The state report confirmed allegations that Individualized Education Program (IEP) documents for some special education students had been changed by the district without proper consultation and communication with those students' parents:
Allegations that IEPs were inappropriately changed were made by both parents and district staff. [...] A review of the student IEPs in this electronic system by BSE [state Department of Education] staff confirmed that changes were made to IEPs after the documents were “finalized.” While some changes appear to be allowable technical edits, other changes look to be substantive in nature.
One part of the state's report said:
The majority (approximately 80 percent) of input the CSDE received from the 20 Darien special education and related services staff was in support of the special education administration and changes to the district’s special education procedures during the 2012-13 school year.
A number of staff comments were specific to Deirdre Osypuk, Darien’s Director of Special Education. Many staff members, including both new and veteran personnel, commented on feeling supported and empowered by Dr. Osypuk, who was described as fair, professional and knowledgeable.
Another part of the report stated:
Approximately 20 percent of district staff who provided written or verbal input did not support the changes made by special education administration during the 2012-13 school year.
These staff members reported that Dr. Osypuk “micromanaged” and 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 ongoing revisions and “gave a directive to exit students from special education.”
Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross, chairperson of the Darien Board of Education, released the following statement in response. (The board's response is followed, below, by the response issued by Superintendent Stephen Falcone.)
Board of Education Response(Issued Friday, Sept. 27)
The Darien Board of Education fully accepts the findings of the Connecticut State Department of Education and thanks the State for the professionalism and dedication that its investigators and officials have demonstrated in this matter.
We also thank the parents who came forward with their concerns on behalf of their children. Your efforts will make this a better school system.
This is a complex matter, and the Board of Education will closely monitor the Darien Public Schools’ compliance with the required corrective actions that the State has ordered. In addition, the recommendations of our independent investigator, Attorney Sue Gamm, will be a critical factor in identifying any additional allegations of wrongdoing that must be addressed.
Attorney Gamm began investigating these allegations in August 2013. She announced an online survey for both parents and district staff to help gather further information for her investigation; a link can be found on the Darien Public Schools website. Attorney Gamm will return to Darien in October to continue in- person interviews and meetings with parents, and she currently anticipates completing the full investigation by the end of October 2013.
The Darien Board of Education has announced the creation of a local dispute resolution process that is available to parents to determine if their child’s program was compromised over the past year.
The Darien Board of Education puts the education and well-being of our children above all and we will not be satisfied until every child in Darien is receiving a free and appropriate public education.
The Personnel Search Committee for the individual who will oversee Special Education for Darien Public Schools is actively interviewing candidates. Further details will be announced shortly.
The members of the Darien Board of Education will continue to act as stewards for the district to assure that all allegations are fully and fairly investigated. The Board will not tolerate systematic violations of the law, and reiterates that it will hold accountable all those who engaged in any wrongdoing.
(Issued Thursday, Sept. 26)
The Connecticut State Department of Education concluded its lengthy investigation into concerns regarding systematic practices of the special education department during the 2012-13 school year. The conclusions of the State, including the one that “substantive changes to IEPs were made by the district outside the PPT/amendment process during the 2012-13 school year. . . and is in violation of the IDEA” are quite serious. The CSDE has ordered corrective actions that the district will take. Attached is the letter from the State.
Earlier this summer, the State issued an initial partial decision identifying numerous violations of the law in the promulgation of special education materials found to be inconsistent with the law. The school district fully accepted the decision. In response, we immediately withdrew the use of any training materials used during 2012-13 and I went to each school building to reiterate my expectation that all decisions need to be made at a PPT, that all participants must fully participate in those meetings, information shared at those meetings be used to inform decisions, and that students receive the services necessary to learn.
We continue to work with Attorney Theresa DeFrancis and the State to develop new, compliant special education materials and train school staff, Board members and parents using these materials. As a reminder, parents are encouraged to attend, if possible, Ms. DeFrancis’ training session on October 8th and 10th. This important work is already underway and will continue throughout this school year. Unilaterally altering a student’s IEP is wrong. As noted, the CSDE has ordered corrective actions that the district will take, including sending current IEP documents to families, offering facilitated PPTs, notifying and training administration and staff of specific legal obligations, and fully cooperating with Attorney Gamm’s investigation.
My message to the Darien community is simple: I will hold those whose actions were in violation of the law accountable. Beyond accountability, however, I will continue to be front and center in the on-going training and education of staff, Board members and parents. I want to again express my appreciation to the parents who filed the complaint as well as those parents and staff who submitted comments to the state for their review; I commend them for their advocacy on behalf of Darien students. I also thank the State for the time, effort and dedication of its team of investigators who have spent countless hours on this matter.
Every Darien student must receive a high-quality education that prepares them for the twenty-first century. I look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders -- staff, administrators, parents and the Board -- to ensure that we have a system that supports this essential mission. I am confident that our collective efforts will benefit all children and make our district stronger.