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Attleboro Mom Takes Her Complaint to the Board of Education

One parent’s struggle with the Attleboro School Department may be indicative of a district-wide issue.

Jen Crowder was raised and attended school in Attleboro before moving south to Florida and later North Carolina. She always knew, she said, that if she had children she would move back to her home town to ensure they received that great education.

After moving back to Attleboro with her young son Austin last May, she realized that the same school system she benefited from as a child, did not live up to her expectations from the past.

She found herself struggling to get Austin, who requires special needs services and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) due to his disabilities, the services he needed and the district is required to provide to him.

A Long Wait

May 15 is when Crowder says she became a permanent resident of Attleboro, and that following Monday she went to the school department to enroll her son. Crowder said she provided the department with all of her son’s records from his previous school in North Carolina, including the IEP that the North Carolina school had written and developed for Austin.

According to Massachusetts law (603 CMR 28.03 c) the school should have been using the IEP developed by North Carolina until they developed their own.

Additionally, since the district requested a new evaluation, they had 45 school working days after receiving Crowder’s consent to the evaluation to provide an evaluation and develop an IEP in accordance with state and federal laws.

Crowder says the process took nine months. Her son’s IEP was not written until January 2011.

Part of the problem, she said, stems from a disagreement over Austin’s diagnosis. Both North Carolina and Florida diagnosed her son as autistic, as did Massachusetts doctors. His diagnosis included an all- day observation done by Children’s Hospital Boston neurologists. 

The district believes that Austin is not autistic, but rather developmentally delayed, which results in a substantial difference in the services required by his IEP.

Lack of Cooperation

Crowder says the school department was repeatedly difficult to deal with when she was trying to get Austin the services required by his IEP.

Her son was supposed to be in the district’s summer program last year, but she was not able to get him enrolled until she went into the superintendent’s office and refused to leave until the issue was addressed, Crowder said. 

Even then, when the bus came to pick up her son the bus driver claimed he was not enrolled and Crowder had to put her son on the bus and demand that he be taken to school.

The problems did not stop once her son was successfully in the schools. Crowder says her son has not receiving speech and occupational therapy as required by his IEP.

When she brought of this issue to Superintendent Pia Durkin, she was told that the department did not have enough resources to provide the therapy.

According to Massachusett’s law (603 CMR 28.06 2d) the school cannot delay services due to a lack of resources. If there is a lack of resources an alternative method for provided the required services needed to be found.

She also said she was told by someone at the Early Learning Center that Dr. Durkin had called asking if she was a “problem parent.”

“She does not want to face parents,” Crowder said. She went on to say that when she tried to speak with Durkin at her office, Durkin would go into her office and say she was in a meeting and couldn’t talk with her. 

Crowder met with Director of Special Education Lisa Martiesian last week in order to address the concerns, but says nothing was accomplished.

When contacted regarding this story Marteisian said she could not speak about a specific child’s case due to confidentiality agreements.

Durkin did not respond to requests for comment about Crowder's allegations. 

Formal Complaint

Crowder has filed a formal complaint with the Board of Education and they are currently investigating the situation.

Crowder spoke with Jay Swanson of the Board of Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who confirmed that there was a complaint filed and being investigated, but could not speak on the specifics at this time.

According to J.C. Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Secondary Education, complaints are dealt with by their Problem Resolution Center who investigate the complaints and then issue findings.

If a school is found to not be in compliance with the law, they will be made to take corrective action.

According to Considine all formal complaints will have, at the very least, a statement of their findings made to the individual who filed the complaint.

Possible Fraud

In additional to the complaint filed with the Board of Education, Crowder has also filed a fraud complaint with MassHealth accusing the school department of charging her insurance for services that were not provided.

The school department sent home notices at the end of 2010 requesting permission to charge parents' insurance for special needs services.

While Crowder initially agreed, she withdrew the permission when she found that her son still was not being provided with the speech therapy he required.

Crowder then contacted MassHeath’s fraud department who are still in investigating the matter.

Not an Isolated Case

Crowder says it’s not just her child being affected and that she has spoken to other parents in the district who have had similar issues with the department and getting the services their children need.

Additionally Crowder says none of the students in the summer program are received the required 120 minutes of instructional time as she says the teachers have the students prepare to leave 15 minutes before the end of the day.

The district has said they will need to cut back on certain supplies and programs this year because a decrease in budget, but said the number of special education students has increased by 44.

The district said  would benefit greatly from the increase and that the district has plans for a new program for students on the autism spectrum, but nothing has been confirmed. 

“They are leaving the special needs kids behind," Crowder said. "They are falling farther and farther behind."

Lisa Holmes July 19, 2011 at 12:16 AM
Lisa Holmes - It is a shame that our school system treats a child like this. Supt Durkin would rather turn her head and hide than do her job. This poor child deserves a proper education. We should all be ashamed of ourselves and the Attleboro Public School Administration. We need to take back our schools and elect the right people to the school committee and stop this injustice. No child deserves this treatment - how can we allow Pia Durkin to still be in charge of our children's education? When a bully is in charge, everyone gets hurt.....Teachers, students and parents. When are the citizens of Attleboro going to say enoughs enough and get rid of such horrible superintendent? I know I have had enough and I will not be voting for any of Pia's puppets for school committee in November. And if you think it won't happen to your child, just wait. I use to think these incidents were isolated until my child was denied the services she needed. I will not let Pia Durkin ruin our schools. Please do your part and remove the problem before it gets worse!!!!!
Heather July 19, 2011 at 04:02 AM
It is horrible that a parent has to go through so much just to get their child the services that they are entitled to. While no one should have to fight so hard for their childs schooling it is not like this for every student and every situation. My son receives services and the teachers, principle, and therapists have been nothing but wonderful. I hope that things get straightened out for you soon.
Debbie Pierce July 19, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Justin, who does the evaluations for the district, particularly when there is already an existing diagnosis? If I am reading correctly, the Boston Children's Hospital, which incidentally is top-ranked in the country for pediatric neurology, was among those diagnosing Austin as autistic?
Ellen Chambers July 19, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Schools districts ignore doctors and violate the educational rights of students with special needs all the time. Students with disabilities in MA, 90% of whom as are intellectually capable as their non-disabled peers, are failing in astronomical numbers. The MA Dept of Elementary and Secondary Educ. documents an average of 100 violations of special education law every month. The US Dept of Ed has cited MA 13 times in the last 21 years for failing to meet its legal obligations to students with disabilities (most recently on June 20, 2011). This has gone on for decades, and it will continue for decades until parents organize and fight (I mean REALLY fight) for change. I formed SPEDWatch, a nonprofit special education watchdog group functioning as an activist movement for special education rights, to allow parents to do just that. See www.spedwatch.org Now, I am off to the State House to meet with a member of the Joint Committee on Education about just this matter. BTW, Jen Crowder's story is the norm, not the exception. Schools hide behind confidentiality all the time. Jen, if you're game, write to the school district giving them explicit permission to discuss all aspects of your son's case with Justin. Then have Justin follow up with the district. See if they still refuse to talk. They will either talk or look like they have something to hide. This is called nonviolent direct action. It is SPEDWatch's primary strategy Ellen Chambers, MBA Founder SPEDWatch
Jen Crowder July 19, 2011 at 01:22 PM
You are reading correctly! My son was diagnosed in FL. When we moved to NC, they jumped on without any hesitation and provided him with Early Intervention and at his third birthday, he transferred over to IEP and the school provided Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. When we arrived here, they (the school) said they needed a MA doctor to diagnose him. So off to Children's we went. It took some time but once it was all said and done, not only was his autism diagnosis confirmed yet again, but they also confirmed his diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and they diagnosed him with Absence Epilepsy. He was sent for a full Occupational Evaluation at Childrens, who determined that he still needed OT in school as well as out of. We waited for the appointment at Children's instead of having him seen locally for just reason you stated- Children's is one of the top-rated hospitals for pedi neurology in the country! Now obviously my son comes first to me but I am putting this out there for others as well. My son's needs for school is minimal compared to most on IEPs. Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Extended School Year (summer program) and full day for Kindergarten. Very Simple. If I can't get that for him, then what are these other parents going through with their children who need more services and more help? I know some of these parents and they are getting just as much pushback from the schools even with the advocates that they have.
Jen Crowder July 19, 2011 at 01:23 PM
I think I will be writing a letter this week! Thanks for the info and I will be in touch!
Justin Pacheco July 19, 2011 at 01:47 PM
The school's evaluations were made by a speech pathologist and occupational therapist that are employed by the district.
Ellen Chambers July 19, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Just one point of clarification re: "The district believes that Austin is not autistic, but rather developmentally delayed, which results in a substantial difference in the services required by his IEP." Actually, the prohibits using disability category to define services, as follows: 603 CMR 28.05(2)(a)(1)(ii) "The type of disability shall not define the needs of the student and shall in no way limit the services, programs, or inclusion opportunities provided to the student." Ellen Chambers SPEDWatch echambers@spedwatch.org
CJ Gates July 19, 2011 at 05:03 PM
It seems awfully convenient for Ms. Crowder to go to the press with this story knowing full well that only her side will be told. Even if the school had consent to speak to the Patch, they would not nor should they. I'm sure she will claim that she did it so that other parents don't have to go through what she did and while that may be true, she self-servingly puts public pressure on the district. Instead, the article is littered with second-hand quotes regarding the district's stance and conjecture on what is really happening in the school system. I'd also like to point out that the article states that her son had an all day eval completed AT Children's hospital. It does not indicate the district's participation in that eval. Its likely that a teacher filled out a broad-based general questionnaire or rating scale. However, Children's chronically fails to speak with teachers, observe the child in school to determine the extent of his/her disability. Their evals are often incomplete and lack the appropriate thoroughness required.
Rick DiGiacomo July 19, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Both Florida and North Carolina diagnosed the child with autism, as did Children's Hospital. It's pretty clear the child has autism, these diagnoses are not arrived at casually. I'd like to know more about the school district's assertion that he doesn't have autism as I find it difficult to believe they'd have any basis to make that determination on their own. I agree that we're getting one side of the story as the district won't respond in the press, however even if half of what is said here is true then the school district has some explaining to do. The mother hasn't just gone to the press, she has also filed a formal complaint to the Board of Ed which I think makes the story newsworthy. I don't see anything wrong with a parent who's child has been denied services going to the press. You point out the holes in the article and then go on to trash Children's and tell us what likely has happened without having spoken with anyone yourself.
Debbie Pierce July 19, 2011 at 11:50 PM
Thank you for the information. Interesting, neither of those titles is typically held by an MD. Jennifer, I am sorry that you have had to deal with all of this. I applaud you for going through the proper channels and filing complaints with the appropriate authorities. Seeing that they are also objective 3rd parties, at the conclusion of their investigations there can be no talk of "agendas". Best of luck to you and Austin!
Rick DiGiacomo July 20, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Justin, Speech Pathologists & Occupational Therapists don't diagnose autism.
Ellen Chambers July 20, 2011 at 10:16 AM
If school districts followed the law there would be no need for complaints, Children's Hospital evaluations, and all the rest. There is one fact that cannot be ignored: school districts routinely violate the educational rights of students with special needs. I have been a special education advocate for 16 years. I have researched this topic extensively. The situation has been horrific--for decades! Yes, we are putting pressure on districts. Yes, we are using the press -- because nothing else has worked and children and suffering and failing. It forces schools to do their dirty work in the light of day where it can be seen and dealt with. There is no reason why the school should refuse to defend themselves publicly when they've been accused publicly. Except, of course, if what they've done is indefensible. Let the people decide. My money will always be on parents like Jen who do whatever it takes to save their children from the consequences of educational neglect. She gave the district plenty of chances before going to the press. It was the school's choice to ignore her.
tracie gaouette July 24, 2011 at 04:34 PM
It has happened as well at Studley Elementary numerous times the past 3-4 years. Staff members aren't suppose to voice their concerns medically about the students as to what they may have medically or not. They've also have told parents as well if they don't get their children on Rx's they'll report them to DDS. Lots of delays also with getting the children on IEP's (Months) . Why are the school charging insurance companies for months before a child get their services? Calling the board of Education was a great move and they'll definately take care of this and I commended for it. I've seen teachers literally drag and carry students to the office on more than one occassion. Their have been many calls made to the DEO regarding the lack of servies for students with IEP's in Attleboro. One call is too many. Childrens Hospital is the best place to go for a diagnosis of autism and not to mention they are real doctors and the only ones who should be diagnosing a child. Keep fighting for your child/ren!!!
Ellen Chambers July 24, 2011 at 05:05 PM
It is illegal to require a parent to medicate their child as a condition of receiving special education services. If anyone wants the citation to the federal law on this email me at echambers@spedwatch.org If you believe a child is being abused or neglected while in school you, too, can file a 51A against the school. You can also report your suspicions to the local police. Schools are charging Medicaid for services not delivered because they can. See my earlier post about the general dysfunction in the system. However, if you have evidence that this is happening PLEASE contact the Office of the Inspector General as they are looking into this currently. Also notify the State Auditors Office. And just in case you thought Attleboro is alone, Arlington is in the news regarding the same general issues. See the article here: http://www.wickedlocal.com/arlington/newsnow/x1259733054/Parents-of-Arlington-Special-Education-students-speak-out#axzz1SrF5nuuN Ellen Chambers

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