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Gburg’s Spiegel calls for highway funds restoration

  • Published in Local

gaithersburg buildingGAITHERSBURG — At Monday night’s meeting of Gaithersburg’s Mayor and City Council, Council Vice President Ryan Spiegel identified what he called the top priority for Gaithersburg and all other Maryland municipalities in the current legislative session. Spiegel, who also serves as statewide chair of the legislative committee of the Maryland Municipal League, noted that under a formula set by state law, cities and towns throughout Maryland are entitled to receive funding for roadway restoration and maintenance,

“Unfortunately, that formula was eviscerated by the State of Maryland back in 2009 during the Great Recession,” Spiegel said. “Ever since them, cities and towns have been working to get the state to restore that formula to its rightful equation, because without it, cities and towns are being deprived of the money they need to maintain our roads and other transportation infrastructure.”

Spiegel said that the MML sought public involvement in helping to convince state legislators to restore this funding, known as highway user revenues, or HURs, which is largely funded by state gasoline taxes.

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Controversial state song may finally change

  • Published in State

Flag of MarylandMaryland’s controversial state song – “Maryland, My Maryland” – could soon go the way of eight-track tapes and cassettes if a number of state legislators get their way.

The Civil War-era battle hymn, which makes reference to “Northern scum,” takes its lyrics from a poem written in the early days of the conflict by James Ryder Randall, and with verses like “Thou wilt not cower in the dust, Maryland! Thy beaming sword shall never rust,” gained popularity with Confederate troops before being adopted as the official state song.

One proposal for changing the song is SB0790, sponsored by State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) of District 17. Kagan has been pushing to change the state song since 2016, and introduced her bill to “repeal and replace” the current song, which she called “embarrassing and dated and racist,” last week.

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2018 Maryland Legislative Preview

  • Published in State

Sen. Craig Zucker (D14)

D14 Craig ZuckerSen. Craig Zucker COURTESY PHOTOZucker said he is wary of potential federal cuts that could impact the state -- including cuts to programs for keeping the Chesapeake Bay clean. The General Assembly should be aware of such cuts during the budget process, Zucker said, adding that the Trump administration has created new expectations for the state. 

“We have to be proactive in our budgeting,” Zucker said.

In addition to funding for the Chesapeake Bay, Zucker emphasized that state funding for Montgomery County Public Schools is as key an issue for the County's delegation to Annapolis as it is for local elected leaders.

“I think it's important to make sure to meet our commitment on our education spending and on the capital side to make sure we are investing in our school construction,” he said.

Zucker said he plans to introduce a bill that would reverse a state law about serving alcohol to people with developmental disabilities. Currently in Maryland bars and restaurants can deny serving alcohol to of age adults with developmental disabilities. Zucker said his bill would make that illegal.

“That is not fair; it’s an equity thing,” he said.

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Hogan moves Taney statue from outside statehouse

  • Published in State

Taney statueLast week, Gov. Larry Hogan decided to remove the statue that stands outside the Maryland State House in Annapolis of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice infamous for the majority opinion he wrote in the Dred Scott decision.

“While we cannot hide from our history – nor should we – the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” Hogan said in a statement. “With that in mind, I believe removing the Justice Roger B. Taney statue from the State House grounds is the right thing to do, and we will ask the State House Trust to take that action immediately."

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Cellphone simulators detailed in Annapolis

  • Published in State

 

ANNAPOLIS -- During a first-of-its-kind public hearing, law enforcement officials detailed how cell site simulators are used as they addressed arguments from privacy proponents about the technology’s infringing on privacy rights.

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Confederate plate ban proposed

  • Published in State

Kumar-BarveState Del. Kumar Barve

ANNAPOLIS – State Del. Kumar Barve's (D-17) bill to ban the display of the Confederate battle flag on license plates passed the House of Delegates by a vote 131-8 last week.

The bill next moves on the state Senate.

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Material facts and the need for disclosure

house genericProperty disclosure laws are mostly straightforward about making known the physical condition of a home that’s for sale. However, whether or not to disclose other material facts, that may include events that occurred in and around the home, is not always clear. Material facts about a home are often described as information that may sway a home buyer’s decision about the purchase or purchase price. Some of the more familiar material fact cases that are typically reported in the news include haunted homes and unruly neighbors. Yet, these two recent accounts have again raised the question and debate about what the seller and the real estate agent is obligated to disclose.

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Walter Johnson grad gets head coach job at Washington College

  • Published in Sports

Bethesda native Aaron Goodman has been named the head men’s basketball coach at basketballhoops.

The NCAA Division III college is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Goodman has spent the past nine seasons as an assistant at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

“We are excited to welcome Coach Goodman to our team,” said Washington College Director of Athletics Dr. Bryan Matthews. “His experience at the Naval Academy has prepared him well for success in recruiting top academic student-athletes and leading young men in their athletic pursuits. We look forward to the resurgence of Washington College men’s basketball under his leadership.”

During his stint at the Naval Academy, Goodman coached one All-American, 11 All-Patriot League, and seven Patriot League All-Academic student-athletes.

“I would like to thank Dr. Matthews, the search committee, and all of the terrific people I met through the search process for giving me this incredible opportunity,” said Goodman, a Walter Johnson High School graduate. “I have been working hard towards becoming a head coach and am honored and fortunate to have been chosen to lead the Washington College men’s basketball program.”

Goodman, a former head junior varsity and assistant varsity boys basketball coach at Sandy Springs Friends School in Olney, will become the Shoremen’s 14th all-time head coach as the program enters its 104th season during the 2015-16 campaign.

“I am looking forward to getting to know each one of the returning student-athletes as well as the incoming freshman class and discussing with them the new direction, expectations, a renewed enthusiasm, and a new attitude towards a winning culture within the Washington College men’s basketball program,” said Goodman. “Our basketball program has a storied history and a valued alumni base that will be a significant part in our push towards the top of the Centennial Conference.”

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Fairness In Education First

mccivicfedDuring the 2015 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly will once again have an opportunity to advance civil rights for children with disabilities. Elected officials in Annapolis can correct an injustice for families of special needs students by passing legislation shifting the burden of proof from parents to school districts in special education due process cases, as other states have. Last session, despite hearing testimony from parents, advocates, and students from across the state, the House and Senate ultimately failed to act in the best interest of students with disabilities. 

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).  In order to meet this obligation, school districts provide special education and related services in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to students with disabilities.

Ideally, the IEP should be developed in a collaborative process involving the school district and the parents. In reality, a new IEP goes into effect every year, even if the parents disagree with it. School districts control all aspects of the plans, services, and placements provided to students with disabilities. Moreover, they can change or eliminate services, and/or change a child’s school placement at any time, without parental consent.

If parents disagree with the school district, they have little recourse. They can initiate a legal proceeding called due process in which they have the burden of proving by the weight or preponderance of the evidence that the IEP created by the school district fails to provide FAPE. In these hearings, parents are at a huge disadvantage. They carry the tremendous weight of having to prove a negative against an entire school district. The issues can be complicated and school districts have all the power: knowledge of complex special education law, access to staff attorneys and outside counsel; they employ the teachers, therapists and educational experts who create and implement the IEP; and they have full access to records, instructional materials and placement options – including how other children have fared at them.

In stark contrast, parents have limited resources, limited knowledge of their options, and limited access to witnesses and information. Most cannot afford attorneys, or the experts needed to prove their case. They may be denied access to placements, instructional materials, lesson plans, and other vital information, and are often subjected to aggressive tactics by school district attorneys. They are routinely placed in the untenable position of having to ask teachers to testify against the wishes of their supervisors. Given all of the obstacles they face, it is no surprise that in Maryland, parents lose more than 90% of these disputes. This disparity hits parents who can’t afford attorneys the hardest, those who proceed without representation. In these cases, school districts have won despite putting on little – or no – evidence that the IEP provides FAPE. In the end, when school districts prevail, not on the merits of the case – but because of the parents’ inability to meet the burden of proof - the children lose.

By shifting the burden of proof in special education due process cases from parents to the local school districts, Maryland can better balance the scales of justice in an unfair process. Burden of proof for a local school district is modest – it is merely the requirement to demonstrate that the IEP it created provides a child with disabilities FAPE, which is the basic floor of opportunity. For parents and their children it would mean that due process decisions are based upon the appropriateness of the IEP, instead of the parents’ inability to carry the burden of proof.

Shifting the burden is also about school system accountability and encouraging good faith collaboration with parents to avoid disputes. Currently, the lack of accountability is so lopsided that principals and school districts know they will lose only in the most egregious of cases that also involve parents who can afford an attorney. Thus, all too often, there is a take it or leave it attitude in IEP meetings over the services provided to children with disabilities. Low income and middle income students suffer the most in these situations because their parents cannot afford to pay for the attorneys and other resources necessary to shoulder the burden of proof in a due process hearing.

For the past two years, this lack of accountability was a common theme throughout the public hearings held in Annapolis and on-line testimony from across the state. Parents and advocates testified about the enormous challenges they faced getting appropriate IEPs for their children, and then having local schools actually implement them if they did. Numerous parents shared their hardship stories – such as spending their life savings or taking out a second mortgage on their home to secure an appropriate education for their disabled children.

Many families have to hire special education advocates in an attempt to obtain the services that their children are entitled to under the IDEA. They may also need to pay for expensive private evaluations in order to prove that their child qualifies as a student with disabilities. Even then, there is no guarantee that the local school system will agree that the student is eligible to receive special education services under an IEP. Some testified about schools failing to implement IEPs that were already in place. Oftentimes, when faced with the overwhelming prospect of an expensive and lengthy hearing, parents give up and let the school change, or even eliminate, the IEP.

Maryland prides itself on being a progressive state but falls short when it comes to children with disabilities. The Maryland General Assembly must enact this basic civil rights legislation in order to promote justice for our most vulnerable members of society and their families. It is time to shift the burden of proof from the parents to the school districts, where it belongs. It is the only fair thing to do.

The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect formal positions adopted by the Federation.  To submit an 800-1,000 word column for consideration, please send an email attachment to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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