By Megan Spicer

The state Bureau of Special Education has made the complaints and investigation into the Darien Special Education Department a priority, and while there is no concrete timeline, a draft report of the inquiry's findings will be available by June 30, according to an email sent Thursday, April 11, from Michael Tavernier, a consultant for the Bureau of Special Education, to Andrew Feinstein, a Mystic-based attorney representing the complainants.

The email responds to questions Feinstein raised about the state Department of Education's response to the March 20 complaint, filed by a group of parents with special-needs children, that claims Darien Public Schools have violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Feinstein questioned why the state chose not to acknowledge a PowerPoint presentation from the district he submitted that he feels demonstrates the violations by the schools, including the removal of the "team" atmosphere of the Planning and Placement Team meetings.

Part of the investigation will include looking into all documents regarding special education in the district, including the PowerPoint, Tavernier said in his email.

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The PowerPoint presentation 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.

"There is simply no other way to read the last page of the PowerPoint presentation other than predetermination," Feinstein wrote in the second complaint filed Thursday, April 4. "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."

During the IEP meetings, parents and educators put together a plan of action for the student. Under the IDEA, there can be no predetermination by the schools because it would eliminate the collaboration of ideas between the parents and the school.

Feinstein requested a more detailed investigation plan from the state and that time is of the essence.

"Nevertheless, the longer SDE (State Department of Education) spends in conducting its investigation, the more damage will be done to many children," Feinstein wrote.

Taverneir provided more details into the investigation.

"Upon submission, BSE staff will review district documentation to determine if all directives/guidance provided to DPS special education and related services staff complies with state and federal regulatory requirements as well as Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) policy," wrote Tavernier. "An on-site visit to the district, as well as an analysis of complaint procedures data, will also be scheduled to take place during this period."

Part of the March 20 complaint 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. Tavernier also explains that if there is noncompliance within the district, than corrective measures will be taken.

The March 20 complaint also asked that state funding be pulled from the district for violating the IDEA.

The state responded by saying that removing funds was not being considered at this time, and those practices are usually reserved for districts that have continually been in noncompliance for a long period of time.

"The sanction of withholding funds to a district may be used under the condition that the district has demonstrated long-standing noncompliance," wrote Charlene Russell-Tucker, the chief operating officer for the Department of Education, in the April 5 response to the complaint. "It is premature at this time for the CSDE to convene a hearing in regard to withholding funds to DPS."

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 Freedom of Information 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 in a March 30 memo to the district that 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."

mspicer@bcnnew.com;203-972-4407;@Meg_DarienNews