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NPS SpEd chief: No ‘gross violations’ of federal laws

Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch leads a discussion Friday in the Cranbury Park bunkhouse.

Updated, 5;54 p.m.: PDFs added.

NORWALK, Conn. — The issues the state identified in Norwalk Special Education date to 2017-18, Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch emphasized Friday.

Goorevitch, speaking at the annual Board of Education retreat, said, “When you look at the state complaint, overall, the issues came from two schools.” Goorevitch repeatedly mentioned the Norwalk Early Childhood Center (NECC); BoE Chairman Mike Barbis referred to Columbus Magnet School.

 

‘Fake news’

Attorneys working pro bono on behalf of 17 Norwalk school children in October 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 was like a class action lawsuit, as each of those 17 children represented classes of Norwalk students, Attorney Robin Keller said in October.

Keller on July 18 issued a press release, announcing that the state had issued a decision in the systematic complaint, ordering Norwalk Public Schools to take individual and systemic corrective actions.

BoE member Mike Lyons on Friday called this “fake news,” a “grandstanding lawyer” going to the press “with some findings with some relatively minor problems.” Then readers leave comments saying, “nothing’s changed, everything’s the same as it always was,” which is “idiotic” given all the improvements NPS has made in its Special Education, he said, referring to a three-year, $3.6 million effort to address the infamous CREC (Capitol Region Education Council) report, an effort Lyons spearheaded as then-BoE Chairman.

“Obviously this took a long time and we’ve had some pretty eager clients waiting to see what the results would be so we were happy to share these because we think the news is important news,” Keller said to NancyOnNorwalk last week. “We sincerely hope that the State Department of Education’s investigative findings and recommendations will encourage the Board of Education to implement the necessary education procedures, protocols, and training to administrative staff, providers and teachers so special education and related services can be delivered with fidelity to all Norwalk students.”

2redactedNorwalk_SystemicComplaint_10-4-18 19-0722

SDE Decision_19-0181_redacted_updated 7.22.19

 

 

‘Not claiming gross violations’

“Of the 17 students (in the complaint), the state removed one student immediately,” Goorevitch said. “Subsequently over the past 10 months… Two students were removed by the parents because we were able to reconcile their concern.”

“The complaint did not include a claim that our policies, the districts policies, procedures or practice applicable to students violated state or federal law. So there was no systemic nature of our policy or practice,” Goorevitch said. “…This complaint was not claiming gross violations. This was claiming that students may not have gotten services.”

“There are very strict federal and state guidelines about these issues,” Keller said to NancyOnNorwalk last week. “Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), proper referral for evaluations and delivery of an IEP is not optional. It’s an entitlement, no different than Social Security.”

Six students were alleged in the complaint not to have received the federally mandated free and appropriate public education; the state in its decision said five students did receive their FAPE, and one did not.

NPS “failed to provide the Student with a FAPE from March 7, 2018 through the end of the 2017-2018 school year. The IEP proposed at the PPT meeting on February 12, 2018 was not reasonably calculated to enable {the student} make progress in light of her circumstances,” the state said.

 

NECC issues confirmed by state

The state found that NPS had fallen short in implementing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for five of seven preschoolers and ordered corrective action. Further, because the preschoolers were in classrooms that fell short of the federally mandated 50-50 mix of disabled students to non-disabled peers, the IEPS were not accurate, the state said.

NPS got “caught” on the provision of services because it didn’t have enough providers to cover breaks, such as bereavement leave, Goorevitch said.

As for preschool referrals, “We had a problem there,” she said.

She described turnover in NECC leadership and changing practices and said NECC had “stabilized” with the hiring of Debbie Whitman in April 2018 as NECC director. In addition, the preschoolers were referred by private preschools and “there was a delay in getting documentation of residency,” she said.

The state in its decision ordered NPS to not delay PPTs if there is no documentation, even though Norwalk is not obligated to provide education to nonresidents, she said.

Barbis in December 2017, when four mothers spoke to NancyOnNorwalk to allege issues at NECC, denied that there were problems at the Norwalk Early Childhood Center.

“We had a problem,” Goorevitch said Friday. “During the 18-19 school year, we changed our procedures for preschool referrals. We met with the Early Childhood Council, we let our preschool partners know we’ve changed staff at NECC.  We now have a very experienced psychologist leading this evaluation team. We’ve taken steps to rectify.”

 

 

‘Throughout the district’

Although Goorevitch said the issues were limited to two schools, the state issued a recommendation that NPS “continue to monitor staff compliance” with new procedures and policies regarding IEPs, “to ensure consistency and fidelity of implementation throughout the District.”

NPS was ordered to:

  • Review all 2017-18 preschool referrals and provide them to the state, along with all related IEP documents and all 2017-18 request for assistance forms submitted to district staff by local private preschools, by Jan. 30.
  • Continue offering compensatory reading services to a child, until the required 150 hours have been provided
  • Provide two children with 11 hours of speech and language of speech and language instruction.
  • Schedule a PPT for a student now in kindergarten, to discuss compensatory education services for the “cognitive pre-academic” special education services missed for eleven weeks, due to the delays in the referral process.
  • Provide the state with a list of all students who attended a particular school in 2017-18 who were deprived of prescribed speech and language services. Further corrective action may be ordered
  • Continue offering compensatory reading services to a child, until the required 150 hours have been provided
  • Provide a child with 36 hours of speech and language therapy as compensatory services for the denial of FAPE
  • Provide another child with five hours and 30 minutes of speech and language instruction.
  • Provide a child with two hours of speech and language instruction.
  • Give one child 11 hours of math and 11 hours of reading and 11 hours of speech and language, a total 33 hours of instructional time owed.
  • Provide a child with make-up speech therapy services and 10 hours of motor planning therapy

 

 

The instruction must be scheduled so that the child does not miss time with non-disabled peers, the state said.

“We’ve gotten caught” on “provision of services,” due to providers taking breaks, Goorevitch said.

“If we have a teacher absence (or) if we’re having a PPT meeting and it’s not after school, the teacher has to come out, they expect us to make the service hours … This is a serious issue I have not encountered this in other school districts. But here it is a major point of leverage for advocacy,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

Goorevitch was asked about one case.

“The PPT school staff did not believe the students needed additional reading services. The advocate really pressed. Staff has reported to me that they really felt intimidated, and they recommended 150 hours of additional services,” she replied. “The student did join us for the summer reading, received 40 hours at the clinic. And now we’re into the next year. So this was really an issue that points to me. training of our PPT facilitators to be able to use data to guide your decision, not factors related to who’s sitting at the table demanding services.”

 

 

‘Those parents are still upset’

Goorevitch strove to express sympathy to parents.

“Although we serve 1,700 kids, and this was filed on behalf of 17 students, and other similarly situated, every kid is important. That’s what the ‘I’ in IEP is,” she said. “So even if a parent went to an advocate or an attorney, and the finding was no violation, that parent is still upset that parents is still anxious about their child’s progress, and it is up to us to repair that relationship. I’ve been having that thought, for the last 40 years of my career, how can we heal those relationships.”

Even if five of six students alleged to be denied of FAPE were found by the state to have received it, “Those parents are still upset,” she said. “We’re still going to reach out to repair that.”

25 comments

Frustrated Parent July 29, 2019 at 8:53 am

Many more out there that are still being denied services, falling through cracks! This is a big issue and is not Fake news!

Momma Grizzly July 29, 2019 at 2:26 pm

FAPE issues are VERY REAL!! ESPECIALLY for SPED kids. We have a whole new demographic coming up through our educational system and they are being dismissed and falling through the cracks. I LIVE this everyday of my life with my autistic daughter. I pray I can find someone to help me pro-bono like the folks in CT. who were kind and generous enough to help the parents there. Since little related to my daughters neurological disorder is covered by insurance, I need all the help I can get. It is VERY frustrating and the hurtful discriminatory practices and verbal abuse by not just children but the adults I entrust my daughter with is appalling. Trying to “work with” a district is all but impossible for a mom alone. They have way more resources and run the school district as a business. (Which in most ways it very much is) With major emphasis put on athletics and arts. I mean they have to have trophies and ribbons to fill the glass cases that line the entry way to the school right? They simply must justify a multi million dollar stadium for the district right? So they CUT sped funding here in my district in Tx. again……..Seriously??🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬

Momma Grizzly July 29, 2019 at 2:42 pm

Oh and BTW…..what is so “free” about public education??? It cost less than a private institution, sure, but free??? I think NOT

Niz July 29, 2019 at 3:44 pm

Please note: The Bureau of Special Education will continue to monitor the corrective actions outlined in the complaint report.

Bryan Meek July 29, 2019 at 3:53 pm

If the state’s findings speak for themselves, why did “pro bono” counsel need to spin it to say something different? The state said progress is being made, there are no systemic breakdowns, and specific incidents and cases need to be followed up on. The spin says the sky is falling.

Concerned July 29, 2019 at 8:21 pm

Progress is being made? These are the only families that knew something wasn’t right. So many laws are being broken in schools whether hours aren’t being followed or paras are being pulled. Not to mention the joke of ESY and what that looks like. Teachers try to speak up about concerns but are ignored. If any parents looked into their child’s actual services or their IEP they would realize their child is NOT getting what they are supposed to. Mr. Meek you are lucky you didn’t have to go through this with your children but understand what you think you know you don’t.

John Popp July 29, 2019 at 9:18 pm

The minimization of the problems in the Norwalk SPED program is absolutely disgusting. Yes, the particular case was “only” about 17 students. Those were the students fortunate enough to receive pro-bono representation. If the cost of legal fees were not an issue the number would be dramatically higher.

Mr. Lyons, if you spent time talking to SPED parents rather you would know that this is far from fake news and only the tip of the iceberg. How sad that you would take this position when your constituents and their families are suffering.

Interesting choice of photo to include with this particular story. Would be curious to find out the facts behind the reduction in private school placements. Are the children now attending NPS or has the district denied the placements and forced the family to file for due process and then settle in order to place their child in an appropriate private school? During this same time period what has been the trend for SPED attorney fees?

Bryan Meek July 30, 2019 at 6:37 am

Everyone wants more for their child. Who wouldn’t? Should that expense marginalize every other child’s needs? We’re dealing with a finite pot of money and need to protect all stakeholder’s interests, not just a few. The funding issues have been brought up over and over and over again. For some reason there isn’t as much vocal outcry during the budget cycle when a difference could be made. About 20 years ago, the city had 300 special education students. Today with changes in state laws we have 1700 and climbing fast. 20 years ago, 10% of the city’s budget came from the state. 5% comes from the state today. People with angst and upset about the situation would be better off advocating where the problems and issues have been created….in Hartford.

Jo July 30, 2019 at 7:02 am

Mike Lyons, you lost me at your lame and trite proclamation of “fake news.” We’ve seen time and time again over the past few years how this signals that the emperor’s got no clothes.

Mike Lyons July 30, 2019 at 8:18 am

Jo, I couldn’t care less if I “lost” some coward hiding behind a fake name. Where were you and the other commenters above when I was fighting to get $3.6 million to try and address these decades-old problems? You weren’t at any of the public meetings – not a single SPED parent showed up to support me. We’ve hired 30 additional SPED teachers in the last couple of years, and we had to fight for that funding from the City as well. Not one parent showed up at the public hearing to support us.

Maybe we should have ignored the problems completely – like previous boards did for 20 years. Those boards weren’t attacked like this one is – and this is the only board that’s attempted to do anything about it. We haven’t achieved perfection so we’re condemned? THAT is what is “absolutely disgusting”.

Frustrated Parent July 30, 2019 at 11:05 am

Sure, hire more teachers so they can deny more services as told by the “chief”! Let’s pull the data from these kids, let’s show the real numbers!
Do you think that those SPED parents who didn’t show up were out at a party or perhaps home taking care of their child because they can’t just get a babysitter?!? Get your head out from the dirt and look at the real problem! It’s you and the rest of your cronies on the board! Go away! You are toxic to this this community!!

Patrick Cooper July 30, 2019 at 11:25 am

I’m hardly a regular – but from time to time I’ll go to City Hall and observe our common council, mayor, and his lawyer listen to “public comments” from an array of Norwalk (not always) residents. Virtually every person must sign up – and as they begin – fully state their name, and their address.

In all of these meetings, I’ve yet to see an individual show up in a gorilla suit, say my name is Morris the Cat – and say their address is the left side of calf pasture beach. I don’t believe the council would permit it.

Every time one of these articles is published – you get exactly what you find above. A litany of fake names, taking shots – at people who publish under their true identity. It doesn’t feel right.

The standard reply is that Norwalk has a history of “bully culture” – and if these poor souls actually published under their real names – retribution would ensue. Really? If that is the case – wouldn’t that be a journalists dream story?

NoN – time to re-visit your policy. No more fake names. Publish under your full, real name. Or don’t. Courage has nothing to do with it. It’s conviction that’s missing.

Mike Lyons July 30, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Frustrated Parent, I look at hard data all the time – as opposed to unverifiable rants from people like you using fake names. We can go away – and get rid of the 30 teachers and all the other things we’ve done. Then we’ll just leave it up to you and the other anonymous geniuses on this site who have ALL the answers – but don’t ever show up at a public meeting to propose them (preferring to condemn the people who are actually trying to solve these problems by ‘bravely’ throwing epithets from your computer while we’re out in the real world trying to DO something).

Embarrassed Parent July 30, 2019 at 2:51 pm

The behavior of the Board of Ed on these posts is embarrassing. Folks responsible for educating our children acting like children. And now this concerning news.

Shame on you.

Mike Lyons July 30, 2019 at 5:16 pm

Feeling no shame, Embarrassed Parent. Out here solving problems, not just making online comments while hiding behind fake names.

Bryan Meek July 30, 2019 at 5:20 pm

There is no shame in stating facts and making fact based decisions. Ruling on emotions might feel good, but doesn’t really do anyone any good in the end. Facts is, there are more anonymous posters here than the numbers of advocates coming out at budget time when it counts.

MarjorieM July 30, 2019 at 11:38 pm

“Fake names, fake news”…..is Mike Lyons a fake name for D. Trump? You surely sound like him.
My deepest belief is SPED is very complicated. It was then and it is now. Unfortunately the “old guard” central office staff was blamed and people’s reputations were trampled upon. Mike Lyons has tried his best, and so did the administrators who were the “old Norwalk.” If this proves anything, we have to stop blaming. It’ was wrong when this BoE did it, and it’s wrong now. For the sake of our children, we need to move forward to try to remedy this problem.

SMH July 31, 2019 at 12:09 pm

“Coward” is a personal insult that debases the one who hurls it, especially when that person is an elected official seeking recognition of his good work.

Mike Lyons, I once thought you’d make a fine mayor, but if you’re no longer able or willing to respond civilly to criticism, you’ll never again have my vote for any office.

Mike Lyons July 31, 2019 at 1:47 pm

SMH, folks hurl personal insults every day on this site. I – unlike you and many other users of fake names – am willing to stand behind what I say. It takes about 9,000 votes to win the mayor’s office; I’m sure I can do fine with one less. I’ve just reached the point, after 22 years of voluntary service in Norwalk’s government, where I won’t accept the role of punching bag any more. If having someone who fights for our kids and fights back when wrongly attacked turns you off, by all means vote for someone who does neither. I’ve realized over these years that you have two realistic choices in this City – change things and get attacked, or leave the status quo in place and people leave you alone. I chose to change things.

John Popp July 31, 2019 at 10:24 pm

At this point Mike what is absolutely disgusting is your behavior. We’re not looking for perfection because we “geniuses” know that no such thing exists. We are simply looking for our families to be treated with respect and for the district to stop minimizing the issues. Is that really so much to ask?

By throwing out insults and labeling things “fake news”, and making threats one cannot help but draw comparisons to the behavior of DT and his tactics which divide rather than unite. Perhaps if you tried to empathize with SPED parents rather than have such a combative, “you should appreciate what you get” attitude you would have more support. You seem to fail to realize how far-reaching the effects of the SPED system can be (emotionally, socially and financially) on the entire family.

When you say, “You weren’t at any of the public meetings – not a single SPED parent showed up to support me” you’re right, because it’s not about YOU, it’s about our kids and we are drained from having to fight for them every single day. Most of us can’t afford to take the time off because:
we are working to pay to support our children or
pay the legal fees required to fight for our kids because we have to hire attorneys and advocates to try and obtain appropriate services for our children or
what time we do have available to take off has already been used to attend IEP meetings, meet with the schools, follow-up trying to get our kids services, taking them to various evaluations, etc.

We don’t have to do this once, or even twice, we have to do this every.single.year from the time they are identified from the time they age out. For some of us the fight started by trying to have them identified and cleaning up the mess that occurred prior to identification, which is often a whole other ball of wax, sometimes involving the legal system because of the failures of NPS.

Do you also realize that many parents don’t want to speak out publicly because then their child, who otherwise is not publicly identified, will be labeled as SPED? Do you know the stigma that comes along with that for the child and the family? Do you know how cruel other children and parents can be once a child is identified as SPED? Is there any comprehension that are children (and our families) are sometimes ostracized?

Parents are also reluctant to speak out for fear of retaliation There has been a history of the district making the process more difficult for parents who go public with their issues. Why would a parent want to make it an already arduous process more difficult?

So yes, SPED parents will more often than not choose to speak out anonymously rather than publicly for those reasons and more. If you choose to label them as “cowards” for doing so that says more about you than them.

Mike Lyons August 2, 2019 at 6:42 pm

John, all those hundreds of volunteer hours I’ve put in trying to solve these problems were not to help MY OWN children, but to help others. Do you think I fought for that $3.6 million (with no help from SPED parents) because I don’t care about SPED children and their parents? I could have been home watching sitcoms like most people instead of going out to interminable night meetings to get this done. The fact that I refute false statements hurts your feelings, apparently. But I intend to continue speaking the truth, whether it’s when fighting for SPED kids, or fighting falsehoods spread by online commenters.

John Popp August 3, 2019 at 8:31 pm

Yes, Mike, we should all be grateful grateful for the $3.6 million and take your abuse, the mistreatment of our families, denial of services for our children, downplaying of the SPED issues and not speak out in public forums unless it’s to praise what is thrown our way or support Mike Lyons unconditionally, got it.

Making a blanket statement that SPED families didn’t support the effort to obtain the funding is insulting. Do you actually know who wrote letters, made phone calls or personal contact? Have you gone through the list of everyone who reached out and identified who is a SPED family and who isn’t? You talk about all the time “you’ve spent”.

Keep speaking your version of the truth Mike, just like I’m going to keep speaking mine.

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