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Norwak BoE legal costs in Fensore lawsuit exceed $160k

Legal bills in the case of former Norwalk Special Education Director Christina Fensore, left, versus Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons, right, have exceeded $160,000.

Updated, Oct. 17: Information added. Updated, 4:53 p.m.: Minor copy edit to remove typos.

NORWALK, Conn. – Legal bills in the lawsuit filed by a former Norwalk Special Education director against Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons are more than $160,000, with a trial yet to come.

Former SpEd Director Chrissy Fensore, in a complaint filed in May, 2016, in Bridgeport Superior Court, accuses Lyons of “unlawful and defamatory actions” in the “malicious and intentional publication and representation of false information to the public and press,” as well as “invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Lyons is being sued as a private citizen and is being defended at the BoE’s expense by Shipman & Goodwin, the firm hired by the Board.

 

The complaint

Fensore resigned from her NPS post in May 2015 to take a position as director of special services for the Region 14 School District (Woodbury-Bethlehem).

According to Fensore’s complaint, Lyons sent a letter to Region 14 BoE chairman George Bauer in August 2015:

“Hello Mr. Bauer: As Chair of the Norwalk Board of Education, I feel I owe it to you to share certain information regarding special education in Norwalk­ specifically, that Ms. Fensore left us with undisclosed liabilities in our SPED department of between $1 million and $2 million upon her departure … I suggest that you monitor SPED expenditure very carefully to make sure something like this doesn’t happen to you in District 14. Mike Lyons.”

The complaint goes on to quote Lyons from a December 2015 article on NancyOnNorwalk, written by Harold Cobin, “Later in the year (after Ms. Fensore departed) … we found out about more unreported cost overruns, and now we’ve gotten this (Capital Region Education Council) report that basically says that what we were told at the beginning of the year by SPED (special education) administrators was largely untrue.” The complaint also quotes a comment Lyons left on the NoN story.

Fensore’s complaint states, “Defendant Lyons maliciously and intentionally published false information that Plaintiff did not disclose liabilities in the Norwalk Board of Education’s Special Education Department…. As a result of Defendant Lyons’ defamatory conduct, Plaintiff has and continues to suffer damages, including but not limited to mental anguish, severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, damage to her professional reputation, loss of enjoyment of life, attorneys’ fees and court costs.”

A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Dec. 12, and jury selection is scheduled for Jan. 4.

 

 

The costs

On Sept. 6, Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams provided this accounting of “the charges to date from Shipman and Goodwin for their work on the Fensore case.”

 

Fees                      =             $156,044.00

Disbursements =             $        4,112.70

TOTAL                                  $160,156.70

 

Wilcox Williams said Monday those invoices are through Sept. 8, and did not provide an update. The rumor that an outside firm has been hired to help with Fensore’s requests for information is incorrect, she said.

 

Ditrio questions who should pay

“Why are we spending money on the lawsuit? He was private citizen. He wasn’t in a meeting, they didn’t have a quorum,” Norwalk Association of School Administrators Vice President for Negotiations Tony Ditrio said to NancyOnNorwalk recently. “…We are going to spend up to $300,000 to defend a guy who did a stupid thing, who said things that he had no right to say.”

In 2015-16, Board-funded lawyers represented Board member Shirley Mosby in three Freedom of Information complaints filed against her, one by NancyOnNorwalk. The complaints sought access to a binder of e-mails printed by Mosby which she said contained evidence of racism by other BOE members, but which she refused to reveal.

The emails requested in the FOI complaints were not subject to FOI because they were printed outside of a meeting, the Board of Education does not exist between meetings, and Mosby was a private citizen, her lawyer said. The hearing officer sided with Mosby, who was not compelled to release the e-mails.  At the time, many questioned why the Board of Education was paying Mosby’s legal bills related to acts that her attorney argued were taken as a private citizen .

Asked about Ditrio’s question, Wilcox Williams replied, “The argument that Mr. Lyons is a Board member only during Board meetings is not legally valid. Based on recommendations from CABE {Connecticut Association of Boards of Education} and Tom Mooney of Shipman & Goodwin, the Board removed this antiquated language from its policies in early 2016.”

Ditrio retired last year from his post as Kendall Elementary School principal. He is described by Lyons in an email obtained by Fensore’s lawyers as one of “the Four Horsemen,” a group of administrators who Lyons said were part of the “massive forces of the status quo.”

Ditrio said he is speaking up as a Norwalk taxpayer, and that he plans to begin speaking at Board meetings to highlight issues he thinks are being whitewashed by the Board.

Ditrio provided information which he said supports his case regarding Lyons’ legal bills, stating, “The basic premise is that a member of the Board is only protected when he/she is acting on the behalf of the entire Board.  This was certainly not the case when Mr. Lyons decided, on his own, to write negative remarks about Ms. Fensore or to call her new employer.”

Ditrio’s information on Board responsibilities

 

Legal justifications for paying Lyons’ fees

Asked about the reasons the Board of Education is paying Lyons’ legal fees, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr referred NancyOnNorwalk to Connecticut General Statute sections 10-235 and 7-101a, and Norwalk City Code Chapter 67A.

“Each municipality shall protect and save harmless any municipal officer, whether elected or appointed, of any board, committee, council, agency or commission … from financial loss and expense, including legal fees and costs, if any, arising out of any claim, demand, suit or judgment by reason of alleged negligence, or for alleged infringement of any person’s civil rights, on the part of such officer or such employee while acting in the discharge of his duties,” Connecticut General Statute section 7-101a states.

City Code Chapter 67A repeats parts of that statute, then adds, “Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the City of Norwalk shall defend any action brought against any municipal officer or municipal employee”

It goes on to say that exceptions will be made if the municipal officer operated outside “the performance of governmental functions” or “acted in bad faith and not in the exercise of honest judgment or has acted maliciously, wantonly or in abuse of his or her discretion.”

Connecticut General Statute section 10-235 uses similar language, stating, “Each board of education shall protect and save harmless any member of such board… from financial loss and expense, including legal fees and costs, if any, arising out of any claim, demand, suit or judgment by reason of alleged negligence or other act … resulting in any injury, which acts are not wanton, reckless or malicious,” provided the Board member “was acting in the discharge of his or her duties or within the scope of employment or under the direction of such board of education.”

The important part of that passage is, “acting in the discharge of his or her duties … or under the direction of such board of education,” Ditrio said.

 

A legal opinion

NancyOnNorwalk consulted an attorney for an opinion on the issues raised by this case.  The attorney agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity.

The lawsuit alleges “unlawful and defamatory actions” in the “malicious and intentional publication and representation of false information to the public and press;” the statutes exempt a city from paying legal fees for “malicious acts.”

“The reference to ‘malicious’ {by Fensore’s attorneys} may be used more in the dictionary context,” not in the context of a landmark legal case, New York Times v. Sullivan, the lawyer said.

New York Times v. Sullivan finds that “an employee who acts willfully and maliciously (intending to do harm) should not enjoy the financial benefit or legal immunity accorded to Board employees who cause harm from negligence (as opposed to intentionally harmful conduct),” the lawyer said.

NoN provided the lawyer with an email exchange presented by Fensore’s lawyers as evidence, including Lyons stating, “We will hunt her down.”

“The emails seem to buttress {Lyons’} statements to the new employer that he really believed she was the full or at least partial cause of the financial loss to Norwalk,” the lawyer said, explaining that they don’t seem to be reckless or malicious but “might be enough to get to procedural first base, depending on the judge.”

Lyons, in a late Sunday email, said the Connecticut General Statute 10-235 reference to malicious intent has been discussed, and “Tom Mooney said {the statute} applies and I am covered by its provisions.”

35 comments

sped parent October 16, 2017 at 8:19 am

All I can say is wow! If this lawsuit is costing taxpayers this much already, imagine what Norwalk sped’s legal bills must be over the years. Norwalk spent three years denying my child services, forcing me to hire a lawyer for a long time, and I hear countless stories that are eerily similar. Imagine if that money was spent on providing services, everyone would be better off (well, except the lawyers).

sped parent October 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Nancy – Is there any way to know how much in legal bills with sped parents the department has spent over the years? Anyone from the school board know and want to share? Thanks very much.

Sue Haynie October 17, 2017 at 7:03 am

These costs should be put in perceptive. Back in 2010 when I first got on the BOE, it cost NPS about $300,000 to fire one tenured teacher. NPS prevailed, but it took 4 years. http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/schools/union-chief-backs-fired-teacher/397081/

For years, the Norwalk Board of Ed had incompetent, partisan or union-beholding Board of Ed Chairmen/women who allowed special interests to come before children, parents and taxpayers. This incompetence paid for mediocrity and cost the futures of thousands of children, the city’s reputation and millions in wastefully used tax dollars. Given what Mike Lyon’s has accomplished as BOE chairman, these costs are minuscule.

Stumped Sped Parent October 17, 2017 at 9:18 am

If Mike’s words and acts are not considered maliscious then someone needs to change the legal definition:

Malice
1. Active Ill will; desire to do harm another or to do mischief; spite
2. Evil intent; state of mind shown by intention to do, or intentional doing of; something unlawful

Who decided his acts were not maliscious? Let the tax payers decide.

TONY DITRIO October 17, 2017 at 11:39 am

Ms. Haynie, this is not about other Board members from the past, firing teachers or union issues. This is about an elected official acting on his own to do something any lawyer would know was not a wise thing to do. Then he asks those same taxpayers that elected him to pay for his own personal mistake. It is so typical of you to try and deflect Mr. Lyons’ actions with your own issues from the past. This Board leadership is about meanness and getting even for perceived wrong doings and not about the students. If anyone were to read the released e-mails that have been released as part of the lawsuit, they would see how nasty and foul mouthed these Board members are when they talk amongst themselves. The three amigos are finally being seen for what they are.

Mike Barbis October 17, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Tony
Give us a break. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!! Wow. These board members have not made one penny out of the work we’ve done … we sure can’t say the same about you!

Bryan Meek October 17, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Protecting the taxpayers interests is not an act of malicious intent.

Towns and cities across this state share nearly $2 billion in revenues for education.

When school districts run aground we all pay for it. While not legally obligated, perhaps it is an ethical matter to let other school districts know where there are potential risks as it impacts all of us statewide?

What is interesting to me is that if you did this in the private sector, even unintentionally, you could be held criminally liable under Sarbanes Oxley if you presided over the underreporting of expenses. To date no one has been imprisoned for incompetence, but it is technically a possibility. This was done in response to the meltdowns of Enron and Worldcom, where they specifically hid expenses to make the bottom line look better. Lawmakers wanted some accountability mechanism in place in the case they could not prove willful fraud, which is very difficult to prove. I’m not suggesting the same measure be applied for the public sector nor am I suggesting fraud here, but just pointing out the differences in accountability.

Cindy October 17, 2017 at 1:35 pm

WOW! Tony Ditrio! {…}

When you retired, the black cloud over NPS left as well. Thanks for all your years of obstruction, the students of Norwalk really thrived under your watch (but at least the administrators were paid well!
{…}

We as taxpayers will look forward to your appearances at BOE meetings. Stick to retirement.
This comment was edited to remove insults.

Michael McGuire October 17, 2017 at 1:41 pm

Well so much for taking on a volunteer position for the City and enacting change for the better.

I’m just glad Mike is there to pursue fiscal responsibility which is in very short supply these days.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 17, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Whether Mike Lyons is paid by taxpayers or volunteers his time, the prohibition on sharing concerns about a former employee with the town about to hire her is worrisome. As we know, once these administrators are hired, they are mighty hard to get rid of. Some are like headlice, only unlike headlice, they’re allowed back in school rather than the reverse. Surely we’ve all heard of NYC’s “rubber rooms”, where failed educators live out their professional lives on the taxpayers’ dime while napping and doing crossword puzzles.

I applaud Mike Lyons for sticking his neck out on a poor performer so that Norwalk’s problem didn’t become someone else’s.

As far as the cost of litigation, and SPED litigation in particular, Connecticut has given rise to a cotttage industry of SPED litigation specialists. No longer content with what the schools offer every student, some parents will sue for all kinds of costly add-ons for their children. Some of these children definitely deserve additional services. But the clamoring for more services often exceeds the reasonableness of the requests. And the state doesn’t cover any of these added costs until the City has covered many times the per pupil cost of one student.

TONY DITRIO October 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Mr. Babis – Why must you always use the fact that Administrators are paid public employees to somehow negate anything they say that you don’t agree with. I was paid by the contract and never made a penny by speaking my mind. You can disagree with my position but you can’t dismiss them just because I serve as a union officer. Unlike you, I am simply expressing my opinion as any other taxpayer in Norwalk has a right to in a professional manner. The same can not be said for you and your Board trio. You say things in private emails and on public forums that can only be considered crude. I will continue to attack your actions but I will not stoop to your level in my comments and opinions.

Cindy – I must admit you have a great imagination. Your writing is clever but does little more than accuse me of things that you have no understanding about. Like many others it is easy to make these terrible accusations while disguising who you are. I am very proud of my service to Norwalk and would love to have the ability to defend myself from your unsupported accusations. I always put students first and put myself out there, not for gain, but to help make the Norwalk Public Schools better for ALL students. I notice that you do not defend Mr. Lyons but rather just attack those who disagree with his actions. Another deflection from the truth. Just call me names as your defense.

sped parent October 17, 2017 at 4:05 pm

@Ms. Smirniotopoulos,
What proof do you have? Please tell me that you have looked on the website from the CT department of education and read what parents in sped sue the district over? The files on the site reference cases historically for many, many years up to the present. In so, so many incidents, the parents’ requests are minimal compared to their right as a taxpayer. And these don’t take into consideration so many other intangible things that have occurred to these kids, their families, etc. As far as your assertion that CT has given rise to a cottage industry, I agree. I ask any Board member or NPS sped official to tell me that there haven’t been PD days used where sped lawyers advise administrators on how to have PPTs, etc. Your so-called cottage industry for parents has had to evolve as a response to the lawyering up by NPS and other school districts.

TONY DITRIO October 17, 2017 at 4:26 pm

Has anyone even asked if the so called new expenses not reported were legitimate placements that just did not get processed on time? No investigation of what happened was done. Mr. Lyons was the sole judge of Ms. Fensore’s guilt without ever bothering to ask her what happened. Does anyone know that it is almost a tradition for the Special Ed budget to run over what is budgeted for the year. What happened was nothing unusual or nefarious. It is difficult to predict Out of District costs and we did not budget for Special Ed correctly. This is a direct Board responsibility in conjunction with the Superintendent. He was egged on by his two compatriots and acting before thinking or getting legal advice. He also did this before letting the full Board know what was happening. There were plenty of mistakes made with Special Education over the last ten years or so. Most by those in Central Office leadership roles that are now being passed on to the Principals and lower level Special Ed administrators. If one reads the entire file of this case it would be clear that Mr. Lyons acting impulsively without ever involving the full Board in his actions. Mr. Lyons even admits in his deposition that he only worked with the “reform” Board members and did not communicate with those Democrats who did not agree with him. They can make all the “legal” arguments they want but it is really the Norwalk taxpayer paying for Mr. Lyon’s mistake in judgement. I appreciate all the work that Mr. Lyons does in his non paying job but he decided to run for this office and he promised to follow proper Board rules of membership. If anyone should have know better is was attorney Lyons.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 17, 2017 at 5:12 pm

@spee parent, the link below explains how lawyers hired by parents of SPED students have cost districts money. The work was done in Stamford. But Westport, where my children attended public school, had a similar history with SPED Litigation. The Westport Public schools had a goal of creating individual education plans for each student. I think IEPs are a great idea and could address the needs of many children on the continuum of special needs without bankrupting the district. In Westport I had first hand experience on both sides of this issue.

Sped Parent October 17, 2017 at 7:13 pm

Thank you for the reply. I don’t see a link so I can’t speak to the validity of the study from a statistical standpoint or whether the study was conducted by someone with no motivation. What I would be interested in knowing, however, is how the study accounts for the monetary impact on municipalities when the parent of a sped child had to quit working to pay for services guaranteed in an IEP that go undelivered such that tax receipts are less than otherwise, or what monetary value is assigned to account for a child who might have gone to college but didn’t receive appropriate services and ended up in prison, or the toll on a marriage because a family had to sell their house to sue the district over receiving appropriate services, or the impact on teacher morale when an administrator bullied their own teachers to omit evidence, etc, etc? Do you think the taxpayers of Newtown feel relieved that the school district saved money by not providing an appropriate diagnose and services to the shooter? It’s good to know that Westport tried to give students an IEP, which is required by law!

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 17, 2017 at 7:39 pm

Sped parent, sorry about that link. It was an article in the Stamford Advocate. https://www.google.com/amp/www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/amp/Angela-Carella-Learning-to-reign-in-cost-of-8309809.php

I agree there are costs associated with failing to offer services to students who need them. But I’ve also seen the other side—parents who sued Westport schools in order to get their son a private education, including transportation. So the town has to defend itself and wound up paying anyway. And I’m not convinced that this individual was “saved” because his mother sued for more services. In fact I’d say his life continues to be a mess and that the schools had zero to do with it. When my son was in kindergarten, he had a developmentally disabled classmate with a full time personal aid. That was an $18,000/year expense at that time because somewhere along the way a decision was made to mainstream. Mainstreaming some of these students is very costly. The important aside here is that I invited the entire class to my house for a birthday party. The mother of this child dropped her off and left. This same mom eventually led SPED in Westport. So it was okay for taxpayers to fund support for her child. But given a chance to drop her at a stranger’s house, she seized the day. I’ve had my own issues with a child who suffered from migraines. I could have hired a lawyer and sued to receive Home tutors. I chose an advocate and worked with the assistant principle, who was more committed to his welfare than some of this teachers.

About Adam Lanza, my son’s Latin teacher knew Adam. And she said publicly that the kid she knew was not the same man who lived in his mother’s basement.

In any case I think there should be some give and take. Schools shouldn’t be fighting parents whose children need special help. And parents should make reasonable requests. And yes, the goal of IEPs for each student is great. Not sure if WPS are there yet.

Stumped Sped Parent October 17, 2017 at 8:25 pm

If you read the depositions THERE WERE NO HIDDEN COST OVERRUNS.
Still stumped and paying my Advocate to create a sped program for my child with autism and tax dollars to defend the trigger happy board memeber. Do your homework people!!

Stumped Sped Parent October 17, 2017 at 8:25 pm

If you read the depositions THERE WERE NO HIDDEN COST OVERRUNS.
Still stumped and paying my Advocate to create a sped program for my child with autism and tax dollars to defend the trigger happy board memeber. Do your homework people!!

sped parent October 18, 2017 at 6:04 am

@Donna, Thanks for posting. I think the article speaks for itself. Districts unfortunately didn’t prepare for the tsunami of kids with special needs and their failure to have appropriate programs in district led to higher costs as parents realized they had rights under the law for their child to receive an appropriate education. I’m glad you hired an advocate and were able to work with the school. That is very often not the case, because either the district or school administrators don’t want to work with the parents and/or the advocates. Most parents don’t start with a lawyer, they just realize over time that hiring one might be the only way a child receives appropriate services.

Boutso Kefalo October 18, 2017 at 9:22 am

$160,000 and counting could have paid for a lot of services and school needs , Lyons should just resign and deal with this on his own. Donna you seem to mention Westport a lot , do you live in Westport ? If so, deal with your own skata and butt out of Norwalk’s issues. Stop being {…} insensitive {…}
This comment was edited to remove an insult.

sped parent October 18, 2017 at 9:23 am

@Donna, I appreciate your side, but I am not sure I would jump to such conclusion based on having a child unattended at a birthday party at your house and an extremely limited article on sped costs. The article doesn’t even offer any explanation as to why the children in Stamford were being placed out of district. From what I’ve seen in Norwalk with my daughter’s tenure in NPS, the district for far too many years (and possibly still today) spent way more than what they should have trying to find ways to deny services at the expense of not funding and creating appropriate programs within the district. I would argue that that model had a tremendous impact on parents’ needing to hire lawyers to ensure that their child was receiving an appropriate education, and in many cases, an appropriate diagnosis. The law is the law, and I have found very, very few parents who would want to go through the money, the harrassment, the time, etc. just to sue for a superfluous service for a child. You mentioned transportation, but the law states that the district needs to provide transportation for a child that is outplaced. To some extent, it sounds to me as if you are unhappy with IDEA and the laws put in place as a result, which would mandate a different outlet for your backlash against parents of special needs children. And while I don’t mean to dismiss what you as a parent and your child went through as a result of having migraines, I’m not sure there is a special education category that that would fit into to give your child the right for a home tutor. But perhaps more importantly, I am not sure if a diagnosis of migraines brings with it as many complexities that disorders such as emotional disturbances or autism for example, where there are often so many layers of need and so many different types of services such that the one-size fits all model that districts try to employ very often aren’t appropriate for every child with special needs.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 18, 2017 at 10:23 am

Sped parent, it wasn’t just the transporation piece for this one student. The district had to bear the cost of the private education as well. The parents sued to get what they wanted. Of course they believed the child deserved it. He was not a “special needs” child. When Special Education spending is one of the biggest growth areas in the BOE’s budget, it bears looking into. I respect your original question, which was how much does the district spend on legal fees fighting those who ask for more services. This is a complicated issue. Again I cannot speak for Norwalk, but when I covered town issues in Westport, rising costs associated with Special Education were a topic of lengthy discussions. One reason it’s easier to get a 504 than Special Ed designation is that 504s are usually cost neutral. However, 504s make work for teachers, so compliance can be a problem. Again I’ve seen this from both sides, and I do not believe it’s a black and white issue. Parents are understandably passionate about doing what they feel is best for their children. That does not mean that every request for services must be granted.

sped parent October 18, 2017 at 10:32 am

@Donna — This is my last posting on this whole topic and I appreciate where you’re coming from, as I am also a taxpayer/homeowner too. But, if this child was not a “special needs” child as you say, then I assume he didn’t even have an IEP, and therefore Westport was correct to fight that case. I’m not sure how you would know that, and or relay that, as it is confidential. But, in any case, things are not always as they appear, and unless you lived with this family and child, I don’t think you have the right to pass judgment and/or make claims about his needs. Good luck to you, and thanks for the nice back and forth on this very complicated issue.

Another Sped parent October 18, 2017 at 11:34 am

@Sped parent – You can’t reason with the unreasonable. It is not worth your energy engaging with Donna. She obviously doesn’t understand the laws and is not empathetic to children with special needs and severe disabilities and their pervasive impact on EVERY dimension of a family’s existence. Agree with you the money is not going to the children deserving a free appropriate education plan but instead heavily staffing high dollar central office employees and to the lawyers. AND YES PLEASE NANCY FOIA MONTHLY LEGAL SPED COSTS LAST THREE YEARS!!!!

sped parent October 18, 2017 at 12:21 pm

@SueHaynie, As a taxpayer/homeowner and parent in the district, I find nothing comforting about your claims that, at $160,000 and still counting, this cost should be mitigated/dismissed because it compares favorably to the ridiculous incompetency of past generations of Board members and sped officials. I can certainly imagine much better uses of district funds (and tax receipts) than covering legal bills for something that should not have occurred in the first place, no matter what the cost or perspective.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 18, 2017 at 12:53 pm

@Another sped parent, please back up your claim that I cannot possibly empathize with special needs children and their families with something factual aside from a desire to apply reasonableness to requests for services. I’m here openly. That does not mean I don’t have first hand experiences with these issues from the point of view of a parent. Also back up your claim that I obviously don’t understand the laws. It’s not the understanding of law that is at issue here. It’s the determination of the applicability of the law to any particular child. The schools test. Parents pay for private testing. Advocates or lawyers are hired. And the district arrives at an accommodation. Not all of these things suggest there is reasonableness from all sides every step of the way.

Bryan Meek October 18, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Page 26 of the Operating Budget shows nearly $11 million in SPED out of district tuitions. https://norwalkps.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=32359917
Millions more are spent on personnel that provide SPED services in house.

This number is down slightly from last year because we have a $3.6 million special fund to fix SPED and part of that includes insourcing the proper resources so that we don’t have to send children to another school.

Part of the special fund is also being used to put better controls and processes around the entire area so that current and future administrators can’t spend unauthorized money or spend money on services that are never delivered. There’s work to do, but things will improve.

The problems we face in SPED are not unique to Norwalk, rather very common across the country.

sped parent October 18, 2017 at 3:57 pm

@Donna…you seem to have the order, and therefore the causation of the issue, wrong. Experience indicates the order is more akin to: district stalls and stalls, district then evaluates, district holds a PPT where it tells parents what it predetermined ahead of time would be the outcome and the services/accommodations. Parent then pays to have a private evaluation as the evaluations provided by district staff are very often useless and predetermined by the chosen test. parent then hires advocate to try and work with school to receive appropriate diagnosis and services for their child, district denies. In some cases, the cycle starts all over again; in others the parent is already so frustrated that years are irreplacably lost for their child, such that they hire an attorney and are forced to sue after many, many months of exhaustion, humiliation, money, fear that their child will be penalized, etc. Finally, a program of mediocrity at best is agreed upon and parent has to start the whole process all over again as the IEP is not compliant and in some instances even when it is, the service providers are of little or no help.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm

In my experience sometimes the school asked for the PPT and sometimes I did. The greatest predictor for failure was recalcitrance of individual teachers who did not want to put in the extra work. My experience with SPED teachers at Staples also left much to be desired. I was alternately angry with one middle school principle for dropping the ball and failing to manage his start and angry at the parents who clamored on behalf of and pressured the BOE into hiring a weak principle in spite of negative input from the superintendent. As an observer at BOE meetings on behalf of two PTAs and one PTA executive board, I saw up close how costly special education was for the district. The superintendent noted two children in Wilton who cost that town $175k and $300k respectively in out of district private tuition. I fault the state for this dilemma faced by every BOE and school district in CT. Regardless of the need for services, funding them out of property tax revenue creates a tsunami of problems, including a lack of equanimity between the schools and those parents who feel ill-used. I believe it’s possible to see this from several angles.

Are you Kidding Me? October 18, 2017 at 8:40 pm

Kudos to Mike Lyons for preventing other districts from hiring {…}
This comment was edited to remove character assassination.

Sue Haynie October 19, 2017 at 9:17 am

@sped parent, I didn’t say $160,000 should be dismissed, I said it should be put in perspective. Mike Lyon’s 5-year chairmanship has brought stability and progress to NPS and that helps kids and taxpayers. NPS was on adult-beneficial autopilot for years and many of those in power didn’t want it to change. Lyons was a large force behind that change, it was really hard work, and he’s done it for free.

The abuses that were commonplace just 4 or 5 years ago hurt kids, parents and taxpayers. Like the old $1,000,000+/yr jobs program for literacy specialists who were hired not on expertise but seniority (my 2 dyslexic kids got hurt w/that one); like the $100,000/year taken from SPED budget to pay the prior union head’s salary; like the highly paid administrator whose job was to track suspension rates and yet allowed years of over-IDing of black SPED kids, resulting in fines and a Federal sanction; like the costs (in kid’s time and $$) of the highly paid administrator who had a hand in SPED failures dating back to the first CREC report in 2008; like the principals/administrators who were under performing being transferred to central office SPED positions to wait out retirement ….etc. etc. etc. in SPED, the list goes on.

In case you haven’t seen them, I’ll do links to the Cambridge Report of 2007 and CREC ’08 and CREC ’12 and the GE Report ’13 in a follow up post. These reports are important because they give perspective on what NPS was like 10 years ago, how bad things were for all kids/parents/taxpayers. The reports were all done by outside 3rd parties.

Sue Haynie October 19, 2017 at 9:23 am

sped parent October 19, 2017 at 3:22 pm

@SH – No need for a history lesson – it makes me want to throw up, as my kids and I lived through all that. Nice try.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.