Today on Where We Live we spent a segment teasing out the controversy over special education spending and implementation in Darien. For the whole back story you’ll have to read David DesRoches’ reporting in the Darien Times, because it really seems to be the only news outlet covering this issue.
DesRoches reports that since 2009 the Darien schools were running over budget for special education, and there had been pressure from town officials to control spending. Last year they hired a new director. “Over the next several months, parents started noticing a difference in how the schools were working and teachers and administrators began to leave the district,” DeRoches said today. Many specialists and aides left, he said, and they were not replaced. “Parents formed an advocacy group in the fall… they approached the Board of Ed in January telling them they thought the schools were breaking the law.” Long story short: parents filed a complaint with the state Board of Ed, which just last week found out that the Darien schools did, in fact, break the law.
Andrew Feinstein, attorney for some 25 parents, told Where We Live “It’s clear from the documents that this was a well coordinated campaign, directed by the Special Ed Director, under pressure from the Board of Education and the Board of Finance.” He cited power-point presentations, internal memos and emails “ordering the cessation in services, ordering the reduction in staff levels” and manipulation by the school administration of PPT [planning and placement team] meetings to determine the students programs.
“The federal law provides a very clear structure on how these decisions are to be made in the collaborative process involving parents, and that was not done in Darien,” he said.
Darien superintendent Stephen Falcone, in response to these allegations, admitted that the school had “materials that were inconsistent” that he wasn’t initially aware of. He said he’s been grateful to the parents and the state DOE recommendations. “We’re committed to making sure that every child in the school district has what he or she needs to be able to move forward, especially the students with special needs,” he said.
While many of these issues revolve around money spent on students, the school system is continuing to spend on PR and lawyers. Attorney Feinstein cited an internal memo “saying that [the school system] can spend unlimited amount of money on lawyers to fight this complaint.” And, the district has hired a high profile public relations firm to handle its communications. This battle is far from over.
For more on this topic, listen to our program from May on teaching students with learning disabilities.