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Darien school district’s chain of command questioned

To whom does Darien’s director of special education report? This simple question has no easy answer, as an examination of thousands of printed email pages appears to conflict with the official chain of command provided by the schools.

Superintendent Steve Falcone told a group of parents of special needs children that the special ed director reports to him. He later told The Darien Times that the director has reported to him since he became superintendent for the 2010-11 school year.

Robin Pavia, the former special education director who worked at the schools during Falcone’s first two years as superintendent, told The Darien Times that she reported to Judith Pandolfo, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

School district internal emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act appear to confirm Pavia’s version — that the director reported to Pavia.

In July of 2012, the district’s new special education director, Deirdre Osypuk ,began work. Emails from that time show numerous instances of Osypuk going to Pandolfo for information on special education matters.

There were almost as many email chains between Pandolfo and Osypuk’s assistant directors as there were between Falcone and Osypuk. There was one email chain between Falcone and Osypuk’s assistant directors.

To avoid confusion, this examination did not include emails in which all parties were copied. The emails explored, however, appeared to show enough evidence to suggest that Osypuk reported to Pandolfo.

For example, in an Aug. 27, 2012 email, Osypuk asked Pandolfo who oversees 504 requests. Parents who believe their children need some additional support have the option to make a 504 request. It is considered by some to be a less intensive version of special education, an involves services such as preferential seating or extra time on tests.

Falcone was not carbon copied on this email. Pandolfo answered the question, responding only to Osypuk and Matt Byrnes, assistant superintendent of secondary education.

In another instance, Osypuk discusses with Pandolfo and not Falcone about the replacement for Liz Wesolowski, who was hired as assistant special ed director for elementary education. Falcone was not carbon copied either. The pair discussed moving around three other positions without Falcone’s involvement, emails showed.

The Times did not examine all email responses related to specific email subjects, as responses could have been made at a later date.

Other examples suggesting Pandolfo was Osypuk’s boss include Osypuk asking Pandolfo and not Falcone about divvying up responsibilities among staff; Osypuk asking Pandolfo and not Falcone about when staff will be notified of assignments; Wesolowski asking Pandolfo and not Falcone or Osypuk about revamping the schools’ special education handbook; and Osypuk asking Pandolfo and not Falcone about where Osypuk can obtain special education caseloads.

The Times counted 29 email chains between Osypuk and Pandolfo, and 17 between Osypuk and Falcone, during most of July 2012. The majority of Falcone’s interactions with Osypuk were related to legal issues, according to emails.

Of the thousands of pages examined, there was only one email written by Byrnes, who has since left the district.

On two occasions, when asked by administrators for assistance with children’s cases, Falcone said he did not know anything about the cases.

There is no requirement that the schools have two assistant superintendents. According to Darien Schools’ policies (PDF): “The general purpose of the administration shall be to coordinate and supervise, under the policies of the Board of Education, the creation and operation of an environment in which students learn most effectively.”

Falcone is also charged with delegating responsibilities and “representing the schools before the public, as appropriate.”

Falcone did not respond to a request for clarification on understanding who the direct supervisor is for the special education director, and what responsibilities are divided among which administrators. Some parents expressed confused as to why Falcone would say the special ed director reported to him. Pavia also did not respond to requests for additional information on the chain of command.

The Times has filed FOI requests seeking evaluations for several administrators. These reports would be signed by the administrator’s direct supervisor. The Times will report this information if and when it becomes available.

ddesroches@darientimes.com

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