Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Connecticut Investigates Claims that School District Told Staff to "Exit Students from Special Education"
Darien, Connecticut is one of the richest zip codes in the United States, so one might think that its school district would have no problems delivering special education services. But Darien's problems with special education this year—including allegations that the district was told to steer special education students into general classrooms and then defied a FOIA request to cover up the evidence—shows that money does not solve everything. Prompted by a lawsuit filed by parents of special education students, last week the Connecticut’s Department of Education released a report confirming that the district’s delivery of special education services was “inconsistent” with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The State Board found that the Darien district’s former special education director, Dr. Deirdre Osypuk, gave staff “directives to exit students from special education.” The state report also confirmed that Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) were changed without notice to parents. The problems appear to have started in when the Darien School District hired Osypuk to be its new special education director in May 2012. More after the jump.
In the fall of 2012, parents of special education students began noticing that their children’s IEPs were being overruled or changed without their approval. The parents formed an advocacy group to press for improved special education services in schools. In January 2013, the group filed a FOIA request for the school district's special education planning and training documents. Three months later, the parents sued the school district, alleging that special education services recommendations were being predetermined before IEP meetings with parents and changed at Osypuk’s direction and that the district was unlawfully restricting IEP services. After the suit was filed, information was leaked that was not turned over in the FOIA request. The leaked materials included a memo in which Osypuk told employees to present "a united front" against parents and a PowerPoint that Osypuk presented to the special education teachers. The PowerPoint suggested that special education staff had to clear IEP recommendations with Osypuk before meeting with parents. Some of the recommendations that Osypuk said should be discussed with her before parent-teacher meetings were placements, one-on-one aides and instruction, extended day services, and outside evaluations and consultants—all services that tend to take time and money. Parents of special education students sued the Darien school district this spring, charging that the district predetermined students’ special education services before Planning and Placement Team meetings, at which students' programs and goals for the year are determined. Under the law, districts cannot predetermine students' programs before meeting with the their parents. The complaint also alleged that the district changed IEPs without notice to parents and pushed students with disabilities into general education classrooms to save money.
The Darien Board of Education has started a dispute resolution process that will be available to Darien families to discuss concerns about special education services. The school district has also placed Osypuk on paid administrative leave.