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State Says Attleboro Schools Broke Education Law

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the Attleboro School Dept. did not comply with special education laws.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has completed its investigation of a lodged by Jen Crowder for lack of speech and language and occupational services for her son, Austin, and has found the in violation of special education laws.

Both the district and Crowder have attorneys to deal with the matter. “Those attorneys are working together to resolve this,” Superintendent of Schools Pia Durkin said.

According to Massachusetts law (603 CMR 28.03 c), the school had 45 days to develop a new Individualized Education Program (IEP) following an evaluation of Austin last December. The district did not develop a new IEP until July. Additionally, the report says the district did not complete all of the required evaluations.

The law also required that the district use the IEP developed by Austin’s previous district in North Carolina until they were able to develop their own IEP. The IEP developed by North Carolina required Crowder's son to receive speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

The education department found that while Austin did receive the proper speech and language therapy, he only received occupational therapy for 10 minutes per week while his IEP called for 30-minute sessions.

The education department is requiring the school to take several corrective measures as a result of the findings. The district will need to revise its policies and provide training to staff members to ensure that IEPs are developed properly and in compliance with the law. The district will be required to provide compensatory services for missed occupational therapy sessions. They will also be required to provide four hours of compensatory services centering on academic skills.

The plan for implementing these compensatory services will be developed by the administration and Crowder. If they are unable to agree on a plan by Oct. 21 this year, it could result in a loss of funding.

Superintendent Durkin and Director of Special Education Lisa Martesian said the district is not in any real danger of losing funds.  

“The issues about funding are probably misinterpreted,” said Durkin, adding, “We have never ignored any finding from the DESE.”

Jen Crowder September 28, 2011 at 01:44 AM
Just to clarify, the school never provided occupational therapy at all to Austin. The occupational therapist consulted with the teacher for 10 min a week. They were supposed to provide direct services to Austin. Another violation they incurred was for letting the children out early by 15 minutes every day in order to accomodate the bussing issues that are apparently still ongoing. The Special Education director is Lisa Martesian. They both say they are working on it but are still not complying with his current IEP. Dr. Durkin has been aware of this for nearly a year (there is an email that is public record) and she has yet to follow up on it. I have made numerous attempts at contacting the superintendant and she ignores me and calls other people to come talk to me, the same people who are consistantly violating numerous Special Education laws. I was not misinformed about the state funding being jeopardized by the districts numerous violations. It is clearly stated in the final report issued by the DESE. I submitted a copy of this to each committee member and is public record. Dr. Durkin's "support" and demeanor were so artifical at that meeting that it was completely insulting. Her behavior in front of the committee and cameras is a far cry from the way she tried to bully me and treat me like a child when the school lost my son. If anyone would like to see the reports from the DESE, please feel free to email me at jencrowder24@gmail.com.
Laura Dolan September 28, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Jen, I saw you at the school committee meeting ( I watched on tv). You looked like a broken down Mom (not meant as an insult by any means). My heart went out to you. Kudos to you for being so diligent fighting for your sons needs. I would do the same. I just wish for you it wasn't so difficult. It makes me sad that you feel so stonewalled and unheard. I wish you and your son the best and hope you both get what you need.
Robert Machado September 28, 2011 at 07:51 PM
What do you mean the school "lost" your son? While your issues with the IEP are very serious losing your son sounds like an immediate emergency. Can you elaborate??
Jacqui Stanhope September 28, 2011 at 09:29 PM
I am very sorry to hear what you and your handsome little man are going through. There needs to be a method of accountability in-place to prove that services for any children eligible to receive them are taking place as prescribed in their education plans. I think all parents should be given specific schedules of their child's delivery of services and if there is a change that parent or care giver should be notified in writing as to when the service will be delivered, and the provider should always provide some type of written daily log following up on each service delivery to the parents or caregiver of such child on a scheduled basis.
Jen Crowder September 28, 2011 at 11:32 PM
Thank you- I do not feel insulted at all. I am broken down. The stress of this whole situation has taken it's toll on me physically and mentally. This has been a full time job and I have been fortunate enough to be able to keep up with it all. I truly feel for the parents who do not have the time that I do. Hoefully this will make it easier on them as well. I appreciate your support!
Jen Crowder September 29, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Surely. Austin was to be on a van for transportation to school. A parent or adult must get on, buckle him in, and also remove him from the vehicle. Austin was picked up at 8:47 am (school starts at 8:50) and his father personally put him on the van. At 11:30 I received a personal call from the school asking me why Austin wasn’t in. We were outside waiting for him to arrive home from school (he arrives at 11:33). I told him he was in school. I was told hold on while they looked for him. I went immediately to the school with a friend and my husband stayed at home to see if he arrived. Just as I was pulling into the school, they called to say they had found him and they were putting him onto a van. I made them hold him there and I walked in. At that time I spoke with the principal and she said he was safe; the late call was because they had a fire drill around 10:10. Sorry for the mix up. She also stated he was escorted by a responsible adult from the van to class but couldn’t tell me who. Austin said he got himself off the van and walked into school himself. At that point I left and went to see Dr. Durkin.
Jen Crowder September 29, 2011 at 12:31 AM
Contnued: I told them why I was there and that I wanted to see her immediately. I kept being told she was on a conference call and she would be for at least an hour. Then they called Lisa Martesian over to speak with me. When she arrived at the office, I told he I did not want to speak with her, I wanted Dr. Durkin. She kept insisting and was encroaching into my personal space. I had to tell her to get away from me. The next attempt was by Nancy Sprague who was all smiles and actually said "He's safe, don't worry about it" I stood my ground and said again I would only speak with Dr Durkin. Dr Durkin finally came out and told me she wouldn’t speak with me unless I was completely calm. I was shaking still. I had a friend there as well who witnessed everything. Dr Durkin finally came out and when we spoke, she said "It's not a big deal. He's safe." She also said "I will not apologize for anything except for your anxiety" Lisa Martesian, Nancy Sprague, and Mark Forted were all present. Lisa Martesian tried saying it was an automated call at 9:30 that went out in error due to his van arriving late.
Jen Crowder September 29, 2011 at 12:32 AM
Continued 2: Austin went unaccounted for at attendance, the fire drill, and exiting school. He is supposed to be the first child out of class to get on the van. They waited nearly 2 ½ hours to call home, and then called home and caused extreme anxiety. There were apparently no protocols in place for when they cannot account for a student. And the superintendant thinks this is no big deal. We now have to drive Austin to school and escort him to his classroom every day, not to absolve the school of any responsibility but to ensure Austin’s safety. Yes, Austin was there that day and was in his classroom but went unnoticed. If he was noticed, nobody was able to report so. What if he had a seizure? (He has epilepsy as well.) What if he just walked away from school? There hundreds of what-ifs. And yet no one is being held accountable, there are not protocols, but there are several ridiculous excuses. And not even an apology. The schools attorney sent a letter to my attorney but also could not elaborate on what happened that day. Those are public record as well if anyone would like to see.
Jen Crowder September 29, 2011 at 12:42 AM
We have requested that there be a set schedule, a note home each day, some sort of plan but they will not do so. Excuses range from they can't have a schedule set because there is only 1 provider for 3 schools so times and days will vary, to it's too much- they have their own attendance records. We need people on our school commitee who actually have children in this school system like Brenda Furtado (Ward 4), Ken Parent (Ward 6 Canidate) and Barbara Craw ( At-Large Candidate) becasue they have a true interest in the schools.
Jen Crowder September 29, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Cont. 3: This would have been mentioned at the committee meeting but I was not allowed to actually express concerns after Ray Di Ciaccio would not allow any comments to be made by me but then allowed Dr Durkin and Lisa Martesian to comment after he said they could not comment. I find it suspicious that this happened especially since when myself, my sons attorney, and other supporters walked in just as the meeting was about to begin and Dr Durkin and Lisa Martesian pulled Ray Di Ciaccio out into to the hall for a quick conversation. Even more so, when in the superintendants office, Dr Durkin was rude, bullying, and unsympathetic, yet when the cameras were on, she feigned support and compassion.
Ellen Chambers September 29, 2011 at 12:54 AM
Our special education system is utterly and completely out of control ... and it starts at the top. The fed dept of education EXPECTS states to violate special education laws. The feds don't expect states to comply with the law, only to correct identified noncompliance within ONE YEAR. That's it. School districts do as they please because they can. There are no consequences. SPEDWatch, the only special education watchdog group in the state (and, as near as I can tell, in the country) is organizing parents into an activist movement for special education rights. Sadly, most parents are too tired or too scared to step forward and fight, so the going is slow. Read this letter http://www.spedwatch.org/files/baehr_may_27_2011_bw.pdf to see just how blatantly our state dept of ed turns its back on students with special needs. Check out the hugely disproportionate failure rate of students with disabilities here http://www.spedwatch.org/files/mcas_performance.pdf and here http://www.spedwatch.org/files/adams_scholarship.pdf Until parents are ready to fight (and I mean REALLY FIGHT) for change, nothing different will happen. Parents feel powerless, but we possess tremendous power. Think for a minute what would happen if we all boycotted MCAS, or kept our kids home from school for a month straight. Think the "system" would pay attention to us then? You bet it would. We have power to the degree that we choose to use it. Ellen Chambers Special Education Activist
Amanda September 29, 2011 at 01:09 PM
Wow - I'm empathize with you tremendously. I have a son on an IEP and attends Willett also. Luckily, I do not have any complaints with regard to the services received thus far, but reading what has happened to you and your son - I plan on going back and crossing my T's/dotting my I's to make sure everything is in line. And to quickly mention, the a little girl in kindergarten who is on my son's bus stop was "lost" on the way home (they put her on a different bus, took 30+min to locate her)
DebEgan September 30, 2011 at 12:20 PM
I was watching the meeting Monday night and I felt so sorry for Ms.Crowder. For her to come before the school board she must be at her wits end. I know that I would fight as hard as I could for my daughter and that's what she was doing. The superintendent and her assistant were very innappropriate patting her on the shoulder and telling her that she was doing the right thing. Of course she's doing the right thing and it's this bad because of you! But what bothered me the most is that chairman and how he treated this poor woman. First to read how he can't reposnd to her but then to let the superintendent talk over Ms.Crowder and say whatever she wanted. But then worse he said to this woman, who has been pushed beyond the breaking point by Pia Durkin, that he is sure that Pia will do the right thing and that she cares. What? I was yelling at the tv that she wouldn't have to even be there if the superintendent cared and had done the right thing! Mr.DiCiaccio was insensitive and was brushing her off. This man has done some stupid things in the past but this was an all time low. Watching these meetings has been painful because of how Mr.DiCiaccio does things, but this was worse. And then I saw one of his signs for election yesterday. I can't believe that he is running for election again. You treated this poor woman without any sensitivity and you will not get my vote!
Ann October 01, 2011 at 01:46 AM
This child's rights should be protected. His picture, name, schools attending, and disability has been disclosed. Is this acting in the child's best interest?
John October 03, 2011 at 12:33 AM
Well said Deb, I agree with everything you have said. I watched the school committee meeting today and it was pretty sad to see what they did to this women. Open forum is not a time to engage the person who is speaking (per the chairman's directions lol), but I guess those rules don't apply to the Superintendent, her Director of Special Education or the chairman himself. I agree with you that this was probably Mr. Di Ciaccio's low moment of his first term, for someone who claims to care about the kids to treat a parent like this, a parent who is fighting for her child, was disguisting. Mr. Di Ciaccio use to question the Superintendent, but once he felt his grip slipping on the committee, he seems to have become her biggest support. I hope the voters remember that come election day (I know I will).

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