Schools hire Illinois lawyer to probe special ed

The Darien school district appears to be one step closer toward healing wounds with parents, now that the district has hired an attorney an special educator from Illinois to investigate all aspects of special education in the district.

Worries remain, however, that the Board of Education and the Board of Finance remain out of sight of this newly hired investigator from Chicago, and that the school board did not invite parents to assist in the search for this person.

The schools chose Sue Gamm to perform an investigation with results due to the Board of Ed no later than Oct. 1, 2013. Gamm is expected to explore allegations that school staff violated special education laws during the past year.

Parents of special needs children have said that the schools were deciding their children’s education plans without parental consent, and that the schools changed these plans, or IEPs without parents approval. When parents caught these changes, they said they were told is was due to “clerical errors.”

Parent involvement has been a core problem with the schools, some have said, as communication between the district, the school board and parents has been inefficient and insufficient, drawing ire from many in the community.

Betsy Hagerty-Ross, Board of Ed chairman, however, emphasized the need for parental involvement as the community begins to heal from wounds sewn by illegal documents that might have prevented some special needs children from getting the education they are entitled to by federal law.

“The Board of Education values the feedback and input of the entire community,” Hagerty-Ross said at the board’s meeting on Tuesday, July 30.

To that end, the board chairman invited residents to attend a public meeting on Thursday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall auditorium. Gamm will be present to meet the community and perhaps field questions about the nature of her investigation.

The board will pay Gamm $225 per hour, including expenses, which might include housing since Gamm is from Illinois.

Gamm has spent the past 40 years specializing in the study and understanding of policies, procedures and practices impacting the systemic and effective education of students with disabilities. She has worked as the chief specialized services officer for the Chicago Public Schools, and also as division director for the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

She “is independent,” Hagerty-Ross said. “She does not have any prior relationship with the [school] board, its attorney or the Town of Darien. We are pleased that attorney Gamm has agreed to conduct this investigation and expect that she will begin her work immediately. Attorney Gamm will report directly to the board and her findings will be shared with the community.”

Hagerty-Ross said that Gamm came to her through “a series of recommendations by special education leaders across the nation.” She later told The Darien Times that the board’s attorneys, Shipman & Goodwin, did not find Gamm. The school board had ordered its attorneys to work with the state Department of Education to find a suitable investigator.

The school board also announced it will set up a personnel committee consisting of at least two Darien parents to assist in the search for an interim special education director.

Read the full story in this week’s print edition of The Darien Times, on newsstands Thursday, Aug. 1.

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