State report: More evidence special ed laws broken
Individualized Education Plans were changed after Planning and Placement Team meetings during the 2012-13 school year, according to the second of two reports issued by the Connecticut State Department of Education, validating parents' allegations.
The state provided six corrective actions the district must take, along with the corrective actions it handed down in the first report:
Ensure that parents have the most recent version of their students' IEP by Oct. 9.
Notify the special education and administrative staff of the regulations that require that IEPs be delivered to parents no more than five days after the PPT.
Inform parents that they can request a PPT meeting if they feel their child's education was impacted by the illegal policies. If they do request a PPT and want a PPT facilitator, the district must comply and locate, schedule and cover the expense of the PPT facilitator for one meeting.
Provide notice of the ability to request a PPT meeting with a facilitator by Oct. 16.
Provide training by Dec. 31 to all central office and school administration regarding how changes to IEPs can legally be made.
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Provide the CSDE a copy of independent investigator Susan Gamm's final report no later than three days after it is delivered to the district.
The CSDE addressed the sharp increase in complaints that Darien parents of special needs children made to the state.
In the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years combined, there was one complaint made against the district, which the CSDE ultimately dismissed.
Five of the complaints resulted in corrective actions being given to the district because of 11 separate instances of noncompliance. Four of the five complaints, according to the report, had similar issues that were brought up in the March 20 complaint: students' IEPs not being implemented and there were procedural violations.
Compared to the surrounding towns, the number of complaints in 2012-13 was excessive. The average number of complaints in the surrounding towns was 2.8 in 2012-13, compared to Darien's 14.
The CSDE felt, according to the report, that the hiring of Gamm, who was appointed on July 30 as an independent investigator, is an appropriate response on the part of the district as a remediation step.
During a parents-only meeting with four CSDE representatives on June 10, parents spoke of IEPs being changed without their knowledge and after they had left their PPT meetings, which is a direct violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Parents and staff were also provided the opportunity to anonymously submit more information to the state following the meeting.
According to the report, which was released Sept. 25, approximately 80 percent of the 20 respondents -- which included parents and related services staff -- supported the changes made to special education during the 2012-13 school year, most of which were made when Osypuk was hired. Osypuk has been on paid administrative leave since June 17.
A large portion of the comments were specific to Osypuk, the report said. While some of the comments from current and past staff were supportive of the changes Osypuk made, roughly 20 percent were just the opposite.
On March 20, a group of parents filed a complaint claiming that the Darien Public Schools had 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. Under the law, educators are not allowed to make any sort of predetermination about the students' programs before meeting with the parents. Superintendent Stephen Falcone and Board of Education Chairman Betsy Hagerty-Ross could not be reached for comment.
"It's a complete and absolute vindication of the parents' complaint," said Andrew Feinstein, the attorney representing the complainants.
The staff members reported that Osypuk "micromanaged," according to the report. They also claim Osypuk "showed a lack of respect to the staff, discounted the staff's professional judgment, challenged how services were being documented, provided guidance that was confusing due to the ongoing revisions and `gave directive to exit students from special education.' "
Staff members told the state department that IEPs that required consultation services were altered outside the PPTs, information on IEPs were changed after PPTs and "students with diverse needs were inappropriately grouped together for instruction to save costs."
In order to verify that IEPs had, in fact, been changed, the state requested access to the IEP Direct system, which keeps digital copies of IEPs and changes made to them.
"A review of the student IEPs in this electronic system by BSE (Bureau of Special Education) staff confirmed that changes were made to IEPs after the documents were `finalized,' " according to the document. The report goes on to say while some of the changes are technical -- correcting typos and fixing other clerical errors -- other changes were substantive, which reflects and alteration to the services a child receives.
Some of the changes that the CSDE found to have been made within IEPs include, but are not limited to: PPT recommendations; content of meeting summary; district assessment accommodations; behavior intervention strategies; length of school years; and transition services. Changes made to IEPs are tagged with the time and person who made the change, according to the report.
While looking through IEP Direct, the CSDE also found that copies of the final IEP were not being delivered to the parents in the state-mandated five-day time frame. Due to the systematic violations, the CSDE will maintain access to the IEP Direct system to continuously check students' IEPs throughout the year to ensure that illegal changes are not made.
"I think some people have to be held accountable in some point in time and I think that will happen," Feinstein said. When asked specifically who should be held accountable, he said he knew who his clients considered.
"The district has got to move on Deirdre (Osypuk)," Feinstein said. "They continue to pay her $160,000 a year to sit at home and plan her strategy; it's pretty appalling."
Feinstein also believes other administrators need to be held accountable.
"It does not make sense to me to say that Deirdre was operating as some sort of free agent," Feinstein said. "People do have a responsibly for what happens and my problem -- without being too harsh -- is that I think Steve (Falcone) really does care about this and I think Steve has done a lot to vindicate himself, but he was in charge while a lot of these violations took place."
He added that he would not be comfortable if Falcone were given a "free pass on this."
"I see all these kids in the high school being punished for doing stupid things once and for things they regret doing," Feinstein said. "And the notion that the superintendent of schools can say, `You know, geez, I'm sorry. I really didn't know this was going on,' is not acceptable in this environment."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews.