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Editorial: Intervention

Each week, this newspaper reports on people who have been accused of breaking the law. These people often are judged as guilty before their trial commences, and their reputations are often tarnished, whether it’s deserved or not.

But when the Darien School system broke the law — not once, not twice, but on at least 10 occasions — no one in the schools has been held accountable. No staff changes were requested by the state. Nothing has been done to determine if children were harmed.

The state’s proposed punishment? Don’t break the law anymore.

If the criminal judicial system worked that way, there would be no need for prisons. There would merely be 2 million people walking around with red wrists after having been smacked and told they were bad, and not to do it again.

Without consequences to the law, there is no rational reason to obey it. Without enforcement, a law is meaningless.

What mechanisms are in place to determine this never happens again? There are none. What consequences did the state provide should the schools’ not comply with its wrist slap? None.

Each day, thousands of innocent people are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Yet there are several people making six-figure salaries on the taxpayers’ dime who face no consequences for creating an illegal program that might have stolen an education from the town’s most vulnerable children.

Parents have little recourse since the federal Department of Education stopped allowing parents to appeal to it when they did not like the state’s response to a complaint.

It’s now up to the state Board of Education. Parents should demand a public hearing between the state board and Darien’s board to determine the best course of action. Or the attorney general should step in. Or the Department of Justice. Intervention is needed. Not just in Darien, but anywhere and everywhere this is happening.

The schools are asking its lawyers, with an obvious conflict of interest, to find the independent investigator.

How do they expect to regain trust when the very same lawyers who might have overseen these illegal documents is now charged with finding the investigator? All they would have to do is retain a different law firm for the search. Case closed.

Or, even better, the board should invite parents to a legal mediation session and figure out who this investigator would be together. There has been zero management of this crisis. Even with glimmers of hope from the Board of Ed, silence remains their key ally.

It’s quite obvious that there is something deeply wrong with the system. It is impossibly stacked against parents. Parents trust professionals to do their job, and when they don’t, most parents aren’t even aware because of the complexities of special ed law.

It’s also quite obvious that this problem, at its core, is rooted in general education, not special education. Some children have severe needs and will lead a life of limitations. Yet most special needs kids have limitless possibilities. When these kids fall through the cracks, the infinite path of opportunity shrinks and confines them. They act out. Often times, they end up in jail. Reports state that anywhere from 50-80% of prison inmates have some sort of learning disability.

A society is judged on how it treats its youth and its elderly. If, 50 years from now, we look back on today with any kind of regret about how we educated our kids, then we have a duty to them, to society, and to the future world, to enforce the laws that truly matter.

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  • Ellen Chambers

    How refreshing to read an editorial from someone who really “gets it.”.

    It is absolutely true that our nation’s schools face no penalties for violating special education laws and, hence, they continue to do so with devastating human consequences. This was best captured, I believe, in the January 2000 National Council on Disabilities’ report “Back to School on Civil Rights” here:
    http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2000/Jan252000

    After working as a special education advocate for the last 16 years, and carefully studying the root causes of this problem, I have become convinced that the ONLY thing that will effectively end this injustice that is visited upon families and children every day across our nation is for parents and other concerned individuals to enter into a true revolution: an in the streets, Boston Tea Party, Montgomery Bus Boycott style revolution.

    Interested? Contact me.

    Ellen M. Chambers, MBA
    Special Education Activist
    Massachusetts
    emchambers@charter.net

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