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Darien Board of Ed responds to parents’ allegations

Betsy Hagerty-Ross, Darien’s Board of Education chairmen, sent the following statement to the Darien Times, in response to allegations brought by a complaint filed by more than 20 Darien parents who are claiming the district violated the rights of special education students.

The parents base their claim primarily on a memo drafted by recently hired director of special education, Dr. Deirdre Osypuk, which, parents allege, suggests special ed staff conduct activities that violate federal and state law in several instances. Parents had asked Dr. Stephen Falcone, superintendent of schools, about getting a copy of the memo on several occasstions, but the memo was never delivered to them.

In a statement sent to The Darien Times regarding this omission of the memo, Falcone said:

We followed our normal process to provide information and overlooked this document for which we apologize. It was a document that was widely distributed to administrators and teachers and there was no intent to withhold the information. In fact, in many meetings that we have had with parent groups this year, the general information from the document was shared and parents asked many questions in which ideas from the document were clarified.

The following is the statement sent by Hagerty-Ross on behalf of the Board of Ed, in response to the recent complaint:

Last week, a group of parents filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Education requesting a hearing concerning their allegation that the Darien Public Schools are violating the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal statute concerning special education for children with disabilities.  On behalf of the Darien Board of Education, I wish to express concern that such allegations were made and confidence that the Superintendent and the Administration will address the complaint in the proper forum at the appropriate time.  However, any such complaint is cause for concern, and I wish to clarify the Board’s position regarding this matter.

First, compliance with special education requirements is a core value for the Board and district staff.  The Board and the professional staff share a commitment to assuring that children with disabilities receive appropriate special education services.

Second, the provision of special education services is highly regulated by state and federal law.  Each child in need of special education has the right to an individually-designed program of services to meet his or her unique needs.  The determination of the services to meet those unique needs requires judgment, and disagreements are possible when special education services are planned and provided.  If a parent does not agree that the services being provided are appropriate, the parent has the right to seek review of the program, first through mediation and then through a “due process” hearing before an impartial hearing officer appointed by the State Department of Education.  Hearing officers can and do order changes in programs to assure that children receive appropriate special education services.  The requirements of the law and availability of impartial review assure that all districts, including Darien, meet the needs of children with disabilities.  Significantly, while Darien has on occasion had such hearings, at the present time the Darien Public Schools are not involved in any pending due process hearings.

Third, given that special education services are provided by professional staff pursuant to a detailed federal law, the Darien Board of Education does not have a direct role to play in individual cases.  The decisions for individual students are made by professional staff, and are subject to review through the process described above.  However, in setting a budget and allocating resources, the Board provides the resources to district staff to assure that children with disabilities receive appropriate educational services.

Fourth, the Superintendent and his Administration have an ongoing public responsibility to assure that all expenditures, including those for special education, are appropriate and cost-effective.  As Dr. Falcone will be sharing in a separate communication, over at least the last five years, Darien has spent an appreciably higher percentage of the school budget on special education services than comparable (DRG A) towns.  That disparity has impelled the Superintendent and Administration to review whether appropriate special education services are being provided in the most efficient manner.  However, given the legal requirements and district commitment to providing appropriate services, any changes in delivery that are made will not compromise the right of each child with a disability to receive an appropriate program of special education and related services.

Fifth, making any change in the delivery of special education services can be challenging.  Parents understandably want only the best possible educational services for their children, and some changes may cause them concern.  However, any such concerns should be and will be worked out in planning for each individual student.  The professional staff in Darien remains committed to assuring that children in Darien continue to receive appropriate educational services, and parents have every right to insist that such appropriate services be provided.

Sixth, the pending complaint is a separate matter that will be addressed at the appropriate time in the appropriate forum.  The memorandum that was attached to the complaint is similar or identical to a memorandum that was circulated to staff, and the Administration is reviewing concerns expressed as to some statements in the memorandum.  The Administration will be responding to the parents as well as to the Commissioner of Education regarding those concerns, and in that response it will provide context and clarification to the points outlined in the memorandum.  The Board will be monitoring that response.  However, the Administration strongly objects to the mischaracterizations of district practices in the complaint, and both the Administration and the Board look forward to any such hearing so that we may set the record straight.

Finally, people with different perspectives and responsibilities disagree from time to time, and sadly such disagreements are not uncommon when it comes to the provision of special education services.  We respect the right of any parent to raise questions and concerns, and we look forward to resolving the issues raised in the complaint in a thorough and respectful manner.

Check back with the DarienTimes.com later for more, and in next week’s print edition, on newsstands Thursday, April 4. The story will focus on the alleged memo drafted by Dr. Osypuk, her work in Bloomfield, and whether the memo’s suggestions have been implemented.

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