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State: Darien did everything asked for special education

Photo by Megan Spicer

The State Department of Education sent a letter to interim Superintendent Lynne Pierson on Aug. 25 to inform her that the district has complied with all of the CSDE's corrective actions for the special education department.

In the eyes of the Connecticut State Department of Education, Darien Public Schools has done everything required to remediate the areas of noncompliance in the special education department, according to an Aug. 25 letter from the state.

The state recognized that Darien has "voluntarily undertaken additional activities" to address remaining issues and established a "solid foundation for the future provision of special education and related services in the district," according to the letter sent to Interim Superintendent Lynne Pierson.

"The CSDE recognizes and appreciates the district's efforts to be in compliance with federal and state special education laws," Charlene Russell-Tucker, the chief operating officer for the CSDE, stated in the letter.

The CSDE required that the district address the special education policies and procedures; training manuals and procedures; locate and address students who may have been impacted as a result of the noncompliance; work closely with parents in regard to their children's Individualized Education Plans and Planning and Placement Team meetings; and provide the state with a copy of attorney Sue Gamm's independent investigation.

"The CSDE expects that Darien's new special education policies and procedures will be implemented with fidelity throughout the district resulting in improved outcomes for students with disabilities," according to the letter.

In March 2013, a group of parents filed a complaint with the state claiming that Darien Public Schools violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by removing the "team aspect" of the PPT meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined. At a later meeting with state department of education representatives, allegations were made that IEPs were changed after PPTs and services were not being provided. The state found those allegations to be true.

As part of the state's investigation into the department, 11 corrective actions were ordered through two letters of finding. As of Wednesday, the state recognized that all the corrective actions had been addressed and "satisfactorily completed."

Additionally, the CSDE recognized steps that Darien took beyond what the state required, such as the hiring of several consultants and the creation of special education and student services facilitators who will work with parents and special education teachers within each of the schools. They will also offer support during the PPT meetings.

The seven facilitators were announced at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. Five were hired from within district, according to interim Human Resources Director Mike Cicchetti.

The two SESS facilitators who were hired from out of district are Marie Moore, who will work at Ox Ridge Elementary School, and Stacy Heiligenthaler, who will work at Middlesex Middle School.

The five SESS in-district hires are Jamie Granite, Joanne Vorndran, Maria Kapusta, Susan Atkinson and Barbara Gillespie.

However, Andrew Feinstein, the lawyer representing the group of parents who initially signed the complaint against the district, said in the an email that the district's special education program is still "poorly managed and of extremely low quality."

"For a fraction of the money that Darien is spending on out-of-district placements, Darien could provide high quality education to children with disabilities," Feinstein wrote. "Instead, it continued to skimp, cut corners and skirt the edges of the law to provide minimal services to children with disabilities."

"It is a shame that Darien does this and it is a shame that the state Department of Education is an apologist for this sort of activity," he continued. Read Full Article 

Feinstein was unavailable to elaborate further.

Pierson could not be reached for comment and has not read the letter, according to her assistant.

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

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