By Megan Spicer

Emotional.

It was a common word used by frustrated parents to describe a meeting with representatives from the state Department of Education.

One father, who briefly left the meeting before returning 20 minutes later, said it was a room "full of pit bulls."

The meeting -- an opportunity for parents of children with special needs to directly address the state -- took place behind the closed doors of the Tokeneke Elementary School community room.

Though the media wasn't allowed access to the private meeting, the floor-to-ceiling glass walls provided a glimpse into the two-hour meeting that drew almost 100 parents of children with special needs.

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"(The parents) do feel that the state listened," said Kathleen Casaparino, an educational consultant and advocate for many of the parents in attendance. "They were very eloquent in what they said."

One by one, parents approached one of the two microphones in the room to express their concerns and share personal stories of how they felt their children were being denied special education services in the town. From beyond the glass barricade, rounds of booming and supporting applause were heard on more than one occasion as parents returned to their seats.

The meeting with four state representatives, including Michael Tavernier, head investigator, and Nancy Prescott, director of the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, Inc., is part of a larger investigation that was initiated following a March 20 complaint by two dozen Darien parents who claimed services weren't being provided to their children and that the systematic policies within the school were illegal. The state department of education asked that Prescott be present for the meeting; CPAC is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the complaint, the new policies, instituted by Deirdre Osypuk, the special education and services director who was appointed after the retirement of Robin Pavia, violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by removing the "team aspect" of the PPT meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined.

Under the law, educators are not allowed to make a predetermination about the students' programs before meeting with the parents.

Roughly 24 parents addressed the state over the course of an hour and a half, according to Andrew Feinstein, the attorney representing the special education complaint, adding that more who would have spoken had the time been available.

At one point during the meeting, Feinstein and Casparino said, the parents were asked how many of them had an advocate to help them through the special education process.

Casparino said the majority of the room raised their hands.

"These parents shouldn't need to have an advocate," Casparino said.

After the meeting, many of the parents could be heard expressing their shock at the large turnout of parents. One of the mothers said she would have been happy had just 30 parents attended the meeting.

The state investigation is set to conclude on or before June 30.

mspicer@bcnnew.com;203-972-4407;@Meg_DarienNews