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SpEd Parents query Norwalk BoE candidates

The election is Nov. 7.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Special Education parents have queried Board of Education candidates on their views.

SpEd Partners has sent questionnaires to everyone running to be on the Board of Education. The answers received are below.

“I am very appreciative of the candidates who took the time to respond to a sampling of questions reflective of some of the daily issues and concerns our SPED children face,” SpEd Partners Co-Chairman Eric Neiderer said in an email. “I am encouraged SPED issues will be actually discussed and addressed by the new Board after elections, and transparency, accountability, communication and collaboration (TACC) between parents, the Board and the District will be realized for the betterment of all kids and Norwalk as a whole.  Norwalk can provide an appropriate and quality education for all students through effective and efficient systems, programming and resources, and compliance with the developed individualized educational plans, putting Norwalk back on the map.  The attractive new vitality and equity which TACC can bring will make Norwalk the envy of the most prosperous city.  The new Board can make this dream a reality and we look forward to that reality as parents, taxpayers and voters.”

Answering questions were Republican candidates Marc D’Amelio and Tom Donaher, and Democrats Bruce Kimmel, Heidi Keyes, Barbara Meyer Mitchell, Sarah LeMieux and Shirley Mosby (a petitioning candidate). Not replying were Republicans Steve Tessier and Tom Cullen.

Their answers will be listed in alphabetical order.

 

Question 1: It is known that not all students develop at the same pace. Thus, at the conclusion of 12th Grade not all students are ready to “graduate”. Under the IDEA (the federal law that protects the rights of children with special needs) the District is required to support the child through age 21. What programs and policies would you support in order to ensure that all students are able to become self- sufficient and productive members of our community?

 

D’Amelio: I want to institute a “life skills” program for all students, and I feel that this may be indeed more critical for Special Education Children. We need to equip our children with the essential skills to succeed and prosper once leaving Norwalk Public Schools. Depending on the child’s level the curriculum should provide from most fundamental skills to more advanced things like applying for credit or household budgeting skills. We need to help our children become college ready and work ready but most importantly life ready.

Donaher: “Currently, I would support any program in place to support the students. However, I would also like to see how programs could be enhanced so that they graduate ready and as self-sufficient as possible.”

Keyes: All students have a right to a quality education through our schools.  Our goal is to ensure that students will be self-sufficient and ready to be successful and that we protect the rights of any and all students with special needs. At Norwalk’s high schools we do have a program for our 18 – 21 year olds, and we expect our rebuilding of our special education services to include appropriate upgrades to this program.

Kimmel: First, I would request data from the district. For instance, how many special needs students in 12th grade are deemed unready to graduate by a variety of statistical measures; how many of these students are already in programs; how much is the district paying outside agencies to educate these students. The key is to first acquire some understanding of the magnitude of the problem.

Second, I would request an overview of the programs in and beyond Norwalk designed to address the concerns of special needs students in (and past) 12th grade who still lack the skills necessary to succeed in college or enter the job market.

Third, I would meet with the parents of special needs students to determine their take on the issue and what needs to be done – whether the programs are working, or even appropriate.

The bottom line is, Norwalk needs to conform to all federal and state laws regarding special needs students, including those related to age. If that is not happening in Norwalk, it behooves all BOE members to figure out why and come up with solutions.

LeMieux: I would support continuing individualized support during the transition to adulthood, including (but not necessarily limited to) vocational education, employment assistance, continuing and adult education, independent living training, and peer and peer-family support matching (like Best Buddies).

Meyer Mitchell: I am not an expert in this area, and I am open to coaching from parents, staff and advocates who are.  I am heartened that Yvette Goorevitch touched on the programs that she plans to implement to assist students in this 18 to 21 year old age group.  Ms. Goorevitch hopes to institute the Think College program for students who aspire to higher education and need support and time to get there successfully and Project SEARCH for students who hope to transition to the workplace directly from Norwalk Public Schools.  Her plan is for the district to assess and identify students in 2017 with full implementation in 2018.  If there are more best practices that you would like the Board of Education and the Administration to consider, feel free to reach out to me about them.

Mosby: Programs must be established that are compatible with the student’s IEP.  I would encourage and support organizing a committee of parents, staff, and students to research and determine the most effective programs in our area as well as plan innovative programs.  It is important that we do not implement cookie-cutter programs such as students continuing in the same high school program that they completed for graduation.

 

Question 2: While it is laudable that the District is trying to bring more and more services, and supports ‘in house’, it is true that some of these may not be able to be effectively provided at start up to all students. How do you propose that the recovery of students from outplacement should be handled?

 

D’Amelio: I do believe in efficiency but not at the expense of our children. If we can not provide quality “in-house” service, we need to continue outplacement, but this should only be in conjunction with parent involvement and transparency. I do believe we should ultimately attempt to bring programs in-house and should look to other schools for examples of success. I propose we hold a Connecticut Special Education summit to exchange ideas and strategies with neighboring towns and cities.

Donaher: I honestly would have to see how it is currently handled and get some recommendations for improvements before making any suggestions.

Keyes: As a district, we are doing our best to build more quality supports as well as in-house services for our students where we can observe and monitor them to make sure our students are receiving high quality services and accommodations. All of this must conform to each individual IEP and be in compliance with the law.  We want to ‘recover’ outplaced students by convincing them and their parents that we can provide them a top-quality program.

Kimmel: The recovery of students from outplacement should be carefully and regularly monitored to ensure the students are receiving not just the mandated services, but services of the highest quality that conform to the IEP requirements of the students. This will be difficult early on, as more and more services are brought in-house. The district may be forced to hire outside consultants – early on – to provide the oversight necessary for new programs that invariably experience glitches. In the short run, this could cost a fair amount of money, but in the long run is the only fair way to ensure that these students continue to receive the services they deserve under the law.

I also believe it is fair to assume there are a number of special needs students who have not been outplaced even though they have not been receiving the services mandated on their IEPs. As new programs are brought in-house, a number of these students will probably be moved into them. It would be necessary to determine how much educational ground they have lost over the years and to make the necessary adjustments so they can catch up.

LeMieux: With delicacy and on an individual basis, and with active input from each family and educational team. We need to make sure we are continuing to provide the most supportive, least restrictive educational environment for students who have been outplaced, as well as ensure that we are meeting our legal and ethical obligations to these students. If, on a case by case basis, it is clear that the best choice for a particular student is to be recovered from outplacement, then I would support that action. If the best choice is for that student to continue where he or she is, then we are obligated to continue the outplacement. This will become less necessary for future students as we continue our Special Education turnaround over the next three years.

Meyer Mitchell: I am very sensitive to the fact that many students who have been outplaced to other schools are there because the Norwalk Public Schools failed them egregiously, and that their families have spent tens of thousands of dollars on average and hours of misery in litigation to achieve those outplacements.  I would advocate for a policy to let students who are outplaced and are near the end of their career at that school to be allowed to finish without another disruption that may cause trauma or setback.  We have a responsibility to these students and families to ensure that they receive an appropriate education.  That being said, if a student has another 7 years at an outplacement cost of $50,000 to $100,000, and we have established a proven successful program in the area needed by the student, we as a district must consider bringing that student back into the district.  As with all issues dealing with SPED, these decisions must be made on an individual, case by case basis.  For some students, having an appropriate program in Norwalk may be a relief, as some travel large distances to get to school and might be relieved to be able to stay local and have local friends.

This is why I advocate for early identification and intervention for all our students.  Going forward, I hope that NPS doesn’t let down another generation of students and families by not catching and addressing issues early enough.  I also advocate for operating our SPED department on a caseload basis, evaluating how many man hours each IEP requires to service it, and staffing up appropriately.  The staff is only human, and must be given an appropriate caseload and the time to document and communicate with families.

Mosby: The focus should be on the PPT process.   The PPT is charged with determining if a student is prepared to enter the public school setting.  This decision cannot be based upon funding.  Too often, statements are made prior to conducting a PPT that a certain number of students will return to Norwalk Public Schools (NPS).  Budget decisions regarding special education students should not be implemented before PPT’s are held.  Parents cannot be strong-armed into a home school placement when/if the PPT is in agreement that the home school is unable to provide an appropriate program.  Students must be treated equally; where a child’s live cannot be a factor in providing additional supports.

 

Question 3: A number of students have been outplaced for a variety of reasons. Some of these include the fact that the District could not or did not provide them with the services they needed. Would you be in favor of requiring that these students return to the District as new programs are created and introduced or would you allow those students who are currently outplaced to finish their academic journey in that path?

D’Amelio: Ultimately it should be up to the parent. If a child is prospering in an outplacement environment, I will propose we do not disturb the situation.

Donaher: I think that it would all depend on the needs of the student.

Keyes: Our out-placed students are not required to return to a district placement and I personally believe they shouldn’t have to return back as this could cause further disruption to their routine, etc.  Any placement is determined by each individual IEP, which the parent must agree to and should feel comfortable doing so.  NPS needed the Special Education Development Fund to establish in-District programs which parents could observe and choose over out-of-town placements so their children can be in the least restrictive environment.  It is very important that we continually monitor this.  We want parents and their children to come back to NPS because we will have earned their trust, not by compulsion.

Kimmel: Personally, I would not require these students to return to Norwalk, although I believe this issue would have to be addressed on a case by case basis because the age and the time spent in outplaced schools will vary widely. I would need an interpretation of the relevant law before making a final decision. There would also have to be an appeals process for families of outplaced students. All in all, I believe students should have the opportunity to continue their education in the outplacement school; stability and continuity are key factors in the education of young people.

As a former teacher, I realize it can be extremely difficult and unfair for students to change schools or even classes within a school. Once a student has adjusted to an environment, made friends, gotten to know teachers and administrators, made a sports team, it’s hard to say, guess what: next year, you’re going to leave all that and go to school somewhere else. This may be costly for the city of Norwalk (only in the short run), but it would be a fair price to pay for not having the necessary services to begin with.

LeMieux: I would be in favor of offering each family the opportunity to return, not least because our Special Education students and families enrich our community and deepen educational opportunities for all students. I would not be in favor of requiring return as a matter of course. Every situation is different. A responsive rubric for evaluation would be helpful in these circumstances, including information such as if a student is currently thriving, and how long the outplacement has lasted.

Meyer Mitchell: As I outlined above, I would be in favor of a policy allowing students with one or two years left at their outplaced school to finish their time there, because the disruption of moving back to NPS could be traumatic and cause a setback in the education.  However, as we build successful programs here in Norwalk, I believe it would be beneficial to move students back into NPS.  As a board member I would want to see verification that the new programs are working as planned, and all start up kinks are worked out before we would think of bringing outplaced students back into the system.  These families have been through enough traumas.  If they come back, it must be to a comparable or superior program.

Mosby:  The PPT makes the determination as to whether Norwalk Public Schools has an appropriate program for a student’s return to the district.  We need to keep in mind key transition times when it would be advisable to return such as grade 6, grade 9, and during the elementary school years.  It is challenging to state whether I would be in favor or not to allow students to maintain their academic journey.    I would need more information on what services are being provided and if it the services are compatible for the child.  If the district does not have an appropriate program for the student the child should finished in the program or establishment they are currently receiving services.  The PPT must feel empowered to consider the whole child; the PPT must believe that it can act on behalf of the student without internal pressures of the district placed upon the PPT to make a decision that benefits the district but not the student.

 

Question 4: In the last couple of years, some Sped parents would say, we have seen a general erosion of individualized programs, as an example the ESY program. According to some parents, it was a one-size-fits-all program in the summer of 2016. Despite this, in many ways the situation was repeated again in the summer of 2017. Many kids received the same format, none or little structure was put in place to facilitate social, no PF camp was allowed, etc. ESY is just one example, what are your thoughts on keeping programs individualized according to IDEA versus having one size fits all programs?

D’Amelio: I am for individualized programs. I would make sure we are compliant with all individualized plan laws as it relates to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Donaher: As a new member to the BOE I would have to listen to all sides in the discussion on this questions. It seems that one size can’t fit all but I do not have any experience in the requirements of the city or state rules.

Keyes: Parents certainly have expressed their concern over our ESY program. We listened as a board to their concerns and our program was significantly individualized and overhauled in 2017.  We followed students’ IEPs,  and ESY was held in students’ own schools (often with the same special education teachers for continuity).  In addition, there was a structured daily socialization activity and lunch where they had lunch with typical peers.  ESY still needs development, but 2017 saw major improvements over 2016.

Kimmel: My view is fairly straightforward: All programs, whether in the summer, before or after school, must conform to federal law – not to “the extent possible,” but to the letter and the spirit of the law, which means IEP requirements must be met in all circumstances. Having said that, I realize the Norwalk Public Schools is in the midst of a complex transformation of all of its special education programs, and problems have arisen in the process. We will need to monitor these programs going forward to ensure every special needs student receives the type of education he or she is required to receive under the law. This may indeed have budgetary implications, but the district needs to conform to the law.

I should add, merely conforming to an IEP often creates a paper trail that passes muster with officials and monitors. We need to go beyond that and begin to focus on the quality of the services and general education we provide for our special needs students. (We often speak about providing quality differentiated instruction in basic reading and math to non-special needs students. Conforming to the requirements and modifications contained in an IEP is another form of differentiated instruction.)

LeMieux: “One size fits all” is a poor educational philosophy in general. Along with the superintendent, I am strongly in favor of increasing individuation for every student in the district.

Meyer Mitchell: The I in IEP stands for Individualized: that’s the law.  However, we can create programs for cohorts of students with similar profiles that can then be tailored for the individual.  I am aware of the ESY issues, and was very saddened to hear that they continued into this past summer.  For a board member, there is a fine line between what a board member does and what staff does.  While the board have oversight, and set policy and approve hiring, board members are not staff.  We can work with staff to understand where the issues are and try to create structures that will address them.  I am acutely aware that time is precious for a child with special needs, and early intervention and services are everything.  So, it is hard to hear that a program is still growing or needing refinement, when you know that means a child isn’t getting what they need.

Mosby: The PF Camp is a practical option for students and should be considered when planning a student’s summer program.  While it is a cost to the district, students need a camp experience.  As a Board of education member, I cannot recommend what should be written in an IEP.  I rely on the members of the PPT.  At this time, data have not been shared with the Board of Education to indicate if the special education students, summer 2017, made more academic gains at their school location than the year prior, 2016, when most students received special education instruction at Norwalk High.  This data are totally necessary to determine which program best meets the needs of the students.

 

 

Question 5: How will you oversee the SPED department to ensure that families are getting the appropriate services they are entitled to by law?

D’Amelio: As a member of the Board of Education, we do not “oversee” but set policy to move an agenda forward. With that stated, I would make sure that we had the correct policy in place to guarantee families are getting the appropriate service. I would reach out to individual families directly to hear their stories and form policy from those discussions.

Donaher: I would have to take some direction from the board at first and then see what the law says.

Keyes: It is imperative that we ensure all students are getting the appropriate services under law that they are entitled to.  As a board we set policy but do not manage day-to-day operations. However, we do need to make sure that we are aware of any issues or concerns.  As board members we will continually look at our special education turn-around.  In addition, we have hired Yvette Goorevitch, the newly appointed Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services.  She has vast knowledge and a broad range of skills to service our students and families. We are keenly aware that there has been turnover and I believe that there will be continuity with Ms. Goorevitch.

Kimmel: First and foremost, we need to make sure we have the appropriate number of experienced staff to oversee our special education services. This will require Board members to monitor the progress of the three-year special education turn-around. A major part of that initiative was the hiring of staff to oversee special education.

Secondly, the BOE can call it a task force or establish it as a standing committee but we need to monitor and discuss issues that relate to special education on a regular monthly basis. I would prefer that the task force be transformed into a regular committee with monthly meetings, staff, agendas, public participation, etc.

Thirdly, there needs to be sustained communication between the district and the families of special needs students. This communication is critical and should happen on several levels; school based, district based, even committee based – this is something to work out going forward. But it must happen.

(I am not sure if the BOE’s curriculum committee addresses special education issues on a regular basis, if at all. Whatever the case, the vast array of issues that pertain to special education needs to be addressed at the committee level, so board members can hear the concerns of parents and receive regular updates.)

LeMieux: The district has just hired a new Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services, Yvette Goorevitch. All the work we do in this area will be closely coordinated with her office. The Board of Education needs a permanent Special Education committee, to oversee and assess tasks such as staff inventory, hiring, and providing ongoing professional development. I would be in favor of a periodic parent questionnaire for detailed feedback on our progress, as well as the creation of a mediation or appeals process for families who feel their needs are not being appropriately met. As with all the issues our district faces, we need to ask, and then listen to the people on the ground. Accountability is paramount, and the creation of a permanent committee is a good first step.

Meyer Mitchell: This is a very tricky subject.  I have a lot to learn about the confidentiality around Special Education, and I am acutely aware that the Board of Education is intended to set policy and not to micromanage day to day operations.  I suspect inviting CREC back to do an audit of a random sampling of cases would be our best course of action.  Of course, I also plan to do what I have been doing for years, which is listening to SPED parents and asking questions of staff to identify areas in which we may not be succeeding.  I have developed a good relationship with both Dr. Adamowski and Ms. Yvette Goorevitch, so I believe I can help improve communication between the administration and the community.  With the resignation of Dr. Yvel Crevecouer, we will need strong leadership and board member participation on the Ad Hoc Special Education Committee.

Mosby: In my role as a board member I will bring the concerns of parents, staff, and students to the attention of the superintendent.  The City has provided additional funding to support the special education department.   I would continue to be fiscally responsible and ensure that funds are allocated appropriately to provide support for children   Each school has a special education compliance monitor who is responsible for monitoring the IEP’s.  There is a district-wide compliance monitor, and all the special education supervisors are responsible for monitoring the IEP’s for their respective schools.

 

Question 6: Related to ESY, some children have been told that they don’t qualify for ESY, only to be rejected by other camps due to an inability to accommodate their disability. As a result, these children experienced a regression of skills over the summer and started the new year behind where they ended the previous school year. How will you ensure that programs continue to be provided for children who need them?

D’Amelio: I would request a list of the children that were affected and asked the appropriate person why this occurred? I would work with the board and review the current policy to see if this was a mistake or whether or not our policy needs to be updated.

Donaher: I would have to see how it is done now and look for input on how to improve this.

Keyes: The need for ESY is determined by special education testing at the time of the IEP. Approximately 350 of our 1700 students who receive special education services require ESY for conditions subject to regression if the IEP is interrupted.  A substantially larger number of children were accommodated in 2017 than in 2016, and we expect the ESY program to continue to grow.

Kimmel: Extending the school year is an issue that pertains to all students, here and across the nation. The accumulated “summer gap” has been well documented and must be addressed by the district in a systematic way. We cannot afford to allow students in need of basic remediation and essential skill development to lose ground every summer.

This issue, of course, applies to students with special needs. My view is that under the law and ethically the district has the same responsibility to conform to the requirements of IEPs in all of its programs, whether after school or during the summer. I realize this will require additional funds, but fair is fair and the law’s the law. Also, by addressing the summer gaps of special needs students early on, the district will probably save money later on as these students near high school graduation.

Finally, there needs to be some way for parents to appeal should they feel their children are not receiving the services they deserve under the law.

LeMieux: We need to reform and refine our identification process at all levels. Introducing a mediation process, as an alternative to the current adversarial model, would save costs for the district as well as stress on students, families and teachers. It would make sense to consider a modified ESY for children who are falling between the cracks – for example, twice-exceptional or high-functioning students who don’t fit fully into any category.

Meyer Mitchell: Although I have been aware of issues with the ESY program, I would need to meet with parents and staff to fully understand the issues.  Dr. Adamowski is committed to avoiding summer regression for all children in Norwalk, and I am sure he would be receptive to a dialog on this issue.

Mosby: I will ask this question continuously of the superintendent.  I support leveled services based upon the student’s IEP.  Some students may need more intensive summer work and other students may need less.  We must refrain from setting guidelines such as summer school being limited to those who will regress.  I believe any student achieving below grade level is entitled to summer support, tutoring, or other catch-up remedies.

 

Question 7: How will you ensure and implement TACC (transparency, accountability, communication and collaboration) from the District?

D’Amelio: I feel the board should have more direct contact with students, teachers, and parents. I would suggest the board appoints a SPEDpartners liaison member to meet monthly to discuss outstanding issues and promote transparency where all four TACC points would be discussed.

Donaher: I would follow the district plan until I get a chance to evaluate where there may be deficiencies in the plan and then I would try to improve TACC.

Keyes: TACC is critically important.  It all starts with communication between central office, the board, staff, parents and the community. There has been improvement but we should always strive to do more. All stakeholders should have a say and a voice – we created a Special Education Committee of the Board that includes SPED parents (the only Board committee with parent members), and have established good communications with SpedPartners.  It’s also important for families to be heard and to come to our board meetings, if feasible. We have started to hold some of our workshop meetings at different school locations depending on the topic being discussed. For example on March 6, 2018 our Redesign of our Gifted Education discussion will be held at Roton Middle School.

Kimmel: The BOE sets and monitors all policies and should do everything it can to ensure the elements of TACC are respected across the district. I believe that after every election, perhaps more often, the board should invite Tom Hennick from the state FOIA office to Norwalk to discuss these types of issues. The state has very clear rules on the procedures necessary to maintain TACC. (After every election, the Common Council invites Hennick to Norwalk to provide an overview on what can and can’t be done under FOIA and to answer questions.)

I also believe that rapid change – which is happening in the Norwalk school system – requires patience and openness on the part of those initiating and implementing the change. All stakeholders, every step of the way, need to be aware, at the very least, of what’s ahead; all stakeholders, to the extent possible, should be involved early on regarding these initiatives.

All policy decisions and initiatives need the approval of the BOE. It is essential that board members adopt procedural requirements to ensure the elements of TACC are part of these initiatives.

Communication among the BOE, Central Office, and the community, I’ve been told, has improved over the last few years, but more needs to be done. We need to listen to all stakeholders, parents first and foremost, and see what they have to say regarding all of the elements of TACC.

LeMieux: This is one of my primary issues district-wide. As a board member, I will seek out opportunities for the district to engage in community-building and active listening professional development at all levels with the goal of increasing equity, parity and agency for all students, teachers, administrators and schools.

Meyer Mitchell: In my six years of advocating for Norwalk Public Schools as a parent, I have always sought to promote these qualities.  Transparency for the board will entail making sure that all information is provided in a timely manner to all members and that the public is included and heard.  To promote accountability, I would look for areas or departments that do not have clear reporting and reviewing structures in place.  I am encouraged that Ms. Goorevitch’s restructuring of the special education department to make positions accountable for specific areas will help make it clear where accountability lies.  I approve of Shirley Mosby’s suggestion at the Board Retreat in June that a log of complaints regarding Special Education be kept to identify patterns that might lead to better accountability.  Communication will be the key to a successful turnaround of NPS’s Special Services department.  Policies such as a 24 hour response time, even just to say that it will take longer to address the issues, would make it easier to enforce good communication, and would put families at ease.  This will need to be a culture shift, and I think that will come from the top.  Regarding day to day communication with families, especially in the case of non-verbal children, daily communication logs, whether written or online, would be a policy for which I would advocate.  Collaboration between school staff, central office, and families will be key to success in delivery of special education.  In terms of the board itself, I would hope to collaborate on every issue that comes before the board.  I have a proven track record of working with board members from both parties, working to build consensus.

Mosby: I will regularly ask for an updated written report detailing the strategies implemented for the TACC Plan.    That report should be shared with the parents and community.  Parents must be engaged in partnering with the district and community.  Our children spend the majority of their time  at  home and in school, so it is important to increase opportunities for parents and the community to be involved and in the decision making process.

 

Question 8: There have been reported instances of intimidation again sped kids and parents of sped kids. If there is a claim of intimidation by staff or administrators, how would you respond?

 

D’Amelio: I would investigate, and if accurate, I would respond strongly and swiftly; I have no tolerance for bullying or intimidation.

Donaher: I would follow the policies setup and in place by the school district including filing and criminal charges.

Keyes: Any form of intimidation should be reported immediately. If this is happening in our schools or even outside of school then it should be reported to the school principal as soon as possible.  As a board member I would want to know if there is a pattern and then it would need to be looked at by the district and board.

Kimmel: Any report of intimidation needs to be addressed immediately. As a new member of the BOE, I would need to become familiar with existing procedures regarding such claims. If it turns out the board does not have a workable policy, with a clear set of procedures to follow when such a claim is made, then it would have to be addressed as soon as possible by the policy committee. We would also have to examine state statutes during this review.

Teachers and other staff should periodically go through training to ensure they understand clearly what they have to do, according to policy and according to state statute, and what the consequences of inaction are when a claim of intimidation comes to their attention.

I, too, have heard about intimidation of students in the Norwalk public schools, but not specifically against students with special needs. This type of behavior is unconscionable and, should the claim be proved true, consequences must follow. If it turns out a fair number of incidents have been reported but have not been properly addressed, then the full board needs to examine the issue.

LeMieux: Immediately and sensitively, and with the cooperation of Dr. Goorevitch’s office. Bullying in any form is unacceptable. As a district, we have policies in place to prevent and address both student and adult bullying (including by staff and administrators); I would be in favor of investigating and expanding these policies to specifically include and protect Special Education students and their families.

Meyer Mitchell: Intimidation is simply unacceptable in our schools.  If these incidents have been documented and reported, they should be followed up in the proper manner by the administration and there should be consequences if appropriate.  I promise to investigate what the current policy is regarding this issue.  In my own experience as a SPED parent, some incidents that occurred to our family as intimidation were ultimately proven to be coming from well-meaning staff following a policy that they had no control over.  I found that with consistent, clear communication we were able to work our way through them.  However, for some families language barriers, time constraints or other issues can make it hard to get through these situations with staff.  So, again, this reinforces the need for better communication between NPS and families.

Mosby: As a Board of education member, I will report any matters of intimidation that are provided to me directly to the superintendent.  Any member of the community must go directly to the district and report intimidation, bullying, or mistreatment of any kind.  There can be no tolerance for behavior of this kind and especially as it relates to special education.

 

 

Question 9: Would you, as a BOE member, advocate for a district policy requiring that every parent of a child with an IEP or504 Plan be given, at their child’s PPTs or whenever requested, the resumes, degrees, CEU’s, additional training, etc. of all staff that will interact with their child. This information is already available to all parent under FOIA and is a right under IDEA. Most parents aren’t aware of this right, and even if they know, requesting this information is intimidating.

D’Amelio: First, we MUST follow the law. I do not see any issue with a parent receiving the credentials of a staff member working with his or her child. That information should be easily accessible and should be furnished. We should want to celebrate our staff and their academic background and accomplishments.

Donaher: Currently, I would not try to change the policy only because I do not have enough background information. Once I get more information I may try to adjust the policy but until then I would not.

Keyes: I believe all parents have a right to know who is working directly with their children. As mentioned, this information is available to parents under FOIA. For the first time we have both 504 and SPED handbooks that all parents will have access to be able to read and review.  What documentation to provide to parents should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Kimmel: I believe all parents should be informed of their legal rights. Any questions that are asked should be answered promptly and clearly; a handbook should be distributed upon request; and information should be posted on the BOE website. I also believe staff should be trained on the pertinent law and existing policy.

If policy is to be changed, there should be input from stakeholders as well as officials. I would look to see how other municipalities handle this issue.

LeMieux: {Answer not submitted}

Meyer Mitchell: While I don’t see any reason this wouldn’t be an acceptable policy, I would need to examine best practices and consult NPS staff to understand the issues.  I can certainly understand why this would be a useful policy, given that not too long ago Norwalk Public Schools employed a special education contractor who was not actually certified to do the work for which she had been hired.  This had an adverse effect on many families in Norwalk.  We must ensure that something like this never happens again.

Mosby: As a board member, I would inquire of the superintendent how this process is being implemented currently and request the district’s policy.  A policy such as this would need to be implemented in the most professional way possible.  As a board member sitting on the policy committee I would consider exploring into this further.

6 comments

Susan Wallerstein November 3, 2017 at 6:47 am

Two things stand out to me after quick read 1. Surprising none of the candidates mentioned Norwalk’s participation and membership in iby our regional educational service center http://www.ces.k12.ct.us/page.cfm?p=3393. 2. Only a few candidates seem to understand the difference and relationship between policy governance and management of the school system by qualified professionals.

Debora Goldstein November 3, 2017 at 9:18 am

Agreed. That was the impression I left with after the forum Sunday night as well.

I expect bullet voting to be a factor this year.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 3, 2017 at 10:24 am

Agreed. The BOE is responsible for allocating a huge chunk of the Norwalk budget—about 2/3rds. Most candidates participating in Sunday’s debate saw themselves as advocating directly for individual students. And that sentiment is echoed in many of the answers above. No candidate questioned the role the state plays in funding—or NOT funding—these expenses. The IDEA requirement is for an “adequate” education. How public schools got saddled with Job Readiness programs for students as old as 21 is mind boggling. When does the state or federal government step in to fund these programs? I realize their are grant opportunities, but most of the cost falls to working class taxpayers. It’s not a question of necessity. It’s a question of fairness to the entirety of the district and to every student’s individual educational needs. SPED parents are mobilized to fight for their students to receive special services. While I applaud their energy and dedication, everyone else is just getting adequate services. Something is terribly wrong with the formula. But no one running has the courage to suggest that Special Education costs are driving the budget up without doing anything to benefit most children in the system. Where is Bob Duff when you need him? He is strangely silent when it comes to funding these services. IDEA is an unfunded mandate. The state shoves most of the cost back to us. And the entire school district is underserved as a result, not just the SPED population.

Bryan Meek November 3, 2017 at 11:30 am

The question I would have like to seen asked and answered is what the candidates think might be gaps in our strategy between the CREC report and the SOP and how they might help address these. This is the level where board members work. Micromanaging is not an effective approach to systemic issues.

“Listening” to parents at SPED committee meetings, community outreach, CREC reports, auditors, specialists, managers, parents….is all part of the equation to form the high level goals and policies.

The electronic devices in use at board meetings give access to the 100s and 1000s of pages of information members require frequent access to in order to be informed. The perception may be a disengaged board to some, but the reality is this is a form of efficiency that others seem to support when they understand what that means. Some haven’t yet heard of the CREC report, but I can assure you that no one on the board has its content memorized either. But we know where to find it efficiently, when we need the information.

This current board, in my estimation, “listens” more than any board in the history of school boards in the city just from the sheer fact of the acceleration of social media. The next board and future ones will likely “listen” even more as the technology accelerates. That said, this widely held concept of “needing to listen more” shouldn’t be confused with unfavorable decisions the board has to make routinely.

Also note, that the board has recently received two statewide awards for its work in communications. More work to be done, but things are improving all the time.

Good luck to the candidates.

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell November 3, 2017 at 11:57 am

Donna,
I am hopeful to work with Ms. Yvette Goorevitch, our new Director of Special Services, to advocate for federal funding of this federal mandate. The current system pits families against each other, and is counterproductive and divisive. Ms. Goorevitch has been advocating in DC,and could be a leader in this area.

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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.