Call for action following state report
With the release of the state Department of Education's second report of the investigation into Darien schools' special education department, some people are calling for big administrative changes, including the termination of Superintendent Stephen Falcone.
"It does not make sense to me to say that Deirdre (Osypuk) was operating as some sort of free agent," said Andrew Feinstein, the attorney representing a group of parents who filed a complaint claiming that the Darien public schools had violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
She was placed on paid administrative leave on June 17 after multiple allegations were made that Individualized Education Plans were altered after Planning and Placement Team meetings, which are a direct violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"People do have a responsibly for what happens and my problem, without being too harsh, is that I think Steve really does care about this and I think Steve has done a lot to vindicate himself, but he was in charge while a lot of these violations took place. I see all these kids in the high school being punished for stupid things once and for things they regret doing," Feinstein said. "The notion that the superintendent of schools can say, `You know, geez, I'm sorry, I really didn't know this was going on,' is not acceptable in this environment."
The Board of Education said it does intend to hold responsible parties accountable, according to a Sept. 27 release from Board of Education Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross. There has been no indication that anyone will be terminated.
"This is a complex matter, and the Board of Education will closely monitor the Darien Public Schools' compliance with the required corrective actions that the state has ordered," Hagerty-Ross wrote in the release. "In addition, the recommendations of our independent investigator, Attorney Sue Gamm, will be a critical factor in identifying any additional allegations of wrongdoing that must be addressed."
Gamm was hired by the Board of Education, and her findings are expected to be released at the end of the month, according to Hagerty-Ross.
While many have called for the termination of Osypuk, who the state has found to have violated the IDEA, the Board of Education is only responsible for the hiring and firing of the superintendent.
"We will not act until Gamm's report has been submitted," Hagerty-Ross said. "I think the balance of this investigation hangs on Sue Gamm -- which is why the board hired an internal investigator. It needs to be solved in a timely fashion. The violations occurred, that's the black and white of it, but things need to be rectified and be fixed."
Individualized Education Plans were changed after Planning and Placement Team meetings during the 2012-13 school year, according to the second of two reports issued by the state Department of Education, validating parents' allegations.
In the parents' March 20 complaint filed with the state, they claimed the "team aspect" of the Planning and Placement Team meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined, was removed. Under the law, educators are not allowed to make any sort of predetermination about the students' programs before meeting with the parents.
During a parents-only meeting with four CSDE representatives on June 10, parents spoke of IEPs being changed without their knowledge and after they had left their PPT meetings, which is a direct violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Parents and staff were also provided the opportunity to anonymously submit more information to the state following the meeting.
In her release, Hagerty-Ross said the Board of Education will continue to "act as stewards for the district to assure that all allegations are fully and fairly investigated.
"The Board will not tolerate systematic violations of the law, and reiterates that it will hold accountable all those who engaged in any wrongdoing," Hagerty-Ross wrote.
Special education parent Kit Savage, one of the original signers of the complaint and member of the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee, said she wasn't surprised by the findings in the second state report and that action needs to be taken.
"To be a senior administrator -- and this includes building principals -- you cannot use ignorance of the law as an excuse because they are the senior-most level of our town and they've been here more than one year," Savage said.
During a SEPAC meeting, Falcone said he was unaware of how many complaints regarding special education had been filed with the state during the 2012-13 school year. "I think they all need to go," Savage added in reference to administrators who broke special education law.
Falcone, in a Sept. 26 release, stated that the district will take action where it is needed. "My message to the Darien community is simple: I will hold those whose actions were in violation of the law accountable," Falcone wrote.
"We have two letters from the Connecticut State Board of Education finding that during Falcone's tenure serious multiple instances of systemic illegal violations of federal and state statutes and regulations were committed. His amateurish and embarrassing posture of injured innocence has never passed the `smell test,' " Smith wrote.
"Horrible, illegal things happened within his area of direct responsibility," Smith said. "He is guilty of gross negligence. This requires his termination."
The second state report called attention to the fact the number of complaints regarding special education in the district sky-rocketed during the 2012-13 school year.
In the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years combined, there was one complaint made against the district, which the CSDE ultimately dismissed. There were 14 complaints made in the 2012-13 school year. Osypuk was hired in the summer of 2012.
"I think some people have to be held accountable at some point in time, and I think that will happen," Feinstein said.
When asked specifically, he said he knew who his clients considered.
"The district has got to move on Deirdre," Feinstein said. "They continue to pay her $160,000 a year to sit at home and plan her strategy; it's pretty appalling." Osypuk was placed on paid administrative leave on July 17.
"Every Darien student must receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the twenty-first century," Falcone wrote in the release. "I look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders -- staff, administrators, parents and the Board -- to ensure that we have a system that supports this essential mission. I am confident that our collective efforts will benefit all children and make our district stronger."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews