Special ed on track with state-required changes

The Board of Education is on track to complete the state-required changes in the special education department, according to an update from Special Education Ombudsman John Verre Tuesday.

"The purpose of the corrective actions, in the words of the state, is to assist the school district in implementing federal and state special education statutes and regulations correctly," Verre told the board.

The time frame in which the district must address the state's corrective actions, which came from two letters of finding last summer, is from July 2013 through May 2014.

Verre said all of the corrective actions are expected to be completed prior to May 16.

In March 2013, a group of parents filed a complaint with the state Department of Education claiming that the Darien Public Schools violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by removing the "team aspect" of the Planning and Placement Team meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined.

The state Department of Education outlined several areas that required attention and change in its letters of findings as a result of its investigation into the parents' claims.

One of the required actions is to review and revise any non-compliant special education polices, procedures and practices. As of Feb. 12, the extended school year guidelines were completed and submitted to the state Department of Education and a task force to address other policies is expected to begin work the week of Feb. 24. Some students' IEPs call for an extended school year so they may continue to work with teachers.

Verre said a consultant has yet to be hired to review the policies, though one candidate has been identified.

Attorney Theresa DeFrancis was hired in April 2013 to review and revise training materials for staff and administration within the district. Verre said her work is expected to be completed mid-April. A task force will also be established the week of Feb. 24 to review the professional development.

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Several corrective actions already have been completed and submitted to the state, including the implementation of a timely delivery of Individualized Education Plans to parents within five days of the PPT meeting, as per state statute. Verre told the board that the district completed that requirement and submitted evidence that staff was made aware of the state statute by the Oct. 9 deadline. The district was also expected to deliver the most recent IEPs to parents by Oct. 9, which the district also met.

Verre also gave an update of his action plan for the district. He said the two most challenging areas of focus involve the implementation of a data management system and developing parent and community engagement.

A task force for community engagement will be established to address the "challenging and complex" area of focus.

"I trust that if we are able to put together a good work group, which will be a short-term planning effort, that we will shape a process, shape activities that will benefit the parents, community and school district," Verre said.

Verre has started working with Director of Finance Mike Feeney to determine who can help the district establish a better data management system, which is one of the short-term goals. A work group will also be established to research and analyze the potential data management systems.

Board member Callie Sullivan if there was any focus area where Verre may get "stuck" along the way and asked what the Board of Education could do to assist his efforts.

"I think data management is a very challenging area," Verre said. "If we get it right, it will make a lot of other things we want to do easier. Although they won't ever be easy, just easier if we have access to the right kind of data management capability."

Verre noted that with the help of the administration and the special education committee, he feels the district is more capable addressing the issues that were exposed within the district.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews