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'We Have an Issue That Needs a Resolution'

State representatives are asking the Connecticut Department of Education to formally investigate special education services in Newtown.

There are only two things two state representatives, the Board of Education chairman and schools superintendent appear to agree with one another regarding a complaint the representatives said they filed with the state Department of Education.

They said they are committed to improving special education services and would welcome a state audit of those services.

“We have an issue that needs a resolution," Rep. Chris Lyddy (D-106) said. "There’s going to be some good things that come from an audit.”

Education board chairman Bill Hart said, “We welcome the opportunity for the state to come in and tell us if we are doing the right thing...I’m very concerned that we do the right thing for the kids.”

Lyddy and Rep. DebraLee Hovey (R-112) said they are seeking a formal investigation into the town’s special education services division after receiving many complaints from parents and getting no satisfactory answer from the superintendent or education board chairman.

How matters got to this stage remains a bone of contention, and whether the state Department of Education would intervene and order an audit of special education services also remains in question.

State education department spokesman Tom Murphy said on Friday that once state officials receive a complaint, they first have to weigh the merits of the complaint to determine whether an audit was warranted.

“We do as a matter of course (an audit) in three to four districts a year,” he said, adding the state has a rotation that it goes through to determine which districts it will audit any particular year.

“We don’t have staff to do dozens,” he said.

It was unclear the last time Newtown was audited.

'...You have 20-plus people coming forward saying pretty much the same kind of thing...'

Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said Friday that she did not know offhand if Newtown had ever been audited, although the state performs a “paper audit” of all districts on an annual basis to determine that legally required documentation of special education services is being provided to the state.

Hovey and Lyddy said that for the past several months they have fielded many complaints from constituents about the school system, particularly from special education parents about their cases.

Special education in any district is a challenge with many disputes occurring between parents and educators, though the volume of complaints in this case was concerning, according to state representatives.

“Special education is one of the significant challenge of every community, and our state, but when you have 20-plus people coming forward saying pretty much the same kind of things, which have to do with the administration having a chilling effect on the process, minutes of meetings not being indicative of what actually occurred,” Hovey said in listing the reasons why she said she decided to get involved.

Lyddy also said that in his many contacts with constituents, he was told of problems individual parents would encounter regarding special education services in town.

“I’m not in a position as a state legislator to decipher which ones have merit,” Lyddy said. “It was clear we had a problem in Newtown that needed attention.”

Hovey said she had tried to address the issues with Robinson directly, scheduling a March meeting and writing a follow-up letter but she said she did not receive a satisfactory response from Robinson.

“In my mind, I was very professional,” Hovey said. “The superintendent was generally dismissive of my concerns…Several weeks later, I didn’t see anything from her, nothing from the Board of Education. I made the mistake that as the superintendent of schools, if one of your chief elected official comes to you with concerns even if you thought they were unfounded, you would have conveyed them to your board.”

'I take information and I try to solve the problem'

Robinson for her part said she was misled prior going into that March meeting with Hovey about what would be discussed. Robinson said she was told it would be about state legislative matters, and instead it focused specifically on issues with special education services in town.

“She laid into me” about special education issues in the district, Robinson said of Hovey, adding she felt the legislator was lecturing to her. “I endured that.”

Robinson said she agreed problems exist with special education services in town, but she said she was in the course of trying to remedy them. Robinson said she told Hovey of those efforts.

“I told her what I was working on but she’s got to listen,” Robinson said.

For instance, Robinson said she met last year with a group of parents with special education students to hear their concerns, and then brought that feedback to the district’s special education staff.

Parents told her they believed that their voices were not being heard at Planning and Placement Team meetings, which are held when a student has been referred for special education for the first time, and that one school was particularly good at holding those meetings compared to others, Robinson said.

She said that based on that feedback, she arranged for the principal at that school to give a talk to the others about that school’s techniques.

Robinson also said that based on the feedback of some parents who believed there needed to be more public education regarding special education topics, she worked to help bring light to those issues, backing an effort to bring a .

Robinson also said she helped to create a special education advisory board made up of parents and teachers.

“We were doing some things internally,” she said. “We have been doing some things internally.”

Robinson said she believed Hovey was overstepping her boundaries and making assumptions.

“She’s not in a regulatory position…I know of no superintendent who is told what to do by a legislator,” Robinson said.  “Just to assume there is guilt on our part, it’s unconscionable.”

Asked why she did not tell the full education board about her meeting with Hovey, Robinson said she believed it was more important to address the issues.

“I take information and I try to solve the problem,” she said, adding that it takes time to resolve the issues that were being raised. “Credit is not given to the fact that we are sensitive to it.”

Robinson said that Hart, the education board chairman, however, was aware of her meeting with Hovey.

'Ambushed'

Hart said the board had spent time discussing special education, including receiving an update on March 15, prior to Robinson’s meeting with Hovey, from Michael Regan, director of pupil services. Hart also said that parents of special education children have been invited to board meetings.

Hart, who said he has been working informally to gather concerns from parents about special education and where improvements can be made, said he felt “ambushed” by Hovey and Lyddy, meeting with them on Monday, May 16 for what he believed was to be a meeting on state legislative issues when they brought up their concerns regarding special education.

While the representatives said they were considering asking the state to step in, they did not say they would move ahead with it, Hart said, adding he first became aware that had happened late Wednesday when he received a call from John Voket, a reporter with the Newtown Bee, which was the first to report on the formal complaint.

Hart said that Voket said he had a copy of the complaint. Hart said he was at a disadvantage because he did not have a copy of the complaint and only obtained one after contacting Lyddy.

'We need to dig a little deeper'

Lyddy said he and Hovey decided to go through with the formal complaint after the meeting, which he said was “clearly communicated to (Hart) that we were going to be talking about special education,” because they were concerned the issues weren't being addressed to the satisfaction of everyone and they believed having an independent arbiter would be useful.

“We need someone to go in who is unbiased,” Lyddy said. “These people whom I’ve spoken with, they want what’s in the best interest of their children.”

One particular point of contention from that Monday meeting was the use of the word “rationing” services for students, which the representatives said Hart used during their discussions regarding special education.

“The federal law is very specific about the legalities of how to administer special education services and rationing is not one of those,” Hovey said.

Hart said he was taken aback that the representatives quoted his words during what he believed was an off-the-record comment, a comment that he said was misrepresented by the legislators. Hart said he was using the phrase in the context of what parents might perceive when the district determines what services the child is qualified to receive.

“We simply cannot say ‘yes’ to every request that a parent makes,” Hart said.

Lyddy said he believed parents of special education students have tried to reach out to the education board but received limited responses. For instance, the Parents Advocating for Children group, which was formed by parents of special education, had invited education board members to attend their meetings to hear more about the grievances, but apparently only one education board member has attended.

“I believe there have been attempts made,” he said.

Robinson, however, has attended PAC meetings.

Lyddy said that he applauds the work Robinson and Hart has done with regards to special education but believes more scrutiny is warranted.

"There are other things that have been brought up to me that suggests we need to dig a little deeper," he said.

Suzanne Lang, who helped form PAC, declined to comment on the matter.

“I believe that the matter is in the hands of the state and don't feel that it is my place to interfere or influence anyone at this time,” she said in an e-mail.

Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 25, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Our oldest kids have a four stop sign intersection as their stop, which we neighbors petitioned to change at the transportation hearing. It is a very dangerous area for anyone, nevermind children walking to and from a bus stop, passed a blind turn usually half covered with water or ice, causing children to walk on one side where they can't see around and the road gives way to a Railroad, to the point where a telephone pole is sliding down the hill approaching the tracks. If a child has to avoid a car or oil truck, the possibiity of them sliding down onto the tracks is a reality. The train is intermittant, but my fourth grade friend with half a leg, one foot, one hand and three missing fingers on the other hand can attest to the damage a not so frequent train can do to a child. He lived to tell about it. The school district employees and certain BOE members are putting the entire town at risk of law suits and children at risk regarding safety unnecessarily. The alleged discrimination, alleged retaliation and alleged harassment are happening in town owned buldings. The town becomes liable. "At a 4-way stop, the driver reaching the intersection first, goes first (after coming to a complete stop). If more than one vehicle arrives at the same time, the vehicle on the right, goes." http://www.onlinetrafficschoolguide.com/ct-connecticut/driving-laws.html
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 25, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Sec. 14-275c-18. Backing Backing of the school bus shall be avoided, if possible. When backing maneuvers cannot be avoided, children shall be retained inside the bus. If there are children outside the bus, no backing maneuver shall be made unless a competent adult observer is on hand to direct the maneuver. (Effective August 19, 1974) http://www.ct.gov/dmv/lib/dmv/regulations/275c.pdf
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 25, 2011 at 03:13 AM
What's the Law in Connecticut? Connecticut law prohibits vehicles of all kinds from unnecessary idling for more than 3 minutes. Provisions are made for weather extremes, certain service vehicles and health-related conditions. For text on Anti-Idling Regulations in Effect in Connecticut: R.C.S.A. 22a-174-18 - This regulation applies to ALL vehicles in Connecticut and is enforced by DEP Field Staff. An Act Concerning the Idling of School Buses; Public Act No. 02-56; Signed May 9, 2002. This regulation gives ticketing authority to police who witness school buses idling for longer than 3 minutes. http://www.ct.gov/dep/cwp/view.asp?a=2684&q=322086 The illegal backing the three members of the BOE are making drivers do, often causes the buses to idle more than three minutes when they get caught waiting for the right of way, which our cul de sac turn alleviates. Last year I timed one time when the bus got stuck waiting for traffic for 20 minutes. Not typical, but they have waited, especially last year when there was a hole in the road at the bus stop that was large enough to swallow a child that wasn't fixed for two months (remember all that rain) - the transportaion on the town side has the documentation of this, but, again, if no one can find it, I have a copy. On the document it actually says that the hole was large enough to swallow a child. Nope, I'm not making it up!
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 25, 2011 at 04:31 AM
good insight, thank you. glad things are improving for your family. I hope you received restitution for your families expenses. I am sure your children are beautiful.
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 26, 2011 at 01:35 PM
I posted a letter above where I asked the Newtown Bee to put it in this week's upcoming paper. I ask for the resignation of the three Administrators in my case(s) to resign. I ask for the three BOE members in my case (transportation) to step down. I explain the hearing officers' decision in my two cases are forever nullities due to the hearing officers not having subject matter jurisdiction in my cases.
Sam Mihailoff May 26, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Ms. Liodra stated ""I'm confident internally there will be a process initiated to improve communication to parents, "But the need to maintain confidentiality hampers the level at which the audit [process] can play out in public. We have to trust it will play out in a fair and balanced way." We have to trust??? I think that belies the problem; LACK OF TRUST AINT POLITICS WUNNERFUL?
onceuponanewtown May 27, 2011 at 12:11 AM
Why do school lawsuits require gag orders when settled? Can't the names just be withheld?
Sam Mihailoff May 27, 2011 at 04:43 AM
Simple, to maintain the deceptive mask and purport a rosy complexion of perfection http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaYR5lwzomE
Susan McGuinness Getzinger May 27, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Thanks for the humor this morning, Sam! Laughed out loud!
philip palilla May 31, 2011 at 05:22 PM
I have a special needs child, and will not be politically correct with this comment. I think back during the sixties when I was in school...we NEVER had ANY of this nonsense pertaining to "lack of services being withheld or not offered" for these "students". To be blunt, MANY of the so called "problems" that parents are complaining about is nothing more than lack of good parenting and assuming that the educational system in this country is supposed to babysit and rear our children instead. Most people feel they are "entitled" and their children are growing up with the same thought process - much to their detriment. If the program that my child is currently in was cancelled for any reason, I would suck it up and deal with it.
Newtown4 May 31, 2011 at 05:44 PM
@Phillip Palilla--I understand where you are coming from and that it seems like what you are saying is that ultimately people are "responsible for their own". I, too, have a special needs child in the schools here in Newtown and at times I, too, think parents expect too much from the system. I have to say from my own experience, that part of my process of grieving was to demand more and more services and blame people who weren't really responsible. I sadly was not aware that I was even doing this. I was very hard on my child's teachers and therapists early on because I was so so depressed about the situation. I tossed the burden of my child's needs onto the schools and expected them to work harder to "fix" my child. And, at that time I honestly believed that MORE therapy and more special ed services would "cure" my child. I know from my experience that I was in the wrong. I expected the Cadillac and not the Chevy (the schools have to only provide the Chevy by law). As the years went on, I came to a place of acceptance and I realized that no amount of special ed and no amount of therapy was going to change my child. He is now my biggest blessing and although he is not in any way typical, I no longer hold the school responsible for making him what he will be. I have had to humble myself and apologize to staff members for my own lack of trust in them and my own shortcomings. Perhaps some assistance for parents in dealing with their grief would help these situations.
Sam Mihailoff May 31, 2011 at 05:46 PM
In one respect, I totally agree with you. The explosion of Attention Deficit Disorder is a crock. Much is laziness because Mom and Dad never made any demands. However, back in the 60's much was not even identified regarding learning disabilities and dyslexia...and that is the minor stuff. The magnanimous government said inclusion is now the law. What if your child was severely involved with major disabilities. Are you saying, you would be content to raise a "Timmy the Turnip?" I hardly think so. There by the grace of God go we. Yes, some parents may want every possible therapy known to man and this may be impractical, impossible and also futile. However life skills and attaining one's "potential" is possible, and a right as much as advanced mathmatics is for the brainiacs.
Tom Bittman May 31, 2011 at 07:50 PM
I can only imagine, and my heart goes out to you. Yesterday we visited the gravesite of our Trisomy 18 baby (Down's is Trisomy 21), who died before she had a life. We spent months - nothing compared to you - preparing to raise a special need child, not knowing if she was mosaic and would survive. We talked to countless others who were in that situation. I can't tell you how many people told us what a blessing their special needs children were. Eventually, we decided that if this child would live, we would be the best parents and the best family that we could be for her, and we at least had an idea of what it would mean. This, of course, has little to do with the situation in town, but I believe/hope that most of the participants want to do the right thing, with limited resources, and difficult realities on what parents can do and what the education system can do. I'm glad this audit is taking place, and I hope it leads to some kind of resolution that helps. Sorry to unload here - 13 years and it still tears us up.
Tom Bittman May 31, 2011 at 08:02 PM
Sam, of course an in-depth search for a superintendent took place. I was watching from the outside closely, because I thought we had serious problems there. I won't speak for the BOE, but they had quite a few candidates and it took many weeks to narrow and then select. I realize you aren't fond of the choice, but some of us are. I think we're in a much better place than we were, and if you think rolling the dice and trying again is a sure thing, you've never been to Vegas. On the other hand, like any town employee, how our superintendent is managed is very important.
Sam Mihailoff May 31, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Hello Tom, It's sad that you compare Newtown's hiring practices to Vegas...but you may actually have something there. They sure "crapped out" with two back-to-back music teachers. Mrs. Matson seems to have scrubbed that stench away by doing a commendable job; a very commendable job. As for being "fond of the choice"...I'm not at all satisfied with the mediocrity that comes with a HIGH price tag...I guess you must be more easily satisfied.
Newtown4 June 01, 2011 at 12:27 PM
@Tom. God bless you...there is nothing harder. I'm thinking that the grieving never does end whether your child lives or passes on. Thank you for being willing to share. There is so much grieving for the loss of what could have been. It took me years of grief and a deep investigation of my faith to understand that living with our situation could still be a fruitful life. The process of coming to acceptance is shaky at best. Even though a blessing, my child is so much work and it takes a daily surrendering of my life to handle his life. To all you parents living with this situation, know that you are doing all you can do because that is what parents do--they love their children so much that they push and advocate for services. Just attempt to face honestly what the school is really responsible for. Sometimes an honest look at what you're asking for is in order. Sometimes the child's own limitations are really just that--his own limitations and no matter what a school does, it may not be rehabilitative. That being said, it is the law that children should be offered the same opportunities (inclusion). They should be given the chance to meet their own potential. An honest look at where a child can go in life and what he or she can accomplish is helpful. Sometimes this can't be ascertained until a child is a bit older. When a child is so young, sometimes more time needs to pass before judgement happens. Best wishes to all here--only you know your own child.
onceuponanewtown June 01, 2011 at 01:27 PM
"Having a child with special needs can be the challenge of a lifetime, and too often families dealing with these challenges feel isolated and powerless in the face of the difficult hurdles ahead. We need to make every effort to ensure that as a community we do not throw even more obstacles in their path, but hear them out and help them on their way." (Editorial Ink Drops, Newtown Bee) I worry for the high functioning children who do not appear to be disabled. They struggle on unidentified, misunderstood and misjudged sometimes to the point of giving up their hopes and dreams...how long can they ignore the labels that are given to them (lazy, dumb, misbehaving - oh having bad parents, too) before they begin to believe them - they are children and believe adults speak in wisdom and truth! With all the research that has been done on LD there is no excuse for the ignorance that has/is shown in our district. The remedies need not be costly - it is the bullying that needs to end! cont.
onceuponanewtown June 01, 2011 at 01:27 PM
cont. Just because a child does not fit into a square peg does not mean he cannot succeed or be considered a valuable human being. (This advice is for our community also!) Until our district becomes more empowering and accepting of different minds they can and will cause damage to your LD child by isolating and creating obstacles to their success. The sad fact remains that it will probably take years if ever to make changes that really matter and all of the money involved in "Special" Education is probably the root of the issue; it is not being used for the sole purpose of the child in need...it is being used in greed/power in lieu of common sense!
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 01, 2011 at 01:57 PM
Exactly my point. Money to services and children, not power players. Website to help get tools to teach children the classics for anyone interested: http://www.classicalacademicpress.com/
Newtown4 June 02, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Another piece of advice for any parent. No matter what a school is doing, discover what your child is capable of and really good at. My older (more typical, but still LD) child has reading/writing difficulties, but he is exceptional at a few sports and very good in math. We have decided to do "what we can" in the areas of reading/writing and not worry if the grades are low in that area (after years of trying strategies). But, we really stress math and sports and are trusting that moving in the areas of his strengths will serve him well in the long run and will keep his self confidence up. Beating his head up against a wall to fight him in reading has become pointless over the years--some children just won't be able to get over every obstacle in every area. I agree that traditional education cannot often provide learning in the areas that a child needs. Also, there are times where accomodations in some areas are better than battering a child to learn what the brain won't learn in areas of challenge. Sometimes it's better for all to let some things go a bit to focus on the areas that are working. I don't even mention my son's reading scores and am no longer concerned with it. I always talk about and express excitement over the areas of success. As for my younger son (full on special needs), that is a different story, but the same principles apply--I am always looking for his God-given areas of success (no matter how small). Best wishes to you all!
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 11:47 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrapFXnZIDE&NR=1
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 11:48 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69w96cFdPMk&feature=fvwrel
Susan McGuinness Getzinger June 12, 2011 at 11:52 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6fcIqUHz8Q&feature=related
Susan McGuinness Getzinger August 15, 2011 at 02:37 AM
"At one point not too long ago, Newtown had a superintendent tenure that is almost unheard of these days. John Reed served as head of public schools for 20 years between 1982 and 2002. Now retired from Newtown, Reed is serving as an interim superintendent in Weston until Palmer comes on board. Evan Pitkoff replaced Reed in Newtown; Pitkoff left in 2007 to lead Burlington schools, and was replaced by Janet Robinson, who earned $174,932 last year, according to the state Department of Education. The Newtown community seems to be divided over whether they agree with the way Robinson is running the school district. Last year, the Newtown Board of Education declined to give her a raise but gave her extra vacation time and returned her furlough days. Robinson told Newtown Patch in July that she was being unfairly “attacked” over her compensation, and said teachers and administrators would leave if they didn’t feel they were being valued for their work. “People have to know that there’s a marketplace,” she told Newtown Patch in July. “The issue is this can’t keep going on year after year.”http://newtown.patch.com/articles/school-superintendent-vacancies-not-uncommon-here-nationwide
Susan McGuinness Getzinger August 15, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Though the Patch article I quoted above states that left us for Burlington schools, the website at CES states that he is with them: http://www.ces.k12.ct.us/uploaded/About_C_E_S_/07-08AnnualReportWEB.pdf "C.E.S. has an excellent reputation as a Regional Education Service Center. The aforementioned expansions are testimony to the success of our past efforts. More importantly, C.E.S. has a commitment and culture geared toward continuous improvement. I believe with the demonstrated commitment of our faculty and governing Representative Council, we remain on the path of continued excellence in providing educational services to our constituents. Evan Pitkoff, Ed.D. Evan Pitkoff, Ed.D., Executive Director" Also: "C.E.S. offers Connecticut school districts a search service for hiring superintendents, assistant superintendents and central office staff."http://www.ces.k12.ct.us/page.cfm?p=2521 ALSO: "Deputy Executive Director CES - Cooperative Educational Services Education Management industry 1997 – 2002 (5 years)" http://www.linkedin.com/pub/janet-robinson/7/a3/226 Our own Janet Robinson!
Sam Mihailoff August 15, 2011 at 12:55 PM
I think dear Janet needs to add anothe locale to this resume post haste
onceuponanewtown August 15, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Janet was making an offer to the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly about a problem she denies existed over a year ago...why can't the taxpayers see what these costs were for our district? The school attorneys are guilty of creating the same "billable hours" that she accuses the parents attorney's of. They create these hours by refusing the simplest services and wasting years of a struggling students education with various premeditated obstructions. Our districts adversarial response, denial and treatment of students in need of services is the tipping point for the majority of due process cases. This district has subtly let it's far reaching power be known that it can and will silence the lamb. http://www.cga.ct.gov/2010/EDdata/Tmy/2010HB-05425-R000308-Janet%20Robinson,%20Superintendent,%20Newtown%20Public%20Schools-TMY.PDF
Sam Mihailoff August 15, 2011 at 02:41 PM
Janet, you're the best......NOT
Cathy French August 15, 2011 at 11:04 PM
After six years in therapy I try to find the positive side in people and remark at their accomplishments, It is very easy to be critical of Janet Robinson lets look at the positive side. Perhaps some one could remind me of of one good thing that she has done..............................................................................Any one...............Crickets?????
Alex Tytler August 15, 2011 at 11:11 PM
It can and will keep going on every year well.

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