State cites SPED program for noncompliance
Updated 2:37 pm, Wednesday, July 24, 2013
The state Department of Education released the first of two reports following an investigation of the Darien Public Schools' special education program with recommendations to correct 10 areas that it found to be noncompliant with special education law.
In total, the state made 16 recommendations. The other six recommendations "may not rise to the level of a specific violation of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act)," but were "unclear or incomplete."
The report concluded that the training materials issued by Deirdre Osypuk, Darien's special education and services director, used during the 2012-13 school year "contain overly restrictive, inaccurate, noncompliant and/or incomplete guidance."
More InformationFact box
On March 20, a group of parents filed a complaint claiming that the Darien Public Schools had 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 any sort of predetermination about the students' programs before meeting with the parents.
Much of the recommendations outline language changes in the training materials so they align with the state Department of Education guidelines. Ten of the 16 recommended changes outline areas of noncompliance and how to correct the issues, many of which refer to the "unified front" that has been discussed since the initial complaint was made. Parents alleged that special education staff was entering into the Planning and Placement Team meetings with recommendations that had been approved by Osypuk,. Entering into the PPT meetings, which take place with the parents of special needs children, with decisions about the child's Individualized Education Plan already made is a violation of the IDEA.
The state has required that the district review and change all noncompliant policies; submit all revised and new training materials for a 10-month period -- from July 18, 2013, to May 14, 2014 -- to be reviewed by the Bureau of Special Education; conduct training with the district staff; submit a schedule of all training provided by the district for the same 10-month period; and provide a sign-in sheet or all training sessions.
"First, we appreciate the comprehensive review the state undertook," wrote Superintendent Stephen Falcone in a letter to the district. "We will be moving quickly to implement the state's recommendations, and have already begun that process by retaining Terri DeFrancis who will be working diligently throughout the summer."
The state Department of Education acknowledged the hiring of attorney Theresa DeFrancis to independently review the staff development materials, and noted that DeFrancis will conduct training on the special education procedures.
"The CSDE accepts this as an appropriate response to the findings and conclusions noted in this report and expects the district to move forward with this arrangement," according to the report.
However, Andrew Feinstein, the attorney representing the parents of special education children, feels differently.
"Most importantly, the final statement that Darien's retention of a consultant to develop training materials and train staff `is an appropriate response to the findings and conclusions noted in this report,' is pathetic and unacceptable," Feinstein wrote in statement. "The state Department of Education found widespread, systematic, and serious violations of the rights of students with disabilities, conducted in response to a plan developed and implemented from the top. The state needs to do far more than ratify the paltry initiatives of the Darien administration."
Additionally, Feinstein points out that there is no reference of the private meeting that took place on June 10 between the parents and representatives from the state Department of Education.
"Numerous parents and staff members called the investigators to report a variety of instances of illegal conduct by the Darien Board of Education," Feinstein wrote. "The report of the SDE makes no reference whatsoever to this information." Nor is there any referral to the internal emails that parents and Feinstein asked the SDE to review.
On March 20, two dozen parents of children with special needs filed a complaint with the state Department of Education alleging that services had been denied to special education children and that there were systematic violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act within the schools. The complaint prompted the state's investigation. A closed-door meeting took place on June 10, during which time parents had the opportunity to speak directly to representatives from the state Department of Education about how they feel their rights and their children's rights were violated by the policies set forth by Osypuk.
"While we are gratified that the state Department of Education vindicated the allegations made by a group of 25 parents in March, we are in general disappointed with the effort of the state Department of Education," Feinstein said.
Many of the disappointments that Feinstein points out is a lack of providing compensation for the students whose rights were violated.
"These specific corrective actions are required if the district chose to receive and reuse the documents," according to the report. "Regardless of the intent of the district to reuse these materials, the topics for which findings of noncompliance have been made should be reviewed in future trainings with district personnel to ensure that appropriate staff members have an accurate understanding of federal and state special education statutory and regulatory requirements."
The second of the two reports will be completed by the end of the summer. There is no indication as to what the second report will contain.
"The parents have a number of serious options to force Darien to make the changes needed," Feinstein wrote. "We will be discussing those options in the coming days."
Part of the initial complaint requested that if the district was found to be noncompliant that state funding be withheld. The state has determined that it is not appropriate and the request would not be granted.
"We welcome the state's continued oversight and we will be transparent with, and accountable to, our school community in seeing this process through," Falcone wrote. "I pledge to this community that I will hold myself, our administrators and our staff to complying with the law. We care deeply about the quality of education that all children, including those with special needs, receive from our caring and dedicated staff. We also welcome and appreciate the candid input from our parent community because it is necessary and important for our school district to receive constructive feedback if we are to improve what we do on behalf of children."