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Falcone: IDEA lawbreakers will be held accountable

Published 5:19 pm, Thursday, September 26, 2013
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Superintendent Stephen Falcone intends to hold those who broke the Individuals with Disabilities Act accountable for their actions, according to a statement released Thursday.

"Beyond accountability, however, I will continue to be front and center in the ongoing training and education of staff, board members and parents," Falcone wrote.

The Connecticut State Department of Education released Wednesday the second of two reports into the investigation that services were cut and that the special education department of Darien violated the IDEA.

In the report, the state found that Individualized Education Plans were changed after Planning and Placement Team meetings took place, confirming allegations that parents have made since a complaint was filed with the state in March.

On March 20, a group of parents filed a complaint claiming that the Darien Public Schools had violated the IDEA by removing the "team aspect" of the Planning and Placement Team meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined. Under the law, educators are not allowed to make any sort of predetermination about the students' programs before meeting with the parents.

Board of Education Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross could not be reached for comment.

During a parents-only meeting with four CSDE representatives on June 10, parents spoke of IEPs being changed without their knowledge and after they had left their PPT meetings, which is a direct violation of the IDEA. Parents and staff were also provided the opportunity to anonymously submit more information to the state following the meeting.

The first report, issued July 18, concluded that the training materials issued by Deirdre Osypuk, Darien's special education and services director, during the 2012-13 school year "contain overly restrictive, inaccurate, noncompliant and/or incomplete guidance." Osypuk has been on paid administrative leave since June 17.

Since then, the Board of Education hired Susan Gamm to conduct her own private investigation into the special education department and allegations. Additionally, the school district hired Theresa DeFrancis to oversee the creation and implementation of the new special education policies.

"We continue to work with attorney Theresa DeFrancis and the state to develop new, compliant special education materials and train school staff, board members and parents using these materials," Falcone wrote. "As a reminder, parents are encouraged to attend, if possible, Ms. DeFrancis' training session on October 8 and 10. This important work is already underway and will continue throughout this school year.

"Unilaterally altering a student's IEP is wrong."

Falcone commended the parents that submitted the original complaint and thanked them for the advocacy of their children.

"Every Darien student must receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the twenty-first century," Falcone wrote. "I look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders -- staff, administrators, parents and the board -- to ensure that we have a system that supports this essential mission. I am confident that our collective efforts will benefit all children and make our district stronger."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews