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Fensore case reveals division and ‘cliques’ on Norwalk Board of Education

Then-Board of Education member Migdalia Rivas speaks at a 2015 BoE meeting in this file photo.

NORWALK, Conn. – Three Norwalk Board of Education members referred to as “The Trio” were commonly left out of email communications regarding board business, according to revelations in a lawsuit against outgoing Board Chair Mike Lyons.

Then-Board members Shirley Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray complained in 2014 and 2015, as the Board was discussing important topics in public, that they had been left out of the loop. Court documents from the case filed by former Special Education Director Christina Fensore against Lyons provide evidence in support of those claims.

Lyons on April 24 testified that it was common to leave The Trio out of email exchanges, according to a transcript included in the court documents.

Lyons deposition first mention no emails to Trio

Lyons deposition second mention no emails to Trio

Fensore’s lawyers established that Board member Sherelle Harris was also excluded.

“Sherelle was a floater. She wasn’t aligned with anybody,” Lyons testified, according to the transcript, with Fensore’s lawyer going on to establish that the Board members included in emails were white, and those left out were African American or Hispanic.

In one exchange with the lawyers, Lyons said he hadn’t included Harris in an email discussion because she wasn’t part of the majority group, made up of Mike Barbis, Heidi Keyes, Artie Kassimis, Bryan Meek and Lyons.

A July 2015 email sent by Lyons to convey a surprise announcement of $500,000 worth of unbudgeted Special Education consultant bills was not sent to The Trio nor Harris.

Fensore was slammed as part of that email conversation and Lyons spoke the U.S. Attorney in New Haven conducting an informal compliance review of SpEd, English Language Learners, “human trafficking (!) and the ‘school to prison pipeline’ nonsense.”

“A tough cookie like (Maureen) Ruby may be what’s needed in SPED going forward; she has no tolerance for stupidity or obstructionism,” Lyons wrote on July 6, 2015. “Rosa was a complete waste as Finance Chair. I appointed her as a peace gesture, never got so much as a thank­ you, and remained under non-stop attack anyway. Like the rest of the Quartet, Rosa talks but does no actual work. After November there will be a new Finance Chair; hopefully a good one.”

Asked about leaving four Board members out of email exchanges, Lyons in a Sept. 9 email said, “There are some matters I communicate with the whole Board on, some I communicate on with like-minded members of the Board only, some I communicate with individual Board members only, based on the subject matter.  This is no different than on any other elected body.  For some reason this absolutely common practice, which no one objects to when it happens in congress, or the state legislature, or the common council, becomes a problem here?”

Others see a problem.

Former Kendall Elementary School Principal Tony Ditrio, who has clashed with the Board on a range of issues and was referred to by Lyons in an e-mail as one of the “four horsemen” blocking reforms in Norwalk Public Schools, objects, connecting it to the complaint Rivas and Mosby filed alleging racism on the Board.

“I think it is quite evident that Mr. Lyons, Mr. Barbis and Mr. Meek conspired to keep other members uninformed about important Board business and shared rude e-mails that made unconfirmed allegations about present and former employees,” Ditrio said in an email. “Mr. Lyons routinely carries on Board business on his own and speaks in public forums without making it clear that his opinions are his and not representations of the Board. By his own admission in his deposition he acknowledges the isolation of certain Board members.  This is clear in spite of his public denials when he was confronted by Ms. Murray, Ms. Rivas and Ms. Mosby and the NAACP.”

Rivas and Mosby in 2014 filed a complaint with the NAACP, alleging disparate treatment, exclusion, lack of transparency, “not being informed” and discrimination.

Rivas never issued any public statements that NancyOnNorwalk is aware of; at a 2014 Democratic Town Committee meeting she decried what she said was a  lack of support from Democrats.

Mosby echoed those comments, saying, “Three elected officials, three female, women, have stood up and said something is wrong.”

She refused to provide the public with evidence of discrimination, leading to Freedom of Information Act complaints, including one by NancyOnNorwalk. Mosby prevailed in the hearing process that followed.

Then-Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland in 2014 said the racist treatment of the three was not related to any specific incident but was instead “cumulative,” mentioning charges Rivas, Mosby and Rosa Murray had made about being left out of email exchanges.

Lyons denied that repeatedly. Everyone gets the same information, he said at the time, asserting that he’d asked for evidence to the contrary and none had been provided.

Sead, in an August email, said, “Shirley Mosby, Rosa Murray, and Migdalia Rivas said that they were kept out of the loop on things. They talked about the cliques in the Board of Ed. Most people including members of the DTC wrote those claims off.”

On Saturday, Sead said he’s happy that the truth is coming out.

“Many people did not believe, Mrs. Murray, Ms. Mosby, nor Ms. Rivas, and I think that it’s a part of why they are not on the board any longer,” Sead said in an email. “When you know the Board Chair Mr. Lyons, withheld information from his fellow elected Board members; it brings into question the inclusiveness of all of the Boards decisions, when it comes to the community. The community deserves to be a part of the process.”

Board member Yvel Crevecoeur recently resigned, citing health reasons. District A Democrats are choosing a replacement for Crevecoeur on Monday evening.

Mosby failed in her bid for reelection, after the Democratic Town Committee declined to endorse her. Lyons is not running for reelection as chairman; the Board is electing new leadership Tuesday.

“When I look at the Board now, we definitely have work to do,” Sead wrote. “We are most likely going to have an all white board. Every board member has an obligation to make sure Latinos and African Americans are a part of the decision making process, if they want to take steps in the right direction. They also have an awesome responsibility to change the way the board operates. With the work ahead new board members deserve a fair chance to do ‘excellent’ work. We have a lot of work to do, and I hope that the four new board members will be seeds of change.”

Mosby on Oct. 8 declined to comment, given that the Fensore lawsuit is still open. She did not respond to a Saturday email.

Crevecoeur on Sept. 5 said he was unaware of the testimony in the Fensore case. Asked if he was excluded from “cliques” he said he didn’t know. On Sunday, he said he would have no comment on any Board of Education issues.

Harris, who did not run for re-election, in an Sept. 7 email, said:

“I’d wondered why you asked Yvel and I the questions you asked last night, but after looking over your site and the lawsuit filed against Mike Lyons, I realized why.  There have been things I have long known and if I’d been approached more for my mind in respect for my opinion, rather the cliquish BS on the one hand, and tabloid gossip, on the other, I would have freely shared my thoughts. I’ve been at a point in my life for the past four to five years where I don’t cast my pearls before swine any more even if it makes me appear a certain way, or makes me appear to know nothing.  I know truth.

Some people are just ruthless and not worth the time They want your help and opinions, but are too insecure and/or selfish to allow you the things that go with wisdom and knowledge.  The funny thing is that they usually don’t realize their dysfunction or they think they have that type of control until life catches up with them. I signed up to help children not feed egos or be a part of some insignificant, short-sighted power structure that can’t see past  themselves or their own gain while purporting to care about others. It amazes me that many insincere leaders think people are stupid enough to fall for rope-a-dope tactics.  The scary thing is that some people do!

“I have never been one to easily cry racism. That is way too easy when you are dealing with ignorance, but yes, I do see racism and can probably back up claims if I choose to go that route. Ignorance takes on a different type of challenge.

“I love challenges and understand well that some challenges require a special girding of a power that is more innate than ostensible if you want to win.  Because ignorance doesn’t like to lose even if it knows it is wrong, you just know that the challenge will require going to war or to trial.  My first mind has never been to hurt others, but there are times when things need to be exposed when others are adversely  affected by them and the opposition doesn’t care to listen to reason as long as they get what they want. Who wants to be around such people? Who wants their crap in their mental rolodex.  Right now, my focus is children and their families, particularly the underserved, a focus I have had along with goals I have have accomplished long before being elected to the Norwalk Board of Education. The funny thing is that I have accomplished more off the board, than on. My prayer is that those who have been marginalized in a polarized society don’t get so tired that they give up on themselves.

“See my quotes below describe my state of mind at present.

 

 

Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top. 

                                                     ~Edward Abbey~

American Author (1927-1989)

      A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.

                                                 ~Thomas Jefferson~

3rd U.S. President (1801-1809)

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.

                                                      ~Aristotle~

Greek Philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC)

 

 

Asked for comment Saturday, Harris called it “old news” and said she is “more interested in learning about the positives of the new board.”

46 comments

Rem November 20, 2017 at 8:41 am

Is this a privately or publicly funded lawsuit? Reading this just makes me wish for a national education system instead of this locally bickering-excuse me- deciding Board of Ed system. But that’s never going to happen as the strength of school districts are tied to housing prices and property taxes (or vice versa). Still, even if this is “old news” it should bother taxpayers that this elected body is not doing their job and promotes exclusivity which runs counter against teaching that in schools. Wouldn’t a parent be upset if their child were excluded from an activity, just because they weren’t friends with others, or otherwise of the “same mindset”? What kind of example is the Norwalk Board of Education setting?

Drewt November 20, 2017 at 8:50 am

The Trio are gone and off the BOE! And look how much we have done!! This is old and useless news and a waste of yet another lawsuit that will result in NOTHING!! Maybe a TV Show will pick up the story and make a joke about it. I’ll just tune it out as well and ignore it.

Debora Goldstein November 20, 2017 at 9:33 am

The very nature of being on a democratic governing body is that the minority had a right to be heard and to participate.

It makes me sick that these women were truthful about being left out of (technically illegal under FOI) deliberations, and then vilified for standing up for themselves.

Had these deliberations been properly conducted at a public meeting, then this could not have happened.

We can only hope that the Board does a better job of including the public and any minority voting bloc going forward.

SusanHos November 20, 2017 at 9:42 am

How is this old news? We are spending money on legal bills rather than our students and children. The BOE is not representing the student body and behave in a manner that is not consistent to what is taught in school.

To exclude someone based on their color or association is wrong, vile and unprofessional. This BOE prides itself on what it accomplishes while it steps on and districts pockets of its workforce, parents and students. This simply isn’t cool.

The BOE may have accomplished much but leadership requires listening and understanding all view points. Over the past few years this lawsuit ($$$$) and meeting minutes show very little listening is occurring.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 20, 2017 at 10:01 am

Were they conspiring to conceal or were they throwing shade? There is an obligation for the BOE to work together in a democratic manner. There is no obligation for them to like one another or even to respect each other’s work. Were people deliberately left out of information sharing and decision-making, or were they left out of emails in which they were the targets of criticism, or a little of both? It’s a little unclear to me from my viewing distance.

People will talk. They don’t have to put everything they think into an email. At least you can burn a letter.

cc-rider November 20, 2017 at 10:17 am

I seem to recall that some of these three did not use their BOE email ever. If I am remembering things right this was found out with FOI requests. If that was the case, what would it matter if you send them anything via email? I could very well be remembering things wrong….

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 20, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Does anyone know if Mosby, Murray and Rivas also traded private emails from which Lyons, Barbis and Meek were excluded? Their emails have not been subjected to a FOIA request. All business is conducted in public. I’m not seeing the evidence that a white male clique exploited their patriarchal power to marginalize women of color. What is evident is that Mike Lyons does not suffer fools gladly. Being guilty of this myself, I find it hard to locate the impulse in racism. Also we need to be clear about the meaning of “racism” which is discrimation against one race because one believes one’s own race to be superior. I’m not getting that sentiment out of this story. There were two groups that were not like minded and kept some of their emails from one another as a result. I’m sure this happens on other boards, both elected and appointed.

Rosco November 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm

These 3 were useless as board members so it doesn’t surprise me that they weren’t included on each and every correspondence that other members had. This is far from “racist” behavior.

Please, someone, anyone! Compile a list of the positive contributions they brought to the board. I bet you could count them on one hand.

I’d love to see the FOI request on their email addresses as well. It would be really interesting to see how much work each of these folks put in by ways of email.

Let’s move on!

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 20, 2017 at 4:38 pm

@Debora, I’m not sure that one group of politically like-minded persons conversing via email is a FOIA violation in this case. The reporting does not say this is an example of a FOIA violation. If I’m not mistaken, Harris, Mosby, Murray and Rivera had filed paperwork to caucus separately anyway. This strikes me more as click bait than news.

Laura November 20, 2017 at 6:47 pm

The fact that so many of you see nothing wrong with Lyons NASTY emails, speaks to your own ignorance. Lyons is {…} shown throughout the many pages of these public emails. You are all part of the problem as well. You say these women did nothing. Maybe they could have done more if they weren’t disrespected and excluded. How did you accomplish must when last year so many SPED children’s were not serviced at ALL?
Comment edited to remove an insult.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 20, 2017 at 11:01 pm

The Eldridge Cleaver quote is “there is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” Posters on this thread are pondering the “evidence” presented in this article of “cliques” on the BOE and the implications of that evidence. It is not evident from either this article or from history that any of these women were excluded from anything substantive on the BOE. The disrespect appears to flow in many directions. As for the legal costs, Mr. Lyons did not file suit against Ms. Fensore. Mr. Lyons did not file suit against Ms. Mosby. If there is a correlation between litigation costs and SPED spending, it’s more blood splatter evidence than linear cause and effect.

sped parent November 21, 2017 at 6:25 am

@Donna, Could you please reveal your “blood spatter” evidence? I think facts are what is always needed. Thank you.

SusanHos November 21, 2017 at 9:01 am

It amazes me that this conversation continues and the BOE remains silent. They run to post their achievements and downplay and bumps.
They use data to prove one thing and ignore the data if it suggests anything contrary to their preconceived ideas.

This BOE faces lawsuits and dont forget the lawsuit being heard in New Haven involvement the violation of someone’s civil rights. This BOE is backing that individual with out question.
Its a pattern.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

@sped parent, I thought the allusion was obvious. The BOE is not initiating lawsuits. The money is spent in defending the district against lawsuits, in this case Ms. Fensore’s. A previous poster implied that lawsuits take money away from special education services, suggesting a linear relationship. The relationship between legal spending and SPED spending is not linear and not unidirectional. In fact, I doubt there is much of a relationship aside from one of perception.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 9:47 am

@Susan, the BOE is silent here because of the lawsuit. After all, communication was the tool that got them into court in the first place. Whether or not Ms. Fensore ought to have been protected, Mr. Lyons, based on previously published emails, felt obligated to forewarn a would-be employer about Ms. Fensore’s track record in Norwalk. It’s hard for me to understand a scenario in which this is bad, unless of course a union is involved and defending mediocrity is part of their job description.

sped parent November 21, 2017 at 10:12 am

@Donna, why do you doubt there is much of a relationship beyond perception? No reason to doubt/wonder/think, get facts. What I doubt is that you have any real facts.

Skyler R November 21, 2017 at 10:43 am

@ sped parent and susanhos. I am not sure what he right answer is … obviously SPED has been broken but the current Board has made attempts to improve the situation with new hires, restructuring, letting people who were not doing a good job go … Change is underway. It strikes me that SPED is like an oil tanker … it is not going to turn on a dime. Do you really think attacking the Board, which is trying to implement the changes recommended in the CREC report, is going to be a successful strategy?

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 11:10 am

@sped parent, what evidence do you have that monies spent defending the BOE against lawsuits would otherwise be spent on special education services? Please illuminate me on the direct causal relationship between the Mosby and Fensore lawsuits and sped spending.

Sherelle Harris November 21, 2017 at 11:57 am

I was done with tabloid nonsense, but a confidant—called so for being a thinker and not a robot—phoned me to ask me to look at two comments.

Mrs. Smirniotopoulos, I’m not sure where you received your caucusing information, but from the beginning I tried to get people to work together, but I can’t force people to do anything. I won’t go any further, but invite you to find out in your own way. I will suffice it to say that I pulled up an Op-Ed that was published many years ago during which I explored the make-up of Condoleezza Rice. I wasn’t looking for gossip or gotcha type things. I’m a little more secure than that. I was really seeking to understand her stance. I learned that she prefers policy to politics. I learned that Hillary Clinton was a Republican before becoming a Democrat and I learned that Condoleezza Rice was a Democrat before becoming a Republican. The reason I pulled it up is because I am not a blind follower. I occasionally assess what is in my best interest. I appreciate what the national Democratic party stands for, but I am trying to assess whether or not national and local are one and the same. Norwalk touts bipartisanship, which is a good thing, so I also wonder if we should do away with a two-party system. Has the time come in Norwalk? I’m just trying to make sense of it all.

Rem, I agree with you. You would have had to see my entire response to Nancy on 11.18.17 to understand my statement “Old news.” We no longer have Dr. Conner. We no longer have Dr. Crevecoeur. We no longer have any minority representation on the board. Let me be clear, however; I don’t think being a minority qualifies anyone to be a board member just as I don’t think being white qualifies one, though it would be nice to see the board reflect the Norwalk Public School system. You can interpret “old news” as “why now” and “what is the point”? Did I miss something? Did something transpire between the time the information was brought to Dr. Crevecoeur and I, the same day we responded, and the time the information was published? Did someone piss someone off? Is there an end result to any of this? Will we receive an update on the Lyons-Fensore case? Is withholding information preventing others from making informed decisions without having to hunt for the information considered an ethics violation? If so, will an ethics complaint be filed? I don’t like my time wasted—period—but with the seriousness of serving children I take offense to being asked questions without the intent of correcting things. The children deserve better. My moving on is simple. If nothing is to be done, I may as well concentrate and hope for positive things from the make-up of the new board. Our city consistently touts diversity as compared to the homologous surrounding cities. Maybe the homologous new board will work well together and be given equal treatment and all information. As long as all children are served in an equitable manner, what is it to me?

sped parent November 21, 2017 at 12:26 pm

@Donna – you made the claim and all I asked for were to see your facts. Your deflection makes me assume you don’t have any.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 1:22 pm

@sped parent, I did not make the claim. I was refuting the claim that there is a direct causal link between Board of Education litigation spending and special-education spending. The burden of proof is on you and others who make these claims and not on me for refuting them. Maybe the BOE should dedicate funding to educate parents on remedial logic. Until you and others can document that BOE spending to defend themselves in court directly takes away from SPED spending,, any claims to this affect are merely speculative, hence my comment that the relationships resemble blood splatter evidence more than any linear progression.

SusanHos November 21, 2017 at 1:54 pm

@Donna S.
The BOE budget is one giant pot, so money spent on legal bills because of the action of elected adults does take away from the students. If the BOE old or new really wants to get thing turned around and moving how aboout listening.
When was the last time they listed to their work force who are tasked with implementing their plan? My guess never. I don’t believe the unions in Norwalk have all the answer but I bet they have some.
Was no teacher ever asked to help fix or correct special ed? We run to the outside consultants who have no loyalty to Norwalk except for a pay check.
It appears ego run many at the BOE. I have watched and attained several BOE meetings and I hear the same ideas put forth by the union and they are dismissed as quickly as they are stated. Why is this? Are they that wrong? They seem sensible to me. My does the behavior of few effect and infect so many? Show some respect.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 2:57 pm

They have D&O insurance. That is part of the pot regardless of who’s suing whom. Mike Lyons is a named defendant in the Fensore case. I wonder how many posters have looked at the file. The 2nd deposition liked above goes back to April of this year. There have been months of activity on this case subsequent to these depositions, including Mr. Lyons’ motion for summary judgment in July and Ms. Fensore’a motion for continuance which was denied. But here we just have the depositions from April.

The suggestion that legal fees attached to this kind of litigation take away from SPED spending is spurious and easily refuted. In spite of the legal bills, SPED spending has increased dramatically under Lyons’ tenure. Individual parents may not be getting the services they want for their children since Fensore’s departure. Perhaps this adjustment towards sped spending based on verifiable disabilities instead of parent demands has some crying foul. And we’ve entered a cultural period in which crying routinely wins out over rational argument.

If you can’t prove that the legal fees come out of sped spending, your argument is worthless and therefore cannot be refuted. There has to be some basis for the claim that this happens in order for evidence to the contrary to be presented. Right now the claims are speculative. And you don’t need access to the finest legal minds to appreciate this.

sped parent November 21, 2017 at 4:14 pm

@Donna,

Can you please show me proof that there is a change in sped spending since Ms. Fensore left to one away from spending on non-verifiable disabilities? In other words, what proof do you have that Ms. Fensore gave an IEP to students without a verifiable disability? If you need help in looking for it, here is the link that posts all of the legal proceedings regarding special education in CT, and you can look in there.

I can’t find any with respect to Norwalk. What I do find, however, is plenty of proof that laws were broken in denying children with verified disabilities special education services.

Here is the link: http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/PDF/DEPS/Special/Hearing_Decisions/2017/17_0244.pdf

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 8:11 pm

@sped parent, there was a special increase of 2.5 million dollars (1.4% of the budget) for ELL and SpEd for 2017-18.

I never said I had proof that Ms. Fensore gave IEPs to students who did not have verifiable disabilities. But you raise an interesting point. And since you clearly feel yourself to be personally aggrieved, maybe you know of an instance in which Fensore did this. Maybe it was a borderline disability. Or maybe the parents just wore her down. While parents should not have to ask for a due process hearing to insure their disabled child receives an appropriate education, neither should the district be forced into hearings demanded by parents whose children are already receiving an appropriate education that is also budget neutral because the child is not truly underserved. But I guess if you keep telling people that legal fees come directly out of the mouths of our children, some people will eventually believe it.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 22, 2017 at 10:30 am

@sped parent, everyone with an iota of familiarity with special education knows that there is a spectrum of disabilities and disorders. These aren’t pregnancy tests. One can easily scroll back to a time when ADHD was not a recognized disability, when there were no ADA protections and when no one had heard of executive function. Autism also was seldom mentioned, and the concept of mainstreaming children with disabilities was alien. There is an entire spectrum of disabilities. IDEA mandates a free and appropriate education. For many on the lower end of any spectrum, regular education is appropriate. Some severely autistic children can be well served in regular classes and can even thrive and excel. But you probably knew this.

sped parent November 22, 2017 at 10:39 am

Just because you fall somewhere along a spectrum of a disability, you still have a disability. But I appreciate your clarifying your position. How can a severely autistic person be well served in regular classes and thrive and excel?

Joanna Cooper November 22, 2017 at 12:17 pm

@ DONNA SMIRNIOTOPOULOS
You don’t seem to realize how cursory your knowledge of Special Education is— in general and particularly specific to Norwalk. Nor how insidiously insensitive you are towards Sped parents and students. I find you very hostile and completely lacking any real sense of empathy on this subject. I have come to this conclusion after reading your numerous posts regarding SPED and not just on this article. It’s very clear to me you have no clue what the spirit of IDEA is about, the history behind its enactment and how the system really works. I would bet you haven’t read a single CREC report and you don’t have a child in this system yet you profess in a very aggressive fashion that you know what your talking about. What real expertise do you have in SPED?

The number of demanding SPED parents forcing districts into hearings when their children were receiving an appropriate education is just short of nil in the big picture. If you look at the state data and the percentage of hearings there are— the numbers are in the single digit percentile. The number that settle in mediation is more than ninety percent and only one percent or less on average each year go all the way to due process in this state. So your idea there are a lot of demanding SPED parents creating unnecessary hearings is null and void. Do the research. It’s just not true.

Your are also way off base with the following statement, “But I guess if you keep telling people that legal fees come directly out of the mouths of our children, some people will eventually believe it.” In fact district Sped Departments include legal fees in their SPED budgets. It’s hard to predict what the legal costs will be due to the nature of SPED and often times they go over what is budgeted for. There is only so much money in the pot so when legal fees go overboard they absolutely can change the amount of money spent on providing services and programs. This case is different and the legal fees for Mr. Lyons do not come out of the SPED budget.

Donna you have something to say on virtually every topic and article on NON. I find many of your comments intelligent and humorous but you’re over your head when it comes to swimming in the SPED waters. The factual and well documented history of the systemic dysfunction and difficulties sped parents have suffered in Norwalk in the past is very clear. The district has acknowledged and done a lot of work to correct this dysfunction and your attitude doesn’t help further the dialogue in a positive manner. If you value your credibility you need to lay off this subject or at least soften your bullying tone.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 22, 2017 at 1:48 pm

@sped parent, I knew a severely autistic student who excelled in all his academic classes and was accepted to an Ivy League school. There is a spectrum of disabilities. In spite of ADA and IDEA, there is no such thing as a completely level playing field. And there never will be. The law says “free and appropriate”. Norwalk has been endeavoring to address both delivery of service and their costs through appropriate teacher training in order to identify dyslexia and other disabilities early so the focus on literacy training can begin early when it will be most effective. The cost to the district of any one student depends upon his or her disability, the severity of the disability and the availability of qualified teachers within the district who can address that student’s unique needs. The cost is also somewhat dependent on parent demands. Sometimes the district falls down in its duty to students. Sometimes parents believe their child is entitled to more than the law requires. It does happen, and you don’t have to be callous, aggressive, poorly informed and opinionated to know this.

@Joanna Cooper, you’ve entered the conversation a little late. The OPs were about the costs of this case—the Fensore case—impacting delivery of services to SPED students. @sped parent and @SusanHos implied that the legal costs associated with cases like this one—the one the article is about—direcctly take money away from Special Education. There is a general theme that when the district fights a parent on services, and especially once attorneys are involved, there is invariably a problem with the district spending on legal fees money that would be better spent delivering services. I offered an alternative—that while this may sometimes be true, the opposite may also be true—that the district is forced to commit resources to “defend” itself when unreasonable demands are made. And I am quite certain this happens anecdotally, though I do not have statistics to back it up. I have not read the CREC report cover to cover. And I’m in good company. At the BOE debates a few weeks ago, very few of the candidates even knew what it was.

@Joanna Cooper, I’m sorry you find my tone too aggressive as opposed to just plain old aggressive, a criticism I can live with. As for bullying, that is a charge that could just as easily be leveled at those who don’t like what I have to say or how I express myself. My experience with @sped parent, for example, demonstrates that there is no amount of apologizing, tip-toeing and walking on eggshells to satisfy the sensitivity levels and feelings of aggrievement of this person. And I have tried. @SusanHos, on another thread, kindly asked me to stay off the boards because I’m a resident of Westport. I am a FORMER resident of Westport. But I live and pay taxes in Norwalk and have been a taxpayer since 2012.

Finally, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the need to be sensitive to everyone and everything and to have endless stores of empathy does not serve any of us well, especially when those who believe they are deserving of special empathy have so llittle capacity for the reverse (should we want it), and who, worse, appeal to sensitivity and empathy when logic and reason fail. If we’re talking about the law as it applies to Norwalk under IDEA, then why does anyone need to be demonstrably empathetic in order to voice a legitimate opinion? My lack of an in-district SPED child does not delegitimize my opinion on its face, as some seem to believe.

Debora Goldstein November 22, 2017 at 3:46 pm

@Donna,

You may not be sure that one group of politically like-minded persons conversing via email is a FOI violation in this case, but if you take the time to read the FOI law from CONNECTICUT, you will find that the very act of conducting this business by email in this way is an illegal, unnoticed meeting. Caucuses (which may be, but aren’t necessarily, a group of politically like-minded persons) are not supposed to be freely used to bypass deliberation by the entire body in a public meeting.

http://www.ct.gov/foi

The fact that the BOE members are modeling their behavior after Congress and other governing bodies that are not based in Connecticut shows that they may not have been fully versed in FOI as it applies in CT either.

Unfortunately, relying on the news media to call balls and strikes on FOI (not FOIA, which is the federal law, but FOI, which is what applies to CT) may not be the way to get a complete understanding of it, since Nancy herself is unclear on what FOI says.

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2016/02/mosby-wins-hartford-foi-battle-over-norwalk-boe-racism-evidence/

Being in a caucus does not permit the BOE to be split into two smaller boards which conduct all of the business of the board out of view of the public, and effectively excludes any minority (as in the smaller vote) from deliberations.

@cc-rider,
Only ONE board member was shown to have not been using email. Migdalia Rivas is visually impaired. There is no record of the City having made any effort to accommodate her legal blindness. This is one of the many reasons meeting business should not be conducted by email.

The facts remain. These women were ostracized for suggesting they were being excluded from Board business. Now it appears that the other members of the board WERE, in fact, excluding them. Whether it was a gender bias, a racial bias, or even if the others just plain disliked their demeanor, their rights as elected officials were violated.

sped parent November 22, 2017 at 3:55 pm

@Donna, none of my back and forth with you has anything to do with sensitivity levels. You make claims that are dislodged from reality and facts. If you look at my postings above, none suggest that I linked the legal bills in the Fensore case to sped spending. And it’s never been about anything personal, I just feel that your postings are extremely insensitive to the sped community and damaging as well as you make claims that are not factual. And your sample of one “severely autistic” person is not robust statistically. But, if you think that a sample of one is sufficient, you now have a sample of two (me and Ms. Cooper) that view your comments as insensitive and demeaning.

Nancy Chapman November 22, 2017 at 8:50 pm

Deb, just a clarification on that FOI case. Ms. Mosby had lawyers to argue her case. The entities that filed the complaints did not. IMHO, having a lawyer to argue the case was an advantage. I sought advice from FOI spokesman Tom Hennick before filing that complaint and he thought the emails were subject to FOI. There were lawyers who were outraged by that decision. It’s not as cut and dry as you imply.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 22, 2017 at 10:48 pm

@Debora, would any subset of the BOE trading emails also be an FOI violation? Perhaps the group whose emails were disclosed subsequent to a FOI request isn’t the only BOE subset engaged in such email activity. Maybe the “trio” has their own email group.

Email subsets of Norwalk Commissions is not new. The ZBA has a problem with Firetree. Indiscreet circulation of emails has bedeviled the city at almost every level. We may need a refresher course on how to use email appropriately when serving on a city board or commission.

Mike Lyons November 23, 2017 at 7:39 am

Deb, when Ms. Rivas brought her impairment to my attention, I arranged for NPS to purchase her a laptop with special software that would read aloud all documents sent to her as part of Board packets, which she used for years. Ms. Rivas clearly got this information, since she would comment extensively on it at Board meetings. Your lack of knowledge is not the same thing as us not taking action.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 23, 2017 at 9:43 am

@sped parent, you claim that none of our back and forth has anything to do with sensitivity levels, and by the third sentence, you have concluded that I’m insensitive once again. Demeaning is another favorite word.

If I conflated your postings with those of another poster who suggested the Fensore bills were taking money away from SPED, I apologize. I was responding to claims made by @SusanHos, and you chimed in to challenge. So while you did not make the assertion, you did ask for my proof that there was no correlation between lawsuit defense spending and SPED spending. And I replied that in the absence of an evidence-based argument that something has happened, it is not possible to present evidence that the opposite is true.

I did not assert that one successful autistic student was a statistically significant sample. You asked, “How can a severely autistic person be well served in a regular class and excel and thrive,” and I gave you an example. I actually know of another. Autism is a spectrum disorder. Not every student on the spectrum requires an aid in the classroom or pullout services, though many if not most do.

What I perceive is that there is an orthodoxy of thought regarding SPED, and that anyone whose opinions falls outside the orthodoxy is shot down for being “insensitive” and “demeaning”. Accusations of insensitivity now pass for actual truths. And I’m not just insensitve to you, I’m insensitive to the entire SPED community. I’m insensitve to children. That puts me just one notch above the people who kick dogs. I understand how this works. If you don’t like someone’s point of view, attack the person. At no time did I say every child is undeserving of services. I have asserted that there are parents who lobby heavily for services that the district may not feel it is legally obligated to provide. I saw it in Westport. I’m quite certain it happens here also. Like learning disabilities, disputes between parents and the district with regard to services owed fall along a spectrum. There are cases where the schools failed the student. And there are instances where parents feel entitled to more than the district is willing to provide. It seems that my pointing this out has caused me to be singled out for rebuke. In my PPT experiences in Westport, there were good and bad administrators and good and bad teachers. There was no predictable pattern. But the most pervasive obstacle in my own limited experience was with regular classroom teachers who did not want to be burdened with something so onerous as a Friday Sheet. The special ed teachers I came into contact with were among the most callous and least sensitive ears in the room. It’s a system with a lot of players. The parent is always going to carry the greatest emotional burden. And it is easy to feel that it’s you and your child against a system that continually stacks the deck against you. I get that it’s emotionally fraught. But is it not also possible that the demands for services are occasionally unreasonable? Is it not reasonable to ask why IDEA was not funded at the federal level, and why the state of CT punted back to the districts? And are those who ask where the limit is to the idea of a level playing field necessarily callous and cruel?

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 23, 2017 at 11:15 am

The CT Freedom of Information Commission Section 1-200 does not appear to impose FOI requirements on anything short of a quorum. Three members of a board may trade emails and not be in violation. Also there is nothing here to convince me that anyone was discriminated against based on their gender, race or ethnicity. Political party perhaps, but I don’t think we protect political parties against bias from other political parties.

Debora Goldstein November 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Mike Lyons,

I stand corrected. I am not sure why this wasn’t reported when Ms Rivas was being vilified for not reading her emails. Nor was it brought up at the DTC meeting when these elected Board members brought the issue of being left out of communications.

That having been said, since you took the time to respond to that in comments (first time, even though i have posted that objection several other times in the past), perhaps you could speak to the choice made to exclude these women from board communications?

Debora Goldstein November 23, 2017 at 2:26 pm

@Donna,

Quorums have nothing to do with the threshhold for an illegal meeting. It has to do with the conduct of the body’s business. It is very easy to cross the line from sharing information to deliberation and decision-making, which is why it is good practice to limit communications by email to agenda-setting.

Debora Goldstein November 23, 2017 at 2:35 pm

@Nancy,

It was one of the very rare times Tom was wrong. FOI is not to be used to get a look at records being used to adjudicate rights. A good lawyer would have told you that the complaint as pressed would not succeed.

You were given very good guidance at the time as to how to request the records in a legal manner. Anyone could, but evryone chose to target the “binders”.

The lawyers you cite were angry because of the logic used…which cited the “does not exist between meetings” language. The flawed request led to a bizarre result.

Happy thanksgiving my friend.

Sped Parent November 23, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Donna, I said your COMMENTS are insensitive and I stand by that, but I never said you were insensitive. And I have no problem with your opinions when they differ from mine. What I take issue with is when you throw things around as if they are facts and even when presented with evidence indicating what you are claiming is factually incorrect you continue to claim they are true.

As for your sample of one I asked you HOW a severely Autistic child could excel in reg Ed and you never answered that question. Once again you just repeat a claim as factual. Define severely autistic and define excel.

Mike Lyons November 23, 2017 at 11:58 pm

Deb, regarding your statements “I am not sure why this wasn’t reported when Ms Rivas was being vilified for not reading her emails. Nor was it brought up at the DTC meeting when these elected Board members brought the issue of being left out of communications.” Most likely it wasn’t brought up because it didn’t fit the “narrative” of the ‘evil Mike Lyons’ they were promoting; the sensitive Mike Lyons who quietly solved this problem would be inconsistent with the ogre caricature of him they were promoting. I didn’t ‘villify’ Ms. Rivas for not reading her emails; I did disagree with her continuous efforts to derail the reforms of our school system that are now bearing fruit. I have addressed the ‘exclusion’ bit on innumerable other occasions and am disinclined to endlessly repeat myself addressing old news.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 24, 2017 at 12:15 am

@Debora, the CGS defines it exactly this way in section 1-200. I didn’t make it up. I read it. It’s not a meeting if it’s not at least a quorum. Clearly there were two groups who did not see eye to eye on everything and who interacted via email apart from one another. Three BOE members in an email chain does not a meeting make. So no FOI violation. I’m no lawyer. But I think 1–200 is very clear.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 24, 2017 at 12:43 am

@sped parent, please read my comments before you reinvent what I said and what prompted it.

Define insensitive comments as distinct from an insensitive person. The implication of the first is that the commenter is the latter.

Unless this is a court of law and I’m under cross examination by you, and I’m called as an expert witness in severe autism and we’ve cleared with the child, who is now an adult (both are adults) to reveal their personal details, there’s no reason to imagine my answer should have any bearing on the fact that this did happen in westport public schools. And those are just the two students I know of. Would you rather I violate their privacy so you can dig around to your compete satisfaction? Admission to Yale is evidence of a student who has excelled. Admission to RPI is further evidence. I’ve been very clear that these were rare cases. I’ve also been clear that some legal costs born by the district are attributable to parents who fight the district to get services their children do not need. This door swings both ways. And it has nothing to do with the Fensore case.

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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.

About Nancy

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.