Letter: Town leaders should not describe special education parents as "aggressive"
The following letter was sent to Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky with a copy to The Darien Times. It should be noted that in both letters to Mr. Zagrodsky he has welcomed the comments in his responses and offered to meet with interested parties to discuss further.
To the Editor:
Only a few years ago did the Town of Darien come under intense scrutiny by state and federal officials for violating the rights of students with disabilities. Taxpayers footed a large bill for an independent investigation and forensic audit of both educational practices and financial reporting. Both inquiries determined beyond a reasonable doubt that the Town of Darien lacked proper procedures, violated the civil rights of children with disabilities and over-reported their expenses to the state. This all started with concerns about the increasing costs of special education. The attorney hired by the Board of Education reflected on the very issue of how expressed concerns can be misinterpreted.
You can watch Jon Zagrodzky’s speech (and the rest of the speeches) here on Darien TV79’s On Demand link. His speech begins at 25:25.
“During separate interviews, BOE members stressed that they never communicated to the superintendent that services should be denied. They acknowledged an awareness of voices in the community that were upset about the high costs of special education but that concern did not drive Board action. It should be noted that unless one is very clear with the message, concerns of high special education costs and expectations for mitigation of increases in special education could reasonably be interpreted as a mandate to reduce services to reach that end.” - Sue Gamm, Esq. Procedures and Practices Relevant to the Administration and Operation of Instruction, Services and Support for Students with Disabilities in the Darien Public Schools for the 2012/13 School Year., Nov. 4, 2013
Your comments at last week’s State of the Town harken back to those days when elected officials, publicly and privately in email, misdirected blame and placed a price tag on children with disabilities and their families. Access to public education for students with disabilities is protected by federal law. Parents and schools continue to make progress, improving programming and bettering the outcomes of students in our schools. You are well within your purview to highlight financial concerns but please refrain from characterizing families as “aggressive” and children with “problems.” Take up your financial concerns with the Board of Education. Work with special education parent groups and the PTO organization to better communicate your ideas. Go back and review Attorney Gamm’s report. As we all learned four years ago, words matter. As always, thank you for your service to the Town of Darien. Merry Christmas and Happy 2019.