for all academic subjects. But the Hartmanns call his lack of progress a sign that the staff at Ashburn wasn"t properly trained in full inclusion, a growing movement to adapt all classroom activity so that disabled youngsters can participate.

Hartmann was near tears as she described her son sitting frustrated in music classes at the school, unable to sing with his classmates and not encouraged to participate in other ways, as she said he had been in Illinois.

"Mark loves music," Hartmann said. "Mark can bounce to the music, and Mark can follow the rhythm of the music quite well."

Specialists in inclusion testifying for the Hartmanns have said that virtually any classroom activity can be modified by a teacher or teacher's aide to suit any disabled student.

Although school officials have maintained that they are thinking only of Mark's needs in trying to move him to the autistic program at Leesburg Elementary School, the school attorney yesterday focused. on the financial costs of keeping the boy at Ashburn.

"Whatever training they have is not enough, and the school system should spend its money to give them more training?" Kathleen Mehfoud asked.

The hearing concluded with the testimony of the Loudoun schools' director of pupil services, Ned Waterhouse, who has been criticized by parents of special education students for remarks he allegedly made at a meeting last year. Jamie Ruppman, an educational consultant who attended the Dec. 8, 1993, meeting, testified last month that Waterhouse said keeping Mark at Ashburn would lead to similar demands from other parents and "destroy special education in Loudoun County public schools."

Several parents objected to the alleged remark at a School Board meeting Tuesday. One called for Waterhouse's ouster.

Mehfoud did not ask Waterhouse yesterday whether he had made such a statement. But she did ask whether he tried to intimidate the other educators at the meeting or persuade them not to keep Mark at Ashburn.

"Absolutely not," Waterhouse said. "I stated clearly at that meeting that it would be the responsibility of [those who worked with the child] to determine what to do."

September 6, 1994

Swept Away by the Mainstream

By Marcia Reback

While various theories abound about how best to reform our educational system to boost student achievement, one of the most controversial and politically charged issues within this debate in­ volves the education of severely disabled students. To frame the issue, let's take the examples of Jimmy Peters, 6, of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Mark Hartmann, 9, of Loudoun County. They are severely disabled children whose parents insist on keeping them in regular classrooms, while school administra­ tors contend the best environment for the youngsters is a special education classroom.

Some say the right thing to do -- and one deemed politically correct by many -- would be to keep the boys in regular classrooms so they can socialize with the non-disabled children.

But here's the crux of the dilemma: Jimmy has difficulty speaking and is prone to throwing temper tantrums, overturning desks and even kicking other children. Jimmy's teacher took a medical leave because of the unremitting stress. The school district wants Jimmy placed in a special-education class, but the boy's father successfully sued the district to keep Jimmy in a regular classroom. He joins other first-graders in a regular classroom this fall.

Mark is autistic.

His teacher says his classroom behavior includes crying spells, tantrums and uncomprehending stares. When children approach him, he pushes, pinches and kicks them away. And he made little educational progress during his time in the regular classroom. School officials contend Mark can get more out of a special-education program, while his parents insist on including him in the regular classroom to prepare him for an adult life with non­disabled people.

In these particular cases, the school district's decisions are based on a goal of providing the best and appropriate edu­ cation for each child -- disabied and non­ disabled.

Currently, many special-needs children are inappropriately isolated in self-contained classrooms, when their disability has little bearing on their ability to function and learn in a regular class with I their age group. However, some disa­ bled children should be in a special-edu­ cation classroom. Their learning, behav­ ior or emotional disability requires the concentrated attention of a highly skilled special-education teacher. Sometimes, their behavior disrupts the education of others and threatens people's physical safety.

The trend toward full inclusion is a mistake that will be costly to all children. Full-inclusion programs place all special-needs children into regular classes for the entire day. Since all are sent to the regular classroom, no thought is given to whether they Can function or learn or progress in that environment or whether their behavior or special needs will disrupt the classroom.

While some say supports and services will follow each child into the regular classroom, often the disruption cannot be overcome.

And the assumption that services and supports will follow the disabled child into the regular class does not occur in many cases. Often, children are left behind and alone, getting little or no individualized attention. Compounding the problem is the fact that teachers have received little or no additional training for handling these new students.

Mainstreaming, a rational form of inclusion that has been practiced for years, allows disabled students who are ready to spend part of their day in regular classes and the rest of the day in resource rooms with specialists. A thoughtful decision has been made that these disabled students can learn and progress alongside the other students and can behave appropriately.

At a time when parents, educators and others are clamoring for world-class standards and elevated test scores, it is ironic that there is a push toward full-inclusion policies that could diminish the hope of any gains.

Jimmy Peters, Mark Hartmann and other disabled students deserve a good and appropriate education. For some, the regular classroom with supports is the perfect atmosphere. For others, it is a special-education classroom. A combination of both during the day is the answer for others. But a haphazard decision to put all disabled children into regular classrooms doesn't advance the education of any child, much less the cause of the disability-rights advocates.

The writer chairs the American Federation of Teachers' Task Force on Special Education.

August 28, 1994

As Loudoun Goes, So May Other Schools

Case Could Influence Future of "Inclusion" Of Disabled Students

By Debbi Wilgoren and Peter Pae
Washington Post Staff Writers

Nine-year-old Mark Hartmann is autistic. He can't speak or write. If he is upset or confused, he flaps his hands and screeches a strangled, grating sound.

But in happier moments, Mark blends in with the other children in his Loudoun County neighborhood. His skin is tanned and his thick hair bleached from a summer of playing and swimming. In the airy living room of his family's yellow Victorian house, he takes pride in knowing how to work the VCR.

This month, Mark's life took a new turn: The tall, sturdy youngster became a symbol in a national debate over whether, and how often, disabled youngsters should he educated alongside their non-disabled peers.

Advocates on both sides are watching intently to see whether Loudoun school officials succeed in their unusual effort to have Mark transferred, over his parents' objec­ tion, from a regular classroom to a program for autistic children in a public school 10 miles away.

Proponents of "full inclusion" for severely disabled students fear that if a state hearing officer rules in Loudoun's favor, that could persuade other school systems to take similar steps, thus damaging those children's chances of functioning in the mainstream world.

But such a ruling would be vindication for others, who said they believe thatfull inclusion is not possible for every child and that the concept has jeopardized worthy specialized programs for disabled students.

"What's at stake here is a mes­ sage that will go out to other [schools] that are struggling with. the issue," said Jamie Ruppman, of Vienna, an advocate of full inclusion whose adult son is autistic. "Families are worried that their kid will be next."

Mark, a second-grader last year at Ashburn, Elementary School, is one of six severely disabled youngsters enrolled in regular classes in Loudoun. Other school districts in the Washington area also have a few children with severe mental, physical or emotional disabilities assigned full time to regular classrooms.

That setup was unimaginable a generation ago, when, teachers With training in special education worked with small groups of disabled stu­ dents, often in buildings far away from regular schools. They focused on life skills and vocational activities rather than academics.

Even as those programs were developed in the mid-1970s, however, many professionals in the field were forming the theories that now fuel the inclusion movement. They said it Was unfair and unwise to separate disabled children from their peers, because youngsters learn best from imitating those around them. Moreover, they argued, inclusion would provide non-disabled children a lesson in tolerance.

The movement got a boost from the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as from recent court rulings saying, public schools must find, the resources, to educate disa bled children "in regular classrooms."

"Instead of proving that you have the right to be, in, you start with the right to be in. It's a different premise," said Kathleen B. Boundy, an attorney with the Cambridge, Mass.-based Center for Law and Education.

Last year, the Department of Education said a record one-third of children with special education needs were spending their school days in regular classrooms. Most of them had learning disabilities or speech impediment's rather than Conditions as severe as autism or mental retardation

In some cases, there have been dramatic successes. Joseph Pauley of Potomac said his daughter Cecelia, who has, Down's syndrome, has improved her IQ score by 25 points after two years of full inclusion at Winston Churchill High School in Montgomery County.

But the trend also has generated substantial opposition. Teachers unions say instructors often do not get all the resources and training needed to teach disabled and non-disabled students at the same time, and they have questioned whether regular teachers should be given such a burden. And some specialists and parents of disabled children object to the notion that aregular classroom is the best environment for every child.

"When you talk about full inclusion, you're talking about getting rid of everything else," said Bernard Rimland, the director of the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, whose 38-year-old Son is autistic.

"Inclusion wouldn't have helped my son," Rimland said. "His best progress was in small classes with dedicated teachers."

In Montgomery, parents formed separate advocacy groups with dueling acronyms: CASE (Citizens for Alternatives in Special Education) and PISCES (People for Inclusive Schools and Community Education Services). They have clashed over the number of teaching positions de­ voted to inclusion rather than special education classrooms. School administrators in the Washington area said they are feeling conflicting pressures.

"We don't have all the answers," said Rosy McGuinness, a special education coordinator in Fairfax County. "We don't want to deny children their right to be included, but we also must recognize that inclusion may not be appropriate for some children."

Federal law requires school administrators to meet with parents of disabled youngsters each year to review their course of instruction. Either side may propose full inclusion.

Inclusion can mean assigning a full­time aide to work with the disabled child. In many cases, it also, means modifying the classroom curriculum for that child using a reading assignment to improve the youngster's attention span, for example; even as other children in the room are studying the same pages for theme and character development.

School officials said the overall cost of inclusion is about the same as that of separate, specializedclassrcoms.

Where inclusion has succeeded, educators said, it has been the result of, extensive preparation.

The school system in Boyertown, Pa., spent three years phasing in students from a special educationcenter into their horne-based schools. Among them was a quadriplegic who is blind and deaf.

In the District, special education director, Garnett Pickney is working closely with the, staff at LaSalle Elementary School to include a youngster with Down's syndrome in the fourth grade.

Last year, the child was in a third­grade classroom but received no special support. Pickney said the result was "chaotic." This year, teachers, administrators and a psychologist have spent hours figuring out how to include the child in academic activities without frustrating him or boring others.

Inclusion is just better for the kids overall -- provided that everyone's prepared," Pickney said. "1f everybody's not prepared, then it turns into a battle.

"Am I going to help the special ed kid or the regular ed kid? It should never have to be a choice," But it was: for Diane Johnson, Mark's second-grade teacher at Ashburn. During the Aug. 15 hearing on whether Mark should be taken out of Ashburn, Johnson testified that she often had to speak over his screeches to teach the other children. She also said she rarely gave individual instruction to her other students, choosing instead to spend time working with Mark.

"I think I neglected the students in my class," Johnson said. "I can think of two children in particular who struggled through the year who could have done better if I had more time with them."

Loudoun school officials said Mark is frustrated at not being able to keep up with his classmates and would show more progress in a specialized class.

But Mark's parents, Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann, said they blame the county for not sufficiently training Johnson or Mark's aide in how to teach autistic youngsters and for failing to send in experts to work out difficulties, as they arose.

They said the suburban Chicago elementary school where Mark attended kindergarten, and fist grade, took those steps and had more sucess.

Since the family moved to Loudoun a year ago, Roxanna Hartmann said in an interview, Mark has regressed. Sometimes he hits himself or impulsively pulls off his clothing, signs of frustration, she said she hasn't seen since he was 5.

The hearing on Mark's final placement Will resume in late-September. Among those in the audience will be Eleanor Voldish, of Loudoun. Voldish sat through all eight hours of testimony on Aug. 15, listening to people talk about Mark while she thought of her son, Gregory.

Gregory, who has Down's syndrome, has been in regular classes since preschool. Although he lags behind his peers in speech and writing skills, he begins first grade Monday at Sterling Elementary School.

Kathleen Mehfoud, the Loudoun school system's lawyer, said "school officials remain committed to including disabled children whenever possible. The Hartmann case, she said, involves only what's best for Mark.

But Voldish said she wonders what would happen if the Hartmanns lose, and her son, who thrived last year in kindergarten, begins to have problems.

"They could easily come back and say Gregory shouldn't be included," she said. "It could, set back years of work."

August 16, 1994

Loudoun Wants Autistic Boy Out of Class

Parents Disagree, Fight County to Keep Son in School WIth Non-Disabled Children

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

Loudoun County has taken the unusual step of asking a state hearing officer to remove an autistic boy from a regular elementary school classroom over his parents' ob­ jection.

School officials contend that Mark Hartmann, who will turn 9 next week, showed little academic progress in his second-grade class last school year and that he can learn more by being placed in a special education program during most school periods.

But Mark's parents disagree. They argue that teaching him in a regular classroom with the help of as many specialists and aides as necessary is crucial to his preparation for an adult life alongside non-disabled people.

"He's a third-grader. That's where he belongs," Joseph Hartmann said of his son. "When he gets to be 17 or 19 years old, we want him to be able to understand what society is all about. He's not going to get that in a classroom with other severely disabled youngsters."

Those two viewpoints clashed yesterday at a hearing in Leesburg whose outcome will help establish how far school administrators must go to avoid isolating disabled children from their peers.

Autism, a developmental disorder affecting about 380,000 people in the country, disrupts the brain's processing of information and retards academic and social skills.

In their testimony, educators who have worked with Mark reached opposite conclusions about whether his inclusion in regular classes will help the Ashburn youngster succeed to the best of his ability.

Diane Johnson, Mark's second-grade teacher at Ashburn Elementary School, said that when she watched Mark, she saw tears and tantrums, uncomprehending stares and small hands flapping helplessly as he sought to make himself understood.

Sometimes Mark rattled a marker in his mouth to make noise, she said. Sometimes he screeched unintelligibly. When his classmates got too close, he would push, pinch or kick them a safe distance away, she said.

As the year progressed, Mark's behavior worsened, Johnson said. He seemed to get no benefit from group activities such as social studies projects or group reading. The only academic progress he made -o adding numbers up to 5 and typing new words that were spelled out before him -- came during one-on-one sessions with her or with his full-time instructional aide, she said.

But Mark's principal at an elementary school in Lombard, Ill., a Chicago suburb where he attended regular kindergarten and first grade, said his behavior improved markedly the second year. "He sat in the classroom. He moved through the hallways. He participated," Principal Sandra K. Truax said. By the end of first grade, Truax said, Mark had learned to walk unaccompanied from his classroom to speech therapy on the other side of the building.

When Joseph and Roxanna Hartmann moved to Ashburn a year ago because of Joseph Hartmann's job transfer, they asked Loudoun officials to put Mark in a setting similar to the one in Lombard, a regular classroom, with an instructional aide at his side at all times. School officials agreed.

But they recently told the Hartmanns that Mark was not doing well and proposed placing him in a special program for children with autism, in an elementary school 10 miles away, although Mark would continue to have art, music and gym with other third-graders. The parents refused, arguing that the county instead should assign more aides to meet their son"s needs.

School officials then sought state permission to remove Mark from a regular classroom. They have not said how much Mark's education cost the county last year.

The hearing is being held before Nancy McBride, an Alexandria attorney appointed to hear school disputes by the Virginia Supreme Court.

It adjourned yesterday and will resume in late September, with testimony expected from the Hartmanns, Loudoun school officials, specialists: on autism and both advocates and opponents of the controversial philosophy of full inclusion for severely disabled students.

Full inclusion pairs disabled students With full-time aides and places them in a regular classroom. The aide modifies the class activities as necessary. For example, Mark's teacher at Ashburn Elementary said he took spelling tests using flash cards while his classmates did so through dictation.

Advocates of that approach say it doesn't matter if an autistic child is unable to read the same books or do the same math problems as other students in class. What"s important, they say, is that the child grow socially by being with non-disabled friends.

But school administrators and teachers' unions say that full inclusion drains already scarce resources from full-time special education programs and that youngsters with behavioral disorders can be extremely disruptive to the rest of the class.

Last year in Huntington Beach, Calif., after a judge refused to allow school officials to remove a disabled 6-year-old from his regular kindergarten class, parents gathered outside the school with signs saying he was jeopardizing their children's education and physical safety.

While his family awaits the hearing's conclusion, Mark will begin third grade at Ashburn Elementary on Aug. 29.