The Sept. 7, 2012, letter sent to former Superintendent Stephen Falcone that forced a special meeting on Oct. 21, followed by his resignation, provides a glimpse into a department that was cast into turmoil.
Julie Bookbinder, the author of the letter and former speech pathologist in the district who resigned at the start of the 2012-13 school year, states that her resignation letter to the district staff triggered numerous emails about the department's conduct.
"Steve, obviously, I have nothing to gain by personally writing this letter, and I have nothing more to lose," Bookbinder wrote.
Bookbinder told Falcone that he would be "truly astounded" by what staff members were saying about the special education department, which had recently come under the reign of Director of Special Education and Services Deirdre Osypuk.
"They are not simply having trouble adjusting to change or to a new vision," Bookbinder wrote. "The changes have been so extreme, so rapid and delivered with such negativity that the department is in turmoil." She claims that numerous staff members have expressed "extreme anxiety, fear, frustration and sadness."
At the start of the 2012-13 school year, Osypuk sent a memo that included PowerPoint to the special education staff that outlined the new policies within the department.
Bookbinder told Falcone that she received "spontaneous comments" in response to her departure email, some of which include that staff members had never seen "anything like this in their 20+ years in education," that they described the department as "disastrous," "horrific," "depressing, "stressful," and being "hell."
"They report that they go home crying and are feeling despondent," Bookbinder wrote. "They feel that their professional opinions have been completely `dismissed.' (Their word, although I have used it as well.) They do not feel valued or respected."
Bookbinder told Falcone that when she met with Osypuk -- whom she refers to as Deirdre throughout the letter -- she was told that she would no longer be the department chairman, that her only remaining department chairman responsibility would be to complete Clinical Fellowship Year supervision and that her input "would not be needed on any other matters relating to speech-language pathology." She claims that this interaction led her to believe that Osypuk was "completely dismissive of (her) personally."
The eight-page letter is broken into sections for Falcone. Under one titled "Dishonesty, Lack of Forthrightness and Insensitivity," Bookbinder starts by telling Falcone that she "cannot tell you how many people have complained to me that (Osypuk) has lied about numerous things."
As an example, Bookbinder recounts a day that she met with Falcone and Osypuk and that she was aware of her lying on three separate occasions during one meeting regarding an individual whose name has since been redacted.
"At the very least, facts are being represented to different people in different ways," Bookbinder wrote. "For example, (Osypuk) has told you that students will get whatever services they need (e.g., one-on-one speech-language therapy). However, she has told (Speech Language Pathologists) that individual services will only approved for a very few students and it has been made clear that the recommendation for individual services will require administrative approval."
Bookbinder continues and wrote that there is a general feeling that the district is no longer "being forthright."
"If an (Individualized Education Plan) cannot be delivered as planned, the parents are not told immediately; the information is withheld so that the parents have the impression that the district is not being honest," Bookbinder wrote. "(Therapeutic Learning Center) parents have been upset that they did not get letters letting them know who their children's teachers and other service providers would be."
Bookbinder claims that during one-on-one conversations with Osypuk and in in-service presentations, Osypuk made reference to "how much special education costs, how little the law requires and how `ridiculous' (the district's) IEPs are."
"It is clear that the goal is to provide the minimum amount of services the law requires, if that," Bookbinder wrote. She referenced the case of one student who was originally not going to be provided with a paraprofessional as an example of "cost-cutting" and claimed that Osypuk's logic was that because the student's teacher was also certified in special education, the student would not need a paraprofessional in the classroom.
"It is absurd to think (redacted) teacher would be able to effectively manage the class and give (redacted) the attention (redacted) needs in order to be successful, not to mention the fact that (redacted) IEP specifies that (redacted) be provided with (paraprofessional) support; I do not understand how the district would defend the decision not to give (redacted) a para," Bookbinder wrote.
She wrote that the "sweeping decisions" that were made paint Darien to look like a "one-size-fits-all special education" district.
"This puts the district at risk by violating of the requirement that be a continuum of service offered by giving the appearance that decisions are being made outside of PPTs," Bookbinder wrote.
She further claims that Osypuk was "ignorant" to "speech-language pathology, communication disorders and the general nature of children with severe disabilities" and that she needed to explain to Osypuk that speech-language pathologist deliver speech-language therapy.
Bookbinder claims that several staff members feel they do not have a voice and that they are fearful of losing their jobs.
"It is clear that open and honest discussions are not welcome, professionals' knowledge, experience and expertise is not valued unless it is in complete agreement with the directives from administration, and no one wants to be the victim of a public humiliation."
Bookbinder told Falcone that she hoped something could be done within the department.
"Quite simply, I decided to leave because I felt that I could not work under these current conditions in the department: disrespect for the professionals, dishonesty, obstructiveness, and inappropriate, unethical decisions that are not in the best interests of the students," Bookbinder wrote. "I should not have to work under these conditions; none of us should have to."
Efforts to reach Falcone and Osypuk were not successful.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews