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.
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.
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."