Board of Ed hires independent investigator
On Tuesday, the Board of Education unanimously appointed Gamm, who was selected through the recommendations of various special education leaders across the country. 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 their children and that there were systematic violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act within the schools. The state has since launched an investigation into the complaint.
On June 25, the Board of Education unanimously agreed to hire its own private investigator to review the complaint and subsequent allegations against the Darien special education department, a process in which the members of the advisory committee wanted to participate. The decision came following a private parents' meeting with several representatives that yielding information regarding IEPs being changed without parents' permission -- a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
Board Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross told the advisory committee that "this is new ground for all of us here. We are breaking new ground as a board to make sure the answers for the investigation come out as clear and transparent as they can. We are special education parents, some of us on the Board of Education. We have a lot of stake in this like you do."
"Attorney Gamm, who hails from Illinois, is highly experienced in conducting investigations in special education," Hagerty-Ross said. "She was an assistant civil rights attorney and division director of the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education."
Gamm has also served as a special education teacher and a director of special services in the Chicago public schools.
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Gamm was contracted to work until Oct. 31 at the cost of $225 per hour. The option to terminate or extend her contract is permitted.
If Gamm were to work eight hours per day, five days a week starting July 31 until Oct. 31, when her contract is set to expire, she would earn $117,000.
"We support and appreciate the Darien Board of Education's decision to move forward in a constructive, collaborative way to resolve this scandal, and we pledge to work positively with the investigator, with the Darien Board of Education, and with the Administration to ensure high quality education for all the children of Darien," the Darien Special Education petitioners said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
Gamm's investigation is the third into the special education department, joining one by the state, which is nearly concluded, and another by Superintendent Stephen Falcone.
According to her contract, Gamm will be responsible for "reviewing and investigating allegations that individuals employed by the Darien Public Schools violated special education laws during the 2012-13 school year."
This includes looking into allegations that Individualized Education Plans were altered without parental consent; that illegal predeterminations were made prior to the Planning and Placement Team meetings; illegal systematic policies were put in place that deprived students of what they need; misrepresentation of data reported to the state Department of Education; or any other issues put forward by the board of the investigator.
"The Special Education Investigator shall also be responsible for providing recommendations if appropriate to the Board of Education needed to ensure the Board's compliance with the law," the contract states.
Gamm, according to the contract, is not an employee of the Board of Education, but is instead an independent contractor.
The board also agrees to comply with all of Gamm's "reasonable requests" and will provide access to any documents Gamm may need, according to the contract.
"She is independent," Hagerty-Ross said. "She does not have any prior relationship with the board, its attorney or the Town of Darien. We are pleased that Attorney Gamm has agreed to conduct this investigation and expect that she will begin her work immediately.
"Gamm will report directly to the board, and her findings will be shared with the community."
Hagerty-Ross also noted that in order to continue developing communication and trust in town that a special meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8, "to hear directly from our school community -- to hear from our parents, our teachers and others."
Gamm will attend the meeting to outline her "approach and timetable." The purpose of the special meeting, according to Hagerty-Ross, is to hear from the community as to what they expect -- in terms of qualities and experiences -- in the hiring of an additional independent person who will oversee the special education department for the 2013-14 school year.
Previously, the board has been criticized for allowing a lack of parent involvement in the decisions made surrounding the special education department after the initial complaint was made to the state Department of Education.
As a result, Hagerty-Ross announced that two parents will sit on the personnel committee that will identify, interview and recommend the person to oversee the department.
The state Department of Education recently 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."
There is no definitive time line for the release of the second part of the report, save that it will be made available at the end of the summer.