For example, Margolis said, components of a student's specialized educational plan, called an "Individualized Education Program," need to be heavily integrated in responding to bullying incidents.

"It's important to really pay attention to the 'I' part of IEP, to make sure that students are getting the free public education to which they are entitled," she said.

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the state education department, said that agency members have been working with local educators in the area of special education and bullying. He said bullying has "been at the top of MSDE's agenda for several years," adding that the state held its largest conference on the topic last month, during which special education was a focus.

Callegary, also part of the coalition, said the state reporting laws could be amended to include more detailed instructions for school administrators that lay out explicitly who is responsible for filing bullying reports, what happens after bullying is reported, the turnaround time for a response to parents and spot checks to ensure an appropriate response is given.

She also said that special-education personnel should be involved in responding to bullying complaints, not just school administrators.

Paperwork

In a recent interview, Barr sat surrounded by a pile of certified mail receipts, documentation of phone calls and other paperwork that showed what led her to the decision to keep Marcus out of school.

A cellphone photo shows the boy's bruises from September and hospital records show visits dating to 2009, when Barr said he was stabbed up and down his back with a pencil by the same student. The school system received Barr's bullying and harassment form Oct. 10. A letter from Marcus' counselor, dated Oct. 19, informed the school that "it is imperative that he feels safe and secure in school so that he can continue to advance academically."

In the meantime, Barr picked up packets of work from the school — the majority of them math worksheets. Visits to Target and Walmart book aisles helped him keep up with his reading.

Legally, the school system doesn't have an obligation to make up special-education services when a parent or guardian willingly keeps a student from school, school officials said.

Documents show the school drafted a plan to separate Marcus and his classmate during lunch and recess. But it wasn't enough, Marcus said, because "they're going to keep beating me up all the time."

After 35 days and Barr's contacting The Baltimore Sun, school officials told Barr that she could face truancy court — a warning usually issued after a student is absent 10 to 20 days.

"Up until then, no one would help me," Barr said. "No one would do anything, and I don't know why. Maybe because I'm a nuisance parent. Maybe because I don't look and talk like them. But I wouldn't stop, and won't stop until he gets the education he deserves."

A letter sent from schools CEO Andrés Alonso to Barr in November says that school officials did everything they could to help Marcus. He implored her to send him back to school.

In the letter, Alonso outlined actions he said the system had taken since the Sept. 30 incident. These included a series of communications between Barr and city school officials where transfer options, amendments to Marcus' IEP and a plan to keep Marcus safe were offered but refused. He rejected her claim, which she made in a formal complaint to the state, that the school system was not responsive.

"I am deeply concerned by the amount of school time that Marcus has lost," Alonso wrote. He said he didn't take her to truancy court because he was hoping for a resolution.

Marcus eventually transferred.

Jonathan Brice, school support network officer for the city system, said special-education students make up about a quarter of the students who are bullied. So far this school year, special-education students have been 25 percent of the victims and 28 percent of the alleged bullies.

Brice said that while special-education students can sometimes present unique challenges, they should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the issues of all students involved in the bullying are addressed.

"A broad-brush approach to dealing with bullying of special-education kids is akin to a zero-tolerance approach for all kids," Brice said. "It doesn't work.

"The concern is the bullying of every child," he said. "One of the issues we are grappling with is making sure in every case, we are giving them an opportunity to be heard, sifting through what we're hearing, and getting the appropriate intervention."

erica.green@baltsun.com