Investigation Cites Connecticut School District on Special Ed Violation

Last year, 24 parents with children in the Darien, Connecticut school district filed a complaint with the state Department of Education alleging that district officials were in violation of state law which mandated that schools provide accommodations to children with disabilities. Now, in response to the complaints, the DOE has released a report concluding that at least some of the issues raised by the parents were legitimate.

Specifically, the report took issue with the material used by school teams that draft the curriculum used for children with special needs attending schools in Darien. Investigators concluded that the materials were too restrictive and didn’t comply with the federal law.

Although the rest of the problems weren’t legal violations, the authors still called on the district to revise the training manuals – which the district has agreed to do.

Meanwhile, the Darien school board has hired an investigator to conduct an internal review studying whether the district unlawfully denied services from special-education students. The probe also will examine whether the district changed children’s educational programs without parental consent. Such consent is required by law.

The district suspended Deirdre Osypuk, its director of special education, with pay in June. An attorney for Ms. Osypuk didn’t respond to requests for comment. A message left at Ms. Osypuk’s home wasn’t returned. The district said she had been suspended without prejudice, meaning no wrongdoing had been found. The district suspended Ms. Osypuk after the board opened an internal investigation in response to the allegations made by the parents, said Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross, chairwoman of the Darien Board of Education.

Although Darien officials are cooperating, the issues raised by the district parents are by no means unique to wealthy enclave. With schools struggling to work within tight budgets, many turn to special education services as a place where they can wield the knife.

Similar investigations have targeted one of the best-performing charter schools in Washington D.C. A recently concluded court case, brought by a parent of a special needs student in Idaho, ended with the jury siding with the two districts involved.

Falcone denied that costs were an issue that resulted in the policy changes adopted last year, but the parents are not quite as sure.

Parents have said that the town’s Board of Finance encouraged the district to cut special-education costs. The board reviews and approves the school budget and for other town departments. Jamie McLaughlin, a member of the town’s board of finance said he met with Mr. Falcone and Ms. Osypuk in July 2012 and discussed the district’s special education programs.

Some parents have said that meeting was inappropriate, and last week Mr. Falcone suggested he harbored second thoughts about it.