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Special Education Remains a Concern for District

Legislators and school district officials update Board of Education on special education concerns.

An update on special education, a decision to add a greenhouse management course to the high school, discussion on prioritizing capital projects and presentation of new core curriculum standards were among some of the topics that came out of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting at the .

Below is information on the discussion regarding special education. Check Newtown Patch later for more information about the other meeting topics.

The update on special education was a continuation of a process that began after state Reps. DebraLee Hovey (R-112) and Chris Lyddy (D-106), who were contacted by parents critical of the district’s handling of special education, .

While both sides seemed to agree that the district now appeared to be heading toward addressing the problems, tensions remained in the relationship between Hovey, Lyddy and state and district officials.

The legislative duo said they were happy to see some action items coming out of a November meeting between them and district and state officials, but miffed that one particular action item appeared to tell them how to do their jobs – that the “state Department of Education or the district will tell or dictate how a legislator is charged with representing a district,” Lyddy said.

That language took legislators aback, they said.

“We don’t need to be told what our job is,” Hovey said.

The legislators said when they initially learned of the concerns from parents, they advised their constituents to bring those issues to the district. But when parents reported back that they were met with resistance, the legislators said they felt a duty to intercede.

“When we try to follow the chain of command, you can hear that we were quite frustrated,” Hovey said.

The legislators said parental complaints fell into different categories, such as communication, including during a Planning and Placement Team phase when the possibility of a learning disability is discussed, and later when the Individualized Educational Plan is created to address the disability.

Some parents also complained their students weren’t being identified with a learning disability, and instead “hidden” in a 504 program, which allows for special accommodations but doesn’t require as much accountability as an IEP, the legislators said.

Lyddy and Hovey said that out of all of the problems identified, the misclassification of students might be the hardest to identify. Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said she and Asistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda, who is responsible for overseeing the 504 program, were planning professional development programs to help teachers better identify and delivery the necessary services to children, including inviting a lawyer to talk to staff and educate them on the legal aspect of the 504 program.

"The roadblock is being able to find those kids who are hidden behind that and maybe need a different service," Robinson said. "That's an obstacle."

Mistrust of the system and a perception by parents that their complaints will result in negative ramifications to their children also must be dispelled, Hovey said.

“In Newtown that perception needs to be changed because that isn’t something we believe we are as a community,” she said.

Board of Education member John Vorous said in the past, Newtown was known for its special education program, but that it required significant funding.

“When they come to us for money for these children, my hand is going to be in the air to say ‘Put it in the budget because they need it,’” he said.

At the same time, Lyddy said much of the parental concerns had to do with communication and process breakdowns, which could be addressed with little to no additional money by staff doing a better job of empathizing and explaining things to parents.

“It’s an understanding of why this decision was made and that is all free stuff,” Lyddy said.

Director of Pupil and Personnel Services Mike Regan as well as Special Education Supervisor Eric Colon-Rodriguez later updated the education board on what the district was doing to address the concerns.

About 1,200 PPT meetings are held every year in the district, with about 20 of them this past year resulting in parents who “were not so happy” and two in which they were “very unhappy,” according to Regan.

An internal task force formed to look into the issue, headed by Sherry Earle at Newtown High School, was planning to administer a “mini-survey” to staff as well as survey parents upon leaving a PPT with the goal of looking at trends in the answers, Regan said.

Administrators also plan on holding an all-staff special education meeting this week with the 80 or so certified staff and 150 or so aides. Colon said he also will be presenting a case file to staff and asking them to look at the file with a critical eye.

Education board chairman Debbie Leidlein said the board intended to keep on top of the program and concerns raised.

“We are very serious about supporting all of the students who fit into this program,” she said.

Correction: The district holds 1,200 Planning and Placement Team meetings in a year. An earlier version of this article had an incorrect number.

Sam Mihailoff January 11, 2012 at 11:06 AM
An internal task force...good job Mr. Regan....GOOD JOB, TAKE A BOW
Susan McGuinness Getzinger January 11, 2012 at 04:21 PM
What would our school district do if Gov. Malloy was a student here? He is dyslexic: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Governor-s-childhood-filled-with-obstacles-to-2355816.php#photo-1878016
Susan McGuinness Getzinger January 11, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Another question schools must consider is air quality, which has been fought here in CT with our BoE attorneys allegedly fighting families trying to improve air quality in schools and protect students and staff in other 504 cases. Leaking roofs (as in Middlegate last year and perhaps elsewhere) pose serious problems if not kept in check. Parents just want to know kids are safe and no mold is growing, like what happened in Westport where allegedly a wall was covered up and mold grew undetected. I was sent information from our BoE attorney where this happened in Westport and Torrington. Reports on school air should be posted on line and the air quality checks should be done accurately, which has been a problem in the past. (see link below)...
Susan McGuinness Getzinger January 11, 2012 at 04:35 PM
...School districts WILL spend money, why not on prevention in learning and health problems? "A stitch in time" When problems do not get solved or grow and fester, that is when it gets really expensive for taxpayers in legal battles. Parents do not want the hassle of all that. They want their children protected and educated in a non hostile eniroment that suits the INDIVIDUAL'S educational and health needs. These DO NOT NEED TO BE EXPENSIVE and MANY ARE FREE ACCOMMODATIOS that students ARE LEGALLY ENTITLED TO. Lawyers only make money when there is a fight. Lawyers know where the jobs are in other districts. Administrators may be on the look out for more lucrative positions. It is the job of the BoE to oversee spending and students rights and education. They can have my help and I am sure many other parents will be happy to help. Do not always assume that school staff/administrators do not have a conflict of interest. Here is a report from CNN: http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=tfgoxzdab&v=001o5JO1J1ZcgtUAAbSeYY1gg4U_1IZ78PU0BQWYd6ga7lN4J-4Y5HlkgvX_D5hLn-WcpRZsDeE1Jott_1BcD7Hx8uHJu_4f-PBXkhK3X09A0B_ZzZzoXDQNfGf8IAbfsPA475DDbommlnZkP1fUnC7sg%3D%3D
Laura Roche January 11, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Hi Hoa - I believe Dr. Mike Regan said the number of PPT's done a year is 1,200 not 1,600. Thank you - Laura
Hoa Nguyen January 11, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Laura, thanks for catching that -- appreciate it. It's now corrected in the article. Thanks again, Hoa
Susan McGuinness Getzinger January 11, 2012 at 06:37 PM
So, approxiamately 25% of our student population needs PPTs? Or, do the same students need more than one meeting a year? Also, if our teachers are to get educational training from an attorney, wouldn't the new board members want to consider bringing in someone who represents families and children and not BoE's who fight against families and children? Also, bringing in someoe to train from OCR and ADA and Parent advocacy groups. I am sure the hourly rate for parent advocacy groups might very well be far below the attorneys hourly rates. Something to consider, please.
Matt January 11, 2012 at 07:27 PM
While I certainly don't know specific facts pertaining to the cases in which parents were/are unhappy with the way PPT meetings were conducted, the outcomes of these meetings, or even the way people were treated, I have been reading the many stories related ot this issue of the past year. The concern I have is I have never seen anything reported in these stories about Special Education Laws (federal and state) that are designed to protect both parties in this process, providing due process for students/parents who disagree with decisions of a PPT, while allowing school systems to make decisions that do not infringe on students rights but also don't bankrupt the district/municipality. There are very specific safeguards and processes that must be followed to insure the rights of students and their parents, but also to protect the taxpayers from footing unnecessary bills for special education programs. Just because a parent asks or demands that a child be identified with a learning disability or other disability that falls within the parameters of IDEA or demands certain programs, accommodations etc., does not automatically mean the district must give into the demands. They have a responsibility to the taxpayers to see if the child's needs can be met through the most effective and efficient means possible, as well as meeting all requirements of the law. The laws are written to offer protections for both sides in these cases.
Sam Mihailoff January 11, 2012 at 08:47 PM
The entire topic of Special Education (including the title “special”...what a stupid word) is an unknown quagmire especially to the Education Systems (not just Newtown) 1- yes progress has been made 2- if it can somehow be measured with some kind of test; everyone says whoopee 3- but if someone is very severely involved, not even the University, specifically Southern CT State University (where I got my magic teaching credentials in Special Ed) even acknowledge it to exist...FACT ...because it cannot be measured with some test. thank God for my musical training and abilities. That, Art Therapy, Pet Therapy, Tactile and Sensory Therapy work...no it is not play time
onceuponanewtown January 12, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Even when learning disability is written on the wall our district will act in complete denial of the facts...by the time the parent finds out through their own research and frustration they are angry and those precious early intervention years are gone. YES it takes years to get to that point in Newtown. It is almost as if this has been the plan from the start; to use the parents lack of knowledge for the district benefit (as well as insuring this lacking by never offering data or support freely prior or during issues - we do not even have a SEPTA in Newtown and they basically ignore the local parent support groups as well). Isn't early detection/intervention supposed to be part of every teacher/administrator training (including Principals and their assistants)? Moral support and understanding for these students is FREE and is a great step in changing the adversarial environment that exists in our district.
yoda January 12, 2012 at 11:24 AM
The whole process is nothing less than dysfunctional, I'm relieve that Mr. Lyddy is stepping up to the plate for these children, Good for him
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com January 12, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Mt. Lyddy and ms hovey are to be congratulated for their interest. Now we need them to lobby just as hard for local and state funds to pay for the services, that is an important part of the equation, no unfunded mandates.
yoda January 13, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Sam, Your right there’s nothing special about a child that struggles. Matt, as for demands in PPT it’s more like groveling for services in order for their child to be productive citizens in our society. I have a lot of admiration for parents who advocate for their children that struggle, to me you all heroes, don’t give up!!!!
Sam Mihailoff January 13, 2012 at 03:11 AM
a full accounting of this and ALSO the mysterious $750,000 (which I refer to as Ms. Robinson's Slush Fund)...$20,000 to Baldwin Media, and what did we the taxpayers, parents, students get??? Nobody is talking We continue to ask......Mums the word
Lincoln log January 13, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Sam, It is a little bit like a tootsie pop, "the world may never know". its a big secret and god only knows what else she has spent our money on. This is CRIMINAL!
Sam Mihailoff January 13, 2012 at 04:08 AM
well just as with a tootsie pop, when you get tired of sucking, you crunch to find out! ****THE TIME HAS COME**** LISTENING BoE?????????????????????

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