Many concerns spring from special ed meeting

There was no shortage of disagreements at the recent Special Education Advisory Committee meeting between committee members and the Board of Education. Communication concerns, arguments over the importance of privacy over transparency, and details about the hiring of an interim special ed director kept the conversation active during the two hour meeting at the Board of Ed building.

The absence of a special education section on Darien Public Schools’ website drew a lengthy discussion among parents, the school board and district administration.

Members of the committee, which includes 19 parents of children with special needs, each of whom attend the various district schools as well as other out-of-district schools, discussed the importance of having something as simple as links to the state Department of Education’s website.

Steve Falcone, superintendent of schools, agreed that it was a good idea, but noted it could take some time to put together.

Amy Bell, a former Board of Education member who is now currently a member of the advisory committee, noted that for at least three years there has been discussion on including a special education section on the district website.

The Board of Ed also dissolved its public information committee last year.

Advisory committee members compared Darien’s lack of information to other towns that have easily accessible information on special education matters. They also said they would like to have their own website that would be accessible from the Darien Public Schools website.

Heather Shea, Board of Ed secretary, advised the members to come up with a concrete set of information that they were looking to include in their website, and submit their ideas to the school board for consideration.

The day after the meeting, The Darien Times a created a web page dedicated to providing links to relevant pages involving special education information, general education information, and sites for administrators and teachers to visit that contain guidelines for various special ed services. The Times’ website now has a button on the right side of its homepage called “Education Information for Parents and Educators.” It can also be accessed directly at DarienTimes.com/23057/education-information-for-parents

The advisory committee also asked questions about the parents who are expected to be involved in the search and interview committee for the interim special education director [See related article].

Advisory committee members also asked about the “impartial hearing officer” that the school board suggested could help mediate between parents and the district though offering informal, nonbinding advice on programming options for children with special needs.

There appeared to be many unanswered questions about the nature of this job description, but Betsy Hagerty-Ross, Board of Education chairman, said it would likely be a retired employee from the state Department of Education who used to work as a mediator and who would be independent and with no ties to Darien.

Jane Pelletier, an advisory committee member, suggested finding a potential candidate to draft a job description, since neither the school board nor the administration had a concrete idea of what the job would entail, since it was something that no other districts are doing.

There was a general consensus among the committee members that this impartial hearing officer was a good idea, and could serve as an informal problem-solving measure that could help both the district and parents, before engaging in any legal action.

The cost for this person would come out of the school board’s current budget, Hagerty-Ross said, although many details remain.

Discussion over Chicago attorney Sue Gamm’s investigation also took place at the meeting. Falcone was asked about his investigation, but declined to offer any insight as to what he has looked at or the methods he has used, saying it was “not appropriate” for him to comment.

Committee members also said they did not know when the state was supposed to come back with the second part of its investigation. The state said initially it would conclude its investigation by the “end of summer.” A state spokesperson has not responded for comment as to when the investigation will conclude.

Federal law gives states 60 days to complete an investigation. The complaint was filed on March 20. Extensions are only given for unusual circumstances, but the state has not elaborated on why it has taken longer than 60 days to complete its investigation.

It’s been speculated that the second part of the state’s investigation will include information on whether children’s education plans were illegally changed by the administration. It’s also been speculated that the state could be waiting for Gamm’s investigation to conclude so it could align its findings with hers, so as to avoid embarrassment should they miss something.

Many concerns spring from special ed meeting | Darien Times.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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