WASHINGTON, DC – Mayor Vincent C. Gray today announced that, after 17 years of federal court supervision over the District’s special-education transportation program, the court has returned control of the program to DC officials.
Judge Paul Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia today agreed to end Supervising Court Master supervision, and to consider a proposed agreement between the District and lawyers for students and their parents to dismiss the case. The court has set a date of December 19, 2012 for a final “fairness” hearing on dismissal of the case.
The move is a major milestone in the long-running Petties v. DC litigation, a lawsuit that concerns reliable transportation for the District’s 3,100 students in specialized education and timely payments to schools and other partners who provide specialized education services funded by the District.
“This decision to remove federal supervision over special-education transportation is a major accomplishment for the District government – and one my administration has worked hard to achieve,” Mayor Gray said. “This crucial service will now once again be run exclusively by the District government. I would like thank City Administrator Allen Lew for his leadership in this area, and I congratulate State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley Jones, her staff, and especially all of our bus drivers and attendants for their commitment to our special-needs students and to improving the transportation services our kids depend on every day. These students deserve every opportunity we can provide in education, and I’m proud to say that they are getting the kind of service they deserve. I’m also deeply appreciative for the skilled representation provided by the Office of the Attorney General under Irv Nathan’s leadership.”
Under the Gray Administration, the District has provided the critically necessary financial and management support to run the specialized education transportation system without court supervision. This support included dedicating a five-year capital investment of $28 million to continue service investments by upgrading the District’s fleet.
The court’s ruling follows the report issued on October 11, 2012 by Supervising Court Master for Transportation David Gilmore finding that the District is in substantial compliance with 33 of the 34 governing performance metrics, and that the District will quickly comply with the on-time-arrival performance standard – the only remaining metric. Just this week, Gilmore filed a supplement to his report stating that the performance of the District, as measured by the on-time-arrival metric, continues to improve and has been consistent. He again renewed his support for the court to permit the order requiring his supervision to expire.
Previously, the court ended the requirements in the case governing payments to non-public special education schools and related service providers. Working closely with Special Court Master Elise Baach, the District and the parties agreed to a payment and dispute-resolution process to ensure a smooth transition of court oversight back to the District. Effective November 1, 2012, the payment and dispute process are governed by District rules.
Superintendent Mahaley Jones said: “Looking back, we understood that we were facing an enormously difficult task when we took over student transportation services two years ago, but we knew that we had the full support of this administration. From the very beginning our staff rallied together from every corner of the agency — which included moving my office to our transportation headquarters for a few months. Because of this extraordinary team effort and the commitment to excellent service provided by everyone at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s Department of Transportation, we are now awaiting a decision that will reassure all of those that have helped us achieve this milestone that their efforts have been formally recognized.”
Attorney General Nathan said: “Ending federal court supervision over our local functions has been among our highest priorities. The Gray Administration has followed through on its commitment to invest resources and talent into the District’s student transportation services and end of the Supervising Court Master’s oversight is a reflection of the great progress and the durable improvements demonstrated by the District. We look forward to the ‘fairness’ hearing before the court regarding the dismissal of this nearly two-decades-old case against the District government.”
City Administrator Lew said: “From the start of his administration, Mayor Gray set the bar. His standard was the same as mine, and that is excellence in everything that this government does. From trash collection to education services, our goal has been to improve in every area. The court’s decision to move toward ending the Petties case is another confirmation that District government is improving. Our job now is to continue supporting our workforce and ensuring that all of our children have the tools and resources needed to thrive.”
AFSCME District Council 20 President Geo T. Johnson said: “This is a victory not only for our special-education students, but for the dedicated men and women who support them every day. The drivers and other support staff have pulled together with management to help make the improvements necessary to move out of court supervision. Our members know when they are being fully supported and have worked even harder to make the transportation operation as efficient as possible.”