NEWTOWN Special education flap flares
NEWTOWN — School officials hope a self-study of special education programs will begin to address a recent outcry from families, but some parents worry it won’t be enough to fix what they have called a “callous” system.
The self-study, approved by the Board of Education this week, will use $10,500 of the special education budget to have two external consultants review practices and conduct interviews with parents and staff.
It will help determine which individual concerns brought up at recent meetings need to be “globally” addressed, Superintendent Lorrie Rodrigue said.
But parents who have started a petition about the “inadequacies” of the department said the study doesn’t do enough to address their children’s immediate needs.
“I appreciate what they’re doing, but to me, we already identified the issues,” Alissa Heizler-Mendoza said. “Doing a study that’s going to confirm that is going to push us back a couple of months. What are we doing for those children now?”
Heizler-Mendoza was one of five parents who first offered often tearful stories of their children’s experiences at an August Board of Education meeting. Since then, other parents have joined to speak out at meetings this month and more than 350 signed the online petition.
The petition contends that the special education department has lacked collaboration or been exclusionary to families, not followed student’s individualized education plans and has been unable to provide data to parents or keep student information confidential.
Rodrigue said Friday that the confidentiality issue was the result of human error and was resolved months ago. She said the district has also taken steps since the Aug. 14 meeting, including sending a letter to parents, looking into hiring additional staff for elementary-level students with dyslexia and holding meetings with special education administrators.
The self-study will help provide the full picture of where other changes may need to be made, she said, and will be completed by early December.
”You can’t get any more immediate than the steps we’ve taken,” Rodrigue said. “It’s not just two or three concerns we hear, there could be a multitude of things that would help us strengthen our practices. This is the way to start at the grassroots and let a lot of those concerns emerge naturally.”
But parents said there has been a lack of communication about some of these changes and that others have been discussed but not yet put in place. They also contend that it should not have required the outcry at meetings or, for some parents, hiring an attorney to make the improvements.
”It shouldn’t be children failing miserably and anxiety-ridden for it to get to this point,” said Liza Mecca, one of the parents who started the petition. “We’re a little hopeful now that they’re starting to get where we’re coming from, but it shouldn’t have taken this to get to that point.”
Parents told board members at the meetings that they have received as many as 12 other student’s confidential reports by mistake, are often ignored or receive only “condescending” answers from administrators and have had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket to supplement services denied to their child.
Rodrigue said, though, that since the Aug. 14 meeting the district has received emails from many parents who said they are happy with the special education services.
”That’s why (the self-study) was really, critically important so the patterns can start to emerge,” she said. “We don’t know unless we genuinely let those voices (be heard).”