Ombudsman John Verre has a three-tiered plan for fixing the damaged special education department in the Darien public schools.
In presenting his findings and action plan to the Board of Education Tuesday, he said his goal is to improve the outcome of special-needs children, while addressing the aspirations of families in town and ensuring regulatory compliance with a cost-effective approach.
The goals in Verre's short-term plan will be implemented immediately, and some already are in use within the district. The medium-term plan, which will focus on the issues of quality, will be submitted to the Board of Education in April and will be implemented by September. The long-term plan, which will focus on issues of student outcomes over time, will be submitted by October and its implementation will be carried out from 2014 to 2019.
Verre presented the board with six focus areas for the short-term goals, the first being a review of cases within the special education department, which Verre said is underway. The goal of the case reviews is to identify all the students that were affected by the unlawful practices during the 2012-13 school year and implement remedies. Verre said he already has been involved with 20 cases, with other educators within the district working on an additional 30.
Verre also intends to develop and use clear, compliant and effective guidelines for special education to ensure the same outcomes for all students. Part of establishing guidelines for practice would be to draft new guidelines, which is why the Board of Education hired attorney Theresa DeFrancis. Her guidelines must be submitted to the state Department of Education for final approval.
Parent and community engagement is also a key focus point for Verre, as well as providing leadership, management and coordination of policies, procedures and practices at the central offices and schools.
Verre's final area of focus for the short-term plan is to implement a "robust" approach to data management, collection, analysis and utilization to continually monitor compliance within the district, he said.
"I've never worked at a school district with talent and commitment like those in this district," Verre said. "We need to capitalize on that."
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