GUILFORD — Superintendent Paul Freeman said Monday that the district plans to add two new staff positions to the district’s special education department and include questions in the district’s annual climate survey directly related to special education services.
The changes were in response to ten anonymous letters of complaint against the district’s special education department that were sent to the Guilford Human Rights Commission earlier this year.
The letters were dated between January 31 and March 8 of 2022.
Several of the complaints alleged changes being made to Individualized Education Plans without parental notification, a violation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. Others said they felt the district should have identified their child or grandchild’s disability sooner, and one parent said they had struggled to convince the school to evaluate their child. Several of the complaints also spoke about a perceived insensitivity and lack of compassion from leadership staff in the special education department.
“While we have always expected there to be difficult discussions and decisions, the parents of a child with special education needs should NEVER be treated as poorly as we have been,” wrote one parent.
In his report at a Board of Education meeting on Monday, Freeman emphasized that the letters were anonymous, which made it difficult to respond. He urged families who had specific concerns to come to a member of district staff, such as the school principal or the special education coordinator – or, if they did not feel comfortable coming to the district, to go to the State Department of Education.
“We take enormous pride in the special education services we provide, and in the relationship we have with those families,” said Freeman. “So to know that those concerns are out there is troubling.”
In a letter addressed to the Board of Education from the Guilford Human Rights Commission, the committee said that a parent who had spoken to a member of the commission over the phone told the commissioner that the letters were anonymous “because these families fear retaliation for their complaints.”
Freeman said at the meeting he had reviewed each of the complaints with Director of Pupil Services Jason Sconziano, and that they had discussed specific concerns, recurring patterns within the letters and ways the district could move forward. He said that Sconziano had then met with the special education coordinators to discuss the letters.
Freeman told the board that the district had already budgeted for an additional full time special education position in the coming year. He said that after meeting with Sconziano, Freeman decided that the district would add another half-time position in the special education department, as well as an additional paraprofessional.
“While many of the letters expressed concerns about communication — and quite honestly, it was communication at the administrative level — the first line of contact is in the classroom.” said Freeman. “And we want to make sure that we’ve got appropriate numbers so that we are building those relationships with those parents of students with special needs.”
Freeman told CT Examiner that the cost for both positions, a total of $49,000, would come out of the budget, either through transferring funds or taking advantage of savings.
Freeman also said that the annual parent climate survey would this year include a section of questions for parents whose children have special needs. He said the survey would ask about the quality of the district’s services and have a space for open responses. He said he wanted to get feedback from all the families who have special education students in the district, which he said number about 400.
“The pieces that I’ve talked about are holistic and systemic. But if there are specific concerns about your child, please — speak to a teacher. Speak to a special education coordinator. Speak to a principal, speak to Mr. Sconziano, speak to me … I think the pieces that were put in place will help, but what’s going to help more is parents knowing that they can come in and speak to us,” said Freeman.