State finds Darien Schools broke special ed law

Schools ordered to create new training materials

Darien Schools violated federal and state special education law, according to the state Department of Education, which released the findings of its investigation today, nearly three weeks after it was scheduled to be completed. The state noted that this report is part one of a two-part report, with the second part scheduled to be released by “the end of summer.”

The first report shows non-compliance in 10 specific areas that were related to documents supplied to the state by the schools, and six additional areas where the state made recommendations for clarification. This report, however, does not indicate whether the schools illegally cut or denied services to children in special education. It’s unclear if that decision will be made public in the second report.

Michael Tavernier  has been the lead state investigator, however, the letter to the schools was signed by Charlene Russell-Tucker, chief operating officer for the state Department of Education. Russell-Tucker stated the schools materials were “overly restrictive, inaccurate, noncompliant and/or [included] incomplete guidance.”

“While the above list summarizes some of the particular issues with specific materials, it is meant to be a representative sample of the general areas of concern and is not an exhaustive analysis,” Russell-Tucker wrote.

“During the course of the investigation, the district conceded that some of the information contained in these documents/presentations is inconsistent with state and federal law,” she continued.

The 11-page document (attached below) states that the training materials developed by special education Director Deirdre Osypuk contained 16 instances that require corrective actions. These actions, however, were put into motion when the schools hired consultant Theresa DeFrancis.

DeFrancis has waited for the state’s investigation to conclude, yet many of the instances of legal inconsistency have been pointed out already by parents and lawyer Andrew Feinstein, and have been reported by this newspaper.

Elements from a PowerPoint presentation were cited by the state as being inconsistent with the law, as well as ADHD guidelines, eligibility for adaptive physical education and extended school year services, were among topics highlighted by parents and Feinstein, and covered by The Darien Times.

At a Special Education Advisory Committee meeting on July 11, Superintendent Steve Falcone said the time frame for DeFrancis to finish her work has “been squished a little bit,” because the state had extended its investigation. Parents have said it’s crucial for the DeFrancis to revamp special ed training before the beginning of school, which is Monday, Aug. 26.

“While the [state Department of Education, or CSDE] acknowledges the proactive measures the district has taken to address the issues in the training materials, the CSDE finds that during the 2012-13 school year, the district used materials containing information that is out of compliance with the [federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] and Connecticut General Statutes Sections 10-76a to 10-76h, inclusive and their corresponding regulations. Corrective actions have been assigned,” Russell-Tucker stated.

All corrective actions were put into motion when DeFrancis was hired, although she has waited for the state’s response before beginning her work.

The state did not find sufficient cause to stop giving money to the schools, a consequence sought under federal statute by the 25 parents who filed a complaint with the state in March.

State investigators examined the individualized education plans, or IEPs, of the children of the petitioners, along with 15 randomly selected IEPs. It’s unclear what method the state used to chose the random IEPs.

Read more in next week’s Darien Times print edition, on newsstands Thursday, July 25.

CORRECTION: The Times initially reported there were 16 areas of noncompliance. The error has been corrected  in the above story to 10 areas. The Times also initially stated that the letter was written by Michael Tavernier, an error that has also been corrected.

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