Embroiled Darien SPED director placed on leave
A complaint filed on March 20 against Osypuk, who took over for Robin Pavia in July, claims her new policies violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by removing the "team aspect" of the planning and placement team (PPT) meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined.
"During a visit by State Department of Education personnel last week, allegations were made that substantive changes had been made to IEPs outside of the PPT process," Falcone wrote in a letter sent this morning to his staff. "We take these allegations very seriously, because any such conduct would compromise the PPT process and violate the law. We must promptly address these allegations and remedy any violations as soon as possible. We are cooperating fully with the State Department of Education as it investigates these allegations, and we have begun to conduct our own internal investigation into these allegations."
Andrew Feinstein, the Mystic-based lawyer who has been working with the parents who filed the complaint, knew something was off when Osypuk did not attend the two PPTs he attended on Thursday, June 13. Staff told Feinstein she was sick, he said.
On Friday, Feinstein then received a notice that the PPT he planned to attend today had been changed. No longer was Osypuk listed as the director attending the meeting; instead, assistant special education director Liz Wesolowski would be in attendance.
"This is something we've been asking for the past four months," Feinstein said. "It's one of the pieces but not everything."
Falcone said Osypuk was put on leave pending an investigation.
"This administrative leave is without prejudice and should not be interpreted as a finding of any inappropriate action on the part of Dr. Osypuk or any other person," Falcone. "Rather, given Dr. Osypuk's responsibility for the PPT/IEP process, we have determined that investigation independent of Dr. Osypuk is advisable."
For the time being, Falcone's email to staff continued, "the assistant special education directors shall have responsibility for their respective areas under my overall supervision, namely Laura Straiton will be responsible for preschool education, Liz Wesolowski will be responsible for special education issues, grades K-5, and Carleen Wood will be responsible for special education issues, grades seven through 12. We will be working to complete our review promptly, and we are confident that we will be able to continue to address the needs of special education students and staff without interruption."
Falcone also sent a letter to the Darien parents alerting them to the staffing changes.
During last week's private meeting in the Tokeneke community room with state Department of Education representatives, 24 parents told their stories and how they feel their children's rights had been violated.
"(The parents) do feel that the state listened," said Kathleen Casaparino, an educational consultant and advocate for many of the parents in attendance, after the meeting. "They were very eloquent in what they said."
One by one, parents were seen approaching one of two microphones in the room to express their concerns and share personal stories of how they felt their children were being denied special education services in the town, parents said after the meeting. From beyond the glass barricade, rounds of booming and supporting applause were heard on more than one occasion as parents returned to their seats.
The State Department of Education asked that Nancy Prescott, director of the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, Inc., attend the meeting; CPAC is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Outside of the meeting, one father said he told the state's representatives that last year, his PPT meeting was canceled due to weather.
The district had called him and asked if it could reschedule the meeting for another day, but the father was not available.
The district pressed and continued to ask if they could meet on that day.
The father continued to say he was not available.
Regardless, the PPT took place and the father was sent the individual education plan, without his input.
The father, realizing these actions were wrong, went to the state and filed a complaint.
He was shocked when a representative from the state called every day for five days in a row asking "what it would take to drop the complaint."
According to Feinstein, there are three things the district needs to do to resolve the issues: repudiation, compensation and fumigation.
"We need for Darien to admit and to be very explicit that the policies implemented last year are no longer in effect and being used by staff," Feinstein said.
Feinstein also believes that the affected children need to be compensated not with money, but with the hours of service they were allegedly denied.
As for the fumigation aspect of things, the Board of Education is being put in a difficult position, Feinstein said.
"What seems to me is that they need to either say the superintendent know about this or that the superintendent had a staff that was out of control," Feinstein said. "In either case, there's not way to retain Falcone."
The state is set to conclude its investigation by Sunday, June 30. Falcone asked in his letter to parents that "any parent or families who suspects or has determined that there were any unilateral changes in PPT documents share their specific information and concerns with the lead investigator at the State Department of Education, Michael Tavernier (at email@example.com) and/or with me directly, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 203-656-7412."