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NPS accused of violating state and federal SpEd laws

Attorney Marsha Moses explains Special Education laws to the Norwalk Board of Education in February 2017. (File photo)

Updated, 2:30 p.m.: reference to NPS response added; for full response, click here; PDF replaced; 7:13 a.m.: Information added; re-formatting; 6:11 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Attorneys working pro bono on behalf of 17 Norwalk school children filed a complaint Wednesday with the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) alleging that Norwalk Public Schools “systemically and pervasively violates federal and state laws that guarantee all children the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE),” according to a press release.

“The complaint requests that SDE perform an independent program audit of special education practices at NPS to develop a corrective action plan to include three years of independent monitoring to ensure compliance with state and federal law. The complaint also seeks individual relief for each of the 17 children named, and systemic relief for all Norwalk children,” the release said.

Norwalk Public Schools administrators and Board of Education leaders were not immediately available for comment on the evening press release but released a statement Friday morning.

“We are shocked and disappointed by the allegations made by Attorney {Robin} Keller, given the significant investment that Norwalk has made in special education in the past two years,” the statement from Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said.

“Our strong preference would have been for advocates and attorneys to encourage parents to resolve concerns in a collaborative manner, before filing a complaint which will redirect untold hours away from the supervision of quality services for students and in-school coaching for our staff. Over the past year, we have successfully resolved concerns when they have been brought to us.”

The full statement is posted here.

“The Center for Children’s Advocacy, Attorney Robin P. Keller, Educational Advocate Jill Chuckas, and other attorneys and advocates who are members of Special Education Equity for Kids of CT (SEEK), joined in the pro bono representation of the 17 children named in the complaint,” the release said. “…Norwalk students represented by the complaint represent a diverse cross-section of age, disability, socio- economic class, race, and ethnicity.”

The complaint emailed by Keller to Mary Jean Schierberl of the SDE Bureau of Special Education Due Process Unit alleges that four 4-year-olds who attend Room to Grow Preschool were referred for Special Education but were not provided with timely reviews to determine their eligibility:

  • One waited 201 calendar days, or 121 school days after the referral
  • One waited 190 calendar days, or 118 school days after the referral
  • One waited 198 calendar days, or 112 school days after the referral
  • One waited 176 calendar days, or 108 school days after the referral

 

This is a systematic violation of the childrens’ rights, the complaint states.

2redactedNorwalk_SystemicComplaint_10-4-18

The complaint also describes the history of a 17-year-old Brien McMahon High School student, alleging that she has been in 10 different schools/programs over the past three years during which time NPS failed to check on her progress and failed to conduct Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings.  The girl was diagnosed as ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder/ attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when she was six, and in seventh grade hit a peer and was suspended, with no year-end PPT to review her “unsatisfactory performance and behavior;” in eighth grade the child was suspended multiple times, failed six classes and was arrested on assault charges, the complaint states.  A subsequent PPT “recommended continued placement without any change in services despite multiple red flags,” according to the complaint.

The complaint describes continued issues; in January an attorney representing the child’s parents requested that the student be sent to a residential setting for evaluation. “An NPS district administrator ‘overruled and denied’ the request despite the school-based team’s agreement on the residential placement,” and the child remained in a detention center,” until a February PPT again recommended a residential setting, the complaint alleges, explaining that the child was then placed in the Children’s Center in Hamden for six months. She was placed in ACES Whitney North, a therapeutic day placement, for 2018-19 but has been chronically absent.

“It was not until February 2018 when the PPT reviewed evaluations (requested by the parent in November 2017) that the true extent of {the student’s} disabilities became apparent, the complaint states.

Keller’s complaint alleges:

  • A fifth grade Wolfpit Elementary School student diagnosed with autism as place in the Learners Excelling and Progressing (LEAP) in the 2016-2017 school year, but high levels of staff turnover has resulted in inconsistent and undocumented delivery of services.
  • NPS did not provide an autistic preschooler at the Norwalk Early Childhood Center (NECC) the recommended treatments and kept inadequate records.
  • A 5-year-old autistic child who attended NECC last year also did not receive agreed upon services and “NPS continues to be noncompliant in its subsequent failure to  provide  compensatory  education without impacting the time the student spends with non-disabled peers and make progress in the general education curriculum,” Keller’s complaint states.
  • A 4-year-old who attended NECC from October 2016 to August did not receive the agreed upon services, spending the day with 14 students with disabilities and only four students who weren’t disabled, in violation of federal law requiring a 50-50 mix.

“My clients are preschool children from Norwalk’s poorest communities,” CCA attorney Kathryn Meyer is quoted as saying in the release. “The district repeatedly ignores the families’ requests for help. These children all come from Spanish-speaking homes, and an investment in their speech and language services now will make a lasting impact on their education for years to come.”

The release said:

“Jill Chuckas, a Norwalk educational advocate, agrees that the district has been specifically non- responsive to the needs of low-income children and those who would benefit from language services.

 “’Regardless of socio-economic status, all children deserve a Free and Appropriate Public Education,’ says Ms. Chuckas. ‘There are strong professionals in this city, but the district does not devote the time or resources needed, and the level of frustration is extreme.’”

 

NancyOnNorwalk first heard in July that a lawsuit was brewing, from a parent who said the SpEd community had gone quiet because the majority of parents were fed up and felt that speaking out was futile.

The release notes that the Board of Education commissioned the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) to conduct special education program reviews in 2009, 2012, and 2015.

“Despite recent assurances by Yvette Goorevitch, Chief of Norwalk Specialized Services, NPS continues to violate students’ rights. Many of the children named in the complaint suffer from the same violations identified in 2015,” the release said.

Norwalk is in year three of a three-year plan to address the CREC report’s recommendations to fix special education.  The plan includes $3.3 million in spending to create in-house services and improve systematic oversight.

Keller is a special education attorney from Norwalk, representing “parents of special needs children across a broad spectrum of age and disabilities who do not receive the support they need to make meaningful educational progress,” the release said.  Clients included in the complaint “are representative of all Norwalk students who meet criteria to receive special education instruction.”

“It is heartbreaking to witness the ‘school to prison pipeline’ mentality at the high school level,” Keller is quoted as saying. “Students with behavioral issues are repeatedly suspended, for years, until expulsion or arrest occurs. Many of these students were not appropriately evaluated or did not receive services necessary for them to achieve meaningful educational progress. The result is chronic absenteeism, few if any credits earned after multiple years in high school, and the inability of these students to become productive members of our community.”

Keller continued, “Younger children who need behavioral services do not receive consistent support. We have excellent behavioral therapists in Norwalk, but they are overburdened. Children in need of speech and language services often do not get services at all, resulting in regression of language acquisition. Even when NPS acknowledges that a child is ‘due’ services, in many instances those services are not provided.”

The complaint requests a review of Norwalk’s special education policies, interviews of district and school staff responsible for implementation of special education programing, and audit of existing education plans to determine compliance with state regulations and federal law, the release said.  “The corrective plan should include recommendations for compensatory education, procedures to ensure timely referral for a student suspected of having a disability, changes to records protocol to ensure compliance with federal and state law, and an order for Norwalk Public Schools to identify and initiate meetings for each child within 30 days.”

22 comments

Niz gjuraj October 5, 2018 at 6:55 am

I’m so happy about this
It’s too much to state how horrible it’s been for my kid & all the hard work that we’ve put in for years with private SPED tutors etc… nps is an epic fail accross the board! Ignoring needed sped services and tools and training sped teachers… “this is the snow dust on the top of this iceberg”
Ignored IEE’s, Six PPT’s just getting IEP comprehensive goals & objectives & measure right was a task for the education advocate for my kid. I moved to Norwalk march 2015 & west rocks middle school as well as Roton middle school were a fiasco!! I hope the estimated 1700 sped kids in NPS finally get an education and what they need?

Black and white Sped Parent October 5, 2018 at 7:10 am

Finally!!! The cries for help from hundreds of special needs children are being heard loud and clear! Our talented and caring local attorneys and advocates have bonded together and heard our most deserving children’s pleas for help. It is a new day here in Norwalk where the light is finally shed on our most vulnerable and the demands for change must be heard. No more heads in the sand BOE!!! It is time for action and visible change!! Thank you Robin Jill and countless others for your efforts and contributions to our sweet angels. You are the true hero’s!

2nd American generation child October 5, 2018 at 8:05 am

Glad…there ARE paying the price for negligence. Our children, do not live in Darien New Cannaan or Westport! They are just as important in Norwalk.

Christine M. October 5, 2018 at 10:43 am

This is good news. There are good Special Ed teachers out there, but they are only one part of the whole system, which does NOT want to be bothered with kids who are “different”.

Scarlet ohara October 5, 2018 at 11:13 am

Excellent!
*
Instead of the multimillion dollar reorg so rilling doesn’t have to manage anyone, that money should have gone to the education of all the Norwalk children, especially sped.
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Serves norwalk right.

Educator October 5, 2018 at 11:17 am

I recall the city giving the BOE over $3 million dollars to address the CREC report and fix SPED issues? What did they spend all that money on? Failed leadership and more waste.

niz gjuraj October 5, 2018 at 11:52 am

@educator & @pash great point, wonder who was accountable for those funds, anyone care to answer? As I honesty would not know. Could it be NPS Superintendent, Adamowski? Note, he’s about to retire, who will be held accountable? New Cheif of SpEd learning, Yvette Goorevitch? (she has an open indictment in NY for lying about a SpEd kid being injured) SpEd Administrators at the schools, God knows NHS is a JOKE! or the admins. in the BOE SpEd dept.? Lets see how this unfolds… hopeful for the kids and the parents that probably have PTSD symthoms at this point. Me included 🙁

MarjorieM October 5, 2018 at 12:21 pm

Mike Lyons and Bruce Kimmel have told us that the SPED dept is functioning much better under the new Adamowski team. The public has been misled. Past administrators, who were working with limited financial resources and staff, had their names dragged through the mud. The actions noted in the case were from 2016, 2017 and 2018, not their years. . In the last 25 years, Norwalk has never had a class action suit of this nature. Since Norwalk hired CREC to resolve some NPS Special Ed problems, how can CREC be brought back to re-evaluate the problems? To rectify the damage done to these students will now cost the district much more than if they provided the required services in the first place. Adamowski will leave another district in a financial mess. It also begs the question, what other students have not received support services that were due them?

Leslie landers October 5, 2018 at 12:30 pm

The complaints filed on behalf of these 17 children are undoubtedly a microcosm of what goes on in sped in Norwalk throughout the district. The violations are egregious and Norwalk should be ashamed to treat this segment of the population this way. Hopefully this will lead to a class-action lawsuit against Norwalk for what it has always done and seemingly what it continues to do to this population.

Niz gjuraj October 5, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Reach out to BOE Board members, so they know we’re here, we’re concerned, this is serious. Systemic means business:

MEMBERS

Edited to remove the contact details of individual Board of Education members, a violation of the comments policy. Individuals who wish to contact board members may find their contact information on the Norwalk Public Schools web site: https://www.norwalkps.org/board_of_ed/board_members_

Frustrated Parent October 5, 2018 at 9:27 pm

How did they not see this coming? They didn’t provide services for kids and probably more parents don’t know this because they never told parents that their kids weren’t getting services! NON-COMPLIANCE!! They are shocked and disappointed. I wonder how those families feel when they expect that when they drop their kids off at school in the hands of these educators that their kids are getting what they need. Things that are written in their IEP which is a legal and binding contract. I think they have a stronger word, then disappointment in mind. If they would do their job correctly and honestly, this would not be happening. So many shady things going on over at city hall and they think no one notices things. Just because you put a few new programs in place, doesn’t make all of the wrong doings that they have done, just go away. Give those programs a fews months and I am sure they will fail miserably, just like they have failed our children. It’s about time this has happened and sad that I am sure that there would have been more complaints but as always, people are afraid of retaliation! Wake up NORWALK SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTS! I am sure something has happened with your child’s IEP and it being wrong! SPEAK UP AND TAKE ACTION!

Lorrie Beth Whiddon October 5, 2018 at 9:33 pm

I feel for these children and the parents, as well as the teachers and schools involved. Without adequate funding SpEd services cannot be adequately implemented. The Dept of Ed requires the regulations and then refuses to fund the true cost.
Most SpEd teachers have big hearts and give all they can, but are stretched very thin in time,resources and paraprofessional help.

Todd October 5, 2018 at 10:16 pm

What federal law states that there must be a 50-50 mix? I don’t see that anywhere in the IDEA. Are you talking about LRE in general?

Nancy Chapman October 6, 2018 at 12:12 am

Todd, perhaps I have that incorrect. I’ll check tomorrow. Wright’s Law: “IDEA does not use the term ‘inclusion.’ However, IDEA does require school districts to place students in the least restrictive environment (LRE). LRE means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as ‘supplementary aids and services,’ along with their nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, unless a student’s individualized education program (IEP) requires some other arrangement.”
http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/lre.faqs.inclusion.htm

Concerned October 6, 2018 at 6:46 am

This is not a shock at all! This should’ve came a long time ago. Hope they look into the ELL students who have their SPED and ELL services at the same time or don’t receive reading interventions because the schedules have them somewhere else instead of receiving them. Also, there are schools that were slated to have 3+ SPED teachers and now only have 2 because there is no money for the 3rd teacher. We have new students coming in from other districts that had full time paras, co taught rooms, or in self contained and they are just thrown into a regular ed classroom and their IEP’s are being violated all day long! Admins just say we are working on it and teachers are just winging it. They better look at all schools because there are so many violations it’s a disgrace. The clinic they opened was a joke and attendance was not great. The children over the summer that were at the other schools for summer school didn’t even have SPED teachers servicing them because Stacy in SPED mismanaged that! It’s so sad and to think people are saying how great things have been is a complete lie.

Angry parent October 8, 2018 at 4:12 pm

I’m so angry! On top of all of this that’s going on Stacey from HR has taken my childs ABA therapist oh sorry she said that was a made up term para trained in ABA and put her on a bus!!!!! When my child arrived at school today someone else took them from my sitter and told her that his therapist was now on a bus!!! So STACEY ARE YOU GOING TO BE MAKING UP THE HOURS MISSED IN THE MORNING? The therapist made it it to school 30 minuets later today! Since when did they start riding the bus? I wish I would have know about the complaint being filed because I would have joined them you guys are disgrace you try to cut corners and save a buck any and everywhere and the blocks end up in your pockets and our poor kids have to suffer ! I hope the state takes over and clean house !

Sped Parent October 9, 2018 at 9:56 am

Angry Parent,
I’m so sorry for your frustrations. Make sure you document every infraction and every time your IEP is out of compliance. You can also send an email with the documented instances to your buildings special ed administrator or someone in central office. If and when you do make sure you ask for receive notification that it was received. If not, I have found they very often claim to have not received it. Then make sure you keep a copy for your records and the date and time it was received. Bring that to your PPT meetings and make sure you record every PPT and put it on the record at the very least.

Also, you can definitely file a complaint with the state on your own. Go to http://www.sde.ct.gov for information on how to do it or send a letter to the woman referenced in this story from the bureau of special ed.

Good luck!

Sped Parent October 16, 2018 at 3:31 pm

@Angry Parent – One other thing I would suggest as a way to get the infractions and non-compliance on the record is to record every instance and make sure you have a paper trail so that it is airtight. Next, bring up the infractions/issues/non-compliance at a PPT and make sure they are included on record on the IEP document — state this explicitly at the PPT. I have often typed up a formal document with all of the information and handed it in at the PPT and asked for it to be included ON the IEP itself and asked for the letter to be included as part of the IEP. When you receive the IEP, make sure it is included in the summary of the meeting, and if it is not, send a letter stating as such and ask for an amended version of the IEP. I have found they very often don’t send the amended version, so just keep following up with letters stating as such, each time making sure you receive notification that the district has received your documentation. And above all, always make sure you tape record your PPT meetings and either transcribe them or save a copy so you have it handy if and when you file a complaint. If your child faces a couple of these infractions/non-compliance, file a complaint as you should receive compensatory education services for these missed services, etc., at the very least.

Good luck to you and your child.

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