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Investigator Releases Report On Darien Special Ed Program

Independent investigator Sue Gamm presented her report on Darien's special education system to the Board of Education this week.
Independent investigator Sue Gamm presented her report on Darien's special education system to the Board of Education this week. Photo Credit: File

DARIEN, Conn. – Funding concerns and a lack of set procedures might have led to the problems with Darien’s special education system, according to the investigation conducted by attorney Sue Gamm.

The Darien Board of Education hired Gamm to conduct an independent investigation into the special education department to run parallel to the Connecticut State Board of Education’s investigation. Gamm’s final report is not yet complete, but she presented an executive summary to the school board Monday.

The investigation lined up with the charges levied by the state in its report earlier this fall. Gamm found that the district changed some individualized education programs (IEPs) without properly consulting parents.

The school district also followed incorrect procedures when formulating those plans, including not using the correct criteria and restricting parents’ access to their children’s records. Gamm also notes that Darien did not have a set Standard Operating Procedure Manual to relay the proper procedures to staff members.

Gamm’s report theorizes that the problems may have stemmed from pressure from the town to bring down special education costs.

“Given the context of the 2012-13 school year and the immediate implementation of changes, parent special education leaders have expressed their belief that the Board, through the superintendent, charged the new special education director, Dr. Deirdre Osypuk, with the task of dramatically reducing special education costs,” Gamm wrote in her report.

Gamm also criticized the district’s administrators for not seeking legal counsel when making changes to the town’s special education programs. A review would have helped ensure that the new procedures were following complex state and federal laws, she said.

“In a time of changing procedures and practices, the lack of BOE counsel was perhaps the canary in the coal mine,” the report states. “I believe that the 2012-13 school year may have proceeded differently if there had been legal guidance.”

Gamm’s recommendations for the district included setting up formal Standard Operating Procedure Manuals for all aspects of the special education program. She also suggested improved communication and scheduling for parent-staff meetings, a more accountable recording system and an improved process for accepting complaints.

Gamm’s full executive summary is available for reading at the Darien Public Schools website. You can also see a video of Gamm’s presentation to the Board of Education here .

Darien Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone stepped down last month amid the special education probe. Read about it here on The Daily Voice. Assistant Superintendent Timothy Canty took over as acting Superintendent. Read about it here on The Daily Voice.

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