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Monday, August 26 News

More parents raise concerns over special ed practices

WESTPORT — The special education practices of Westport schools were called into question by another parent at the Board of Education meeting Monday night.

Karen Ambrose, a Westport parent, said something is amiss and the board knows it.

“I’ve talked about it for three years,” Ambrose said. “The Board of (Education) has been lied to for three years.”

Ambrose, who previously filed a complaint with the Department of Children and Families, alleged a child had been physically restrained but that it was never reported to the parents.

“If any other kid is physically held down against their will without any evidence of emergency, without any documentation. ... I’m going to report it again,” Ambrose said.

She added Kings Highway School Principal Mary Lou DiBella was wrongly put on leave in retaliation to the incident.

“It has got to stop,” she said. “I know there’s plenty of great people, but you have to weed out everything else.”

The ongoing discussion followed last week’s comments by Westport parent Rahul Kale, accusing three administrators of retaliatory tactics after he voiced complaints that the Central Office illegally shared privileged information about his child.

Kate Grijns, co-chair of the PTA Special Education Committee, said the remarks made by the Kale family highlighted some significant concerns held by many parents.

“Concerns of which parents have communicated to us throughout this school year,” Grijns said.

These concerns included SPED staffing departures, Grijns said. “Our parents are worried about the relationship between the SPED and staff and our administration.”

She claimed this year there has been several situations where parents have felt left in the dark, including the Kings Highway suspensions and the resignation of a longtime SPED staff member at Long Lotts School.

“I think it is time for all of us as a school district to stop and reset after a difficult year,” she said. “We really need to do a lot of healing. ... We want to do whatever we can to restore and preserve our exceptional SPED program.”

Board of Education Chairman Mark Mathias read a statement following the comments to clear up questions of the board’s “silence,” saying he didn’t want their lack of comment to be looked at lack of care or concern, or responsiveness.

“The board will address complaints on their merits when we receive a written appeal from the decision of the superintendent,” Mathias said of the board’s policy.

He added federal and state law limits what can be shared relating to specific students.

“These confidentiality obligations make it difficult and often impossible for the administration and the board to publicly share the outcome of investigations regarding school district employees when students are involved,” he said.

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Mathias said they wish to assure the public that student safety is a top priority.

“The administration has procedures in place to review allegations and decided what steps are in the best interest of students while respecting employees’ rights,” he said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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