State Bureau of Special Ed to review Darien policies
Published 10:51 am, Thursday, April 11, 2013
Three weeks after receiving a complaint from a group of Darien parents claiming the Board of Education is not following state-mandated laws for special education and calling for an investigation into Darien's special education policies and procedures, the state Department of Education has provided a response.
"At this point in time, the (Bureau of Special Education) staff have been directed to conduct a complete review of (Darien public schools') special education policies and procedures to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations, as well as (Connecticut State Department of Education) policies," said Kelly Donnelly, spokesman for the Department of Education, in a statement. "In addition, the staff will also review and analyze district complaint procedures data to identify any patterns of noncompliance.
"This review will likely begin with requesting documentation from the DPS, which will be reviewed by staff in the BSE. Furthermore, the staff of the BSE will conduct an on-site visit to the district."
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Since filing the initial complaint March 20, additional documentation and a follow-up complaint were filed by Andrew Feinstein, a Mystic-based attorney representing the parents.
The second complaint provides a PowerPoint presentation that shows what the parents and Feinstein believe to be clear evidence that predetermination took place prior to the parent and placement team meetings, a situation that would be illegal under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"There is simply no other way to read the last page of the PowerPoint presentation other than predetermination," Feinstein wrote in the second complaint. "The instruction to staff is to determine services before the (Individual Education Plan) is written and before present levels of performance and goals and objectives are set. It is hard to imagine a clearer and more egregious violation of federal special education law."
The last slide that Feinstein refers to outlines "potential recommendations requiring discussion with administration prior to (Planning and Placement Team)" and lists the following: outside placement; outside evaluation; one-to-one aide, one-to-one instruction; extended day service; outside consultant; services and evaluations from in-district specialists; and expensive equipment and technology, such as iPads.
It it unknown how Feinstein and the parents received the PowerPoint, but Feinstein believes it has been in existence since the start of the school year, and as a result, should have been included in the parents' Freedom of Information request filed with the school district.
In Feinstein's second complaint, he listed several court cases that show predetermination is not allowed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as it removes the team-planning aspect of the PPT meetings.
"The statute is very clear on the need for parental participation, which means there are PPT meetings and parents are there and they can bring their experts," Feinstein said, "It's supposed to be a collaborative open process to determine what a child needs and to provide a program for those needs. There is a line of federal cases saying that a school district cannot go in (to a PPT meeting) knowing what the outcome is going to be."
The state Department of Education, according to its response, will issue required corrective actions to "revise any noncompliant policies or procedures" on the Darien public schools.
The complaint also requests that federal funding be pulled from the town.
"The extent of wrongdoing and violation of the rights of students with disabilities by the Darien Public Schools warrants serious consideration by the State Department of Education, pursuant to its supervisory responsibility over local education authorities pursuant to the IDEA," the complaint reads.
However, pulling the funds from Darien is not a priority, according to the state's response, which was provided to the Darien News by a parent involved in the complaint.
"The sanction of withholding funds to a district may be used under the condition that the district has demonstrated long-standing noncompliance," said Charlene Russell-Tucker, the chief operating officer for the Department of Education.
"It is premature at this time for the CSDE to convene a hearing in regard to withholding funds to DPS," Russell-Tucker write in the response to the complaint.
The parents asked for a meeting with the Department of Education to show that the Darien Board of Education "has systematically excluded parents from the IEP team process and has acted to defeat the collaborative team process mandated," the complaint said.
Parents were told of a memo from Dierdre Osypuk, the special education director, that outlined changes to the program that the parents believe violate IDEA. Osypuk is new to the district and was hired after former Special Education Director Robin Pavia retired at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
The parents filed an FOI request seeking documentation from the Board of Education about potential proposed changes within the special education program. A memo that they had heard of was not included. It is unclear how the parents received the memo, since they did not receive it through the FOI request.
Superintendent Stephen Falcone claims the exclusion of the memo was merely an accident.
"In the recent request, at least one item was not included, a memorandum setting forth guidance in brief summary form on various special education issues," Falcone wrote. "Not including this document in our response was an inadvertent oversight for which we apologize."
But according to a letter to the district Falcone released last week, going into a PPT with knowledge is necessary.
"Embedded in the criteria are a series of questions which the PPT must answer," Falcone wrote. "These are sometimes challenging questions for which there may be differences of opinion. But in order to answer these questions beyond simply using one's gut instinct, it is necessary to refer to data to support one's assertion."
If the state chooses to retract funding from Darien, the special education program would be taken over by the state.
But that's not what the parents want, Feinstein said.
"Frankly, the parents don't want that to happen," Feinstein said. "They want Darien to clean up their act."