BALTIMORE (WBFF) – Thousands of students, especially those with disabilities, continue to fall behind as many schools remain closed to in-person learning. But a movement is underway nationally to hold school systems accountable. And that movement has come to Maryland.
In July 2020, plans to file class-action lawsuit were announced in New York State claiming the rights of students with disabilities were violated when schools shut down. That month, Baltimore City Schools mom Julie Gaskins, added her name and her claims against Baltimore City Schools to the lawsuit.
“I just get fired up because it ticks me off. There’s so many kids that need services that aren’t getting them,” said Gaskins.
If Gaskins’ name sounds familiar, it should. In February 2018, she was in Annapolis testifying in support of education reform. But when she took the microphone to explain how City Schools failed to educate her son, FOX45 News cameras captured Baltimore’s two state Senators leaving the room. We later tracked them down.
“I was there,” said former Senator Joan Carter Conway at the time. “You may have thought I wasn’t there, but I was in this building. But the speakers were on.”
A few months later, both Senators lost re-election. But more importantly for Gaskins, that moment convinced her that she was right.
“What they’re doing is wrong. They know it’s wrong, and somebody has to be held accountable for it,” Gaskins told Project Baltimore.
Gaskins’ son attends Digital Harbor High School in South Baltimore. He has an IEP, an Individualized Education Program, which provides extra services to help with his vision disability. But Gaskins says, since elementary school, he has not received all the services. Since the shutdown began last March, she says he’s received even fewer services. The result is her son’s in ninth grade, but he reads at a third-grade level.
“He wasn’t educated properly. He was never taught properly how to read,” said Gaskins. “They don’t care if the kids learn how to read. They’re just going to push them through because it makes their data look good.”
Under federal law, school systems must provide the services from IEPs. In 2019, Gaskins filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, which triggered an investigation into City Schools for disability discrimination against her son. That investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, Gaskins attached her name to the planned class-action lawsuit in New York in the hopes it will come to Baltimore City and all of Maryland.
“A better education with highly qualified teachers and staff that actually care about what’s going on with him,” said Gaskins when asked what she wants for her son. She added that she hasn’t seen that in City Schools.
Maryland is one of 21 states the U.S. Department of Education says, “needs assistance”, when it comes to educating students with disabilities, like Gaskins’ son and thousands of others. Only two states, Vermont and New York, have a worse rating.
“If it wasn’t for my son and the challenges that he’s gone through and handled them so valiantly, I don’t know if I could do this every day,” said Gaskins. “He’s the reason why I fight so hard, because he doesn’t give up. He keeps going.”