Friday, January 27, 2012

Letter to the Editors: Concerned Parent still has unanswered questions regarding DEAL Program closure

The following letter was submitted to the Eye by Bielefield Elementary parent Jane Majewski, the mother who started the recent online petition concerning alleged mismanagement on the part of three administrators of the BOE administration overseeing Pupil Services and Special Education Services. It should be considered as an opinion piece; the verification of any facts & responsibility of claims made rests solely on the author. This letter, and others submitted by readers, are posted as a courtesy to readers,a and not necessarily the opinion of the team of regular bloggers or blog editors of the MiddletownEye.

Recently there has been much conversation about the closing of the DEAL program housed at Lawrence School and its possible impact on the current issues being faced at Farm Hill School.

At the last Board of Education meeting Dr. Frechette cited a report from the Connecticut State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, that covered a March 20 -24 monitoring site visit. As a result of that visit, Middletown was told that it "...needed to decrease the number of students in all disability categories who spend time in segregated settings as defined as students who are educated with their nondisabled peers." The report went on to say "This plan is to support the increase of students being appropriately educated in the district and within the general education environment that have otherwise been sent out of district or educated in separate classes due to behavioral needs or cognitive disabilities."

This is in direct contrast to the Cambridge report posted on the Lawrence School website. Within this report one sees a very different perspective to that of the BOE Administrators claim that they needed to disband the program. Allow me to highlight some of the statements on this report.

"In addition to its own regular student population the school provides education and support for 30 students in the Daily Experiences/Activities for Living Program (DEAL). These students would otherwise be placed out of district because of their significant learning and emotional needs. This is a district wide program that serves all 8 elementary schools in Middletown and which provides students with strategies to enable them to return to regular education, classrooms in their own schools."

"What the School Does Well.
The excellent behavior management strategies that are consistently demonstrated by staff ensure that the school is a calm and safe environment where students behave well, forge excellent relationships and learn the difference between right and wrong.

The school provides well for all students but particularly for those in the DEAL program to enable them to return to regular education, classrooms in their own schools. The learning difficulties experienced by students include autism, neurological impairments, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities and medical fragility".

At the recent Board of Education meeting Ted Radzka stated there was an increase in budget needs due to (amongst other things) an increase in cost to out of district placements and magnet school placements.

This is the reason why I became vocal about the issues facing Farm Hill. As a parent of a child in the DEAL program I was not told the DEAL program was being closed. It was just done. This is the lack of communication that parents are frustrated with. The conflict between the contradicting statements of the Cambridge report and the Administration is what leaves parents without a sense of trust.

Allow me to connect some dots. The DEAL program was closed. The children became ICM students at Farm Hill and Bielefield. The recommendations of Izzy Greenberg for redistricting (and closing of DEAL was under this) was not implemented. Farm Hill school did not have the staffing or resources to ensure a safe transition of this redistricting. Now, we have a divided confused community. As a direct result, children that would have been sent to DEAL are being sent out of town (farther away from our community) and the cost is increasing. More parents are applying to magnet schools for their mainstream children (myself included), cost is increasing.

No one is able to tell me where the ICM children's home schools would be. This is due to confidential laws that protect the children. The same administrators who fight to protect confidentiality of their clients have not fought to keep them safe and in an appropriate environment.

Why was DEAL really closed?
Why cant it be brought back?
If it worked (excellantly according to the cambridge report, staff and parents) why not keep it? It saves the taxpayers money and provides a nurturing and safe learning environment for all of our children

Jane Majewski


lechowiczfam said...

It needs to be clarified that the closing of DEAL happened at the same time as re-districting but it was not the decision of the committee. The committee was told by the administration that DEAL was closing.

Anonymous said...

Yes that's true- it was not the decision of the committee.

Anonymous said...

responding to lechowiczfam:
that is an interesting clarification because I am not sure that it was clear before. And I am also not sure if it matters a lot if it happened in conjuction with the redistricting other than the fact that the public was not involved. Even if the district was told to do it, if parents had been a part of the process we could have made an impact in several different ways. One way would have been to go to the State BOE and present another side of the story and discuss how the program was successful and why we felt that it shouldn't be changed. The second way could have been having the parents involved in transitioning if the first option didn't change the outcome. The children in DEAL tpically don't do well wtih change and uncertainty. Things were no in place until right before and even after school started. That is hard for any kid, but even harder for these kids.
The community was given several opportunities for imput regarding the redistricting of the schools. There were several meetings that parents could attend and give their opinions. I don't believe there was an opportunity for parents that couldn't attend to give their opinions (if I remember correctly this was discussed and turned down by the architect for some reasons they discussed-I am trying to remember back a few years and I may be mistaken on that point). Why couldn't we do something similar when it came to the DEAL program.
When going through redistricting one thing I kept saying to myself was that it will be hard for many people and there will be people that aren't happy. That is going to happen no matter what the outcome, that is part of life. The same would be true about the DEAL program, but giving people a voice is what makes the difference in their accepting it easier.

Tree Fanatic said...

I keep seeing articles that say Farm Hill will be staffed up from 7.5 Special Ed teachers to a new total of 19. I have looked at the Farm Hill teacher roster on the website, and can only find about 20 actual teachers out of staff of 68. Does this mean that, for every traditional classroom teacher there will be one Special Ed teacher? That seems very high for a student enrollment of about 370. Or am I not getting accurate information?

Anonymous said...

Tree fanatic-
I am sorry, I dont know the answer to your question. I will send your question to Dr. Frechette to see if it is something that can be answered.

Anonymous said...

The Cambridge report is from an independent evaluation company. The recommendations from the report do not have to be followed. They are recommendations that often make sense that come from objective observers that take in a whole picture. When the state comes in and does an evaluation they may make recommendations; however, they generally make demands. More often than not the demands come from one department that has forgotten it is part of a bigger agency with many departments making demands. Too many times the demands of these separate departments conflict. Principals' and teachers' hands are being tied constantly. These departments basically say; "You can not do things the way you are now. Figure out how to do it differently. It does not matter what the other department said, we are telling you you have to meet our demands." Many of these edicts from the state are the results of lawsuits or lawmakers with good intentions. People that are responding to one situation and demanding the rest of us to comply. Then there are Federal laws. It is not a time to be a teacher or principal. Public education is the only institution in America that can not turn anyone away by law. Hospitals, doctors, welfare and other institutions can turn you away. This is not in defense of the Middletown Administration. They do not communicate, work cooperatively or collaboratively with parents, teachers, administrators or students. Just trying to answer some questions.

Anonymous said...

Did he say staff or teachers? Maybe he said staff and that can include paraprofessionals and behaviorists.

Anonymous said...

I think that Ms. Majewski poses a fair question. Dr. Frechette, Barbara Senges and Ann Perzan have all stated on the record that the ICM program is housed at Farm Hill because the majority of students in the program are Farm Hill students. I would bet that information is false and that we are again being lied to by the administration.

I do not expect anyone to release protected student information, but I would like to see a list of students (without names or identifying information) by grade and home school.

I hope that the Board of Education will press the Superintendent for that information. I think it will quickly become cleat that we have been lied to again.

Anonymous said...

please board of ed. get the TRUTH. i know for a fact these people at central office are lying!!!please make them accountable for what they say and do.INVESTIGATE!!it makes me sick to see how they are getting away with everything!! our school district is a mess. its embarrassing and heartbreaking to see what they have done to our district. Ryan Sheila, Ed, Gene, Cheryl,Ava, Mitch please do what you promised you would do. don't give up and get answers!!!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou to the person who explained the Cambridge report- just another example how we get conflicting and confusing information- a little bit of communication can alleviate a lot of problems.

I still don't understand how sending kids out of district answers the state regs. The schools are even farther from our homes and costs more money than the DEAL program.

To the poster calling for the board of Ed to investigate, or anyone else experiencing issues, please contact me as I have a group of parents and staff working together to get answers and hopefully some changes. Some are telling their stories anonymously.

David Sauer said...


I believe that the State's problem with the DEAL program was that it was largely, if not entirely, self-contained. The Federal law requires that students in disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). That means, among other things, that disabled students must be educated with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. The law gives each individual child these rights while the effects on the rest of the disabled population, the non-disabled population and the community as a whole are legally irrelevant. This means that you can't keep any child in a more restrictive enviroment than is necessary, even if it means that programs like DEAL are eliminated and some children end up in a more restrictive environment such as an out of district placement.
The law in the area of special education is very rigid and often leads to unintended consequences. Many people have trouble understanding why decisions like this are made because they expect these decisions to be based on facts, experience and/or common sense. Unfortunately the Federal law cares nothing for these things. The wisdom of the law is debatable. The BOE's obligation to comply with State and Federal law is not debatable.

Anonymous said...

Then it would seem to me that it is time to come against those laws. When the intent is for least restrictive causes restriction on the disabled child as well as the general population- then the original intent of the law is not being met. It would be amazing if the "farmhill" issue which feels so horrible becomes the catalyst for positive changes.

Thankyou btw for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Actually Attorney Sauer, you do not have your facts correct. Lawrence School DEAL program was an integrated program for the DEAL students. Students from across the district were placed at Lawrence School and could utilize the contained program when they needed and be integrated with typical peers throughout the day. They may have started with lunch or recess, worked into specials like gym, art and music and eventually take core classes with their peers. They had the stability of the specialized DEAL staff and the wonderful "regular education" teachers as they could handle it. Their 'regular" teachers would participate in monitoring their progress with their special education teachers in the DEAL program. I am very familiar with this program and throughout the 20 years of it's existence I don't believe you've even visited it. However, I do know that you are close friends with last years' BOE members, and must be getting your misinformation from them. I have to write this anonymously for fear of retribution and wish I could be more open.

Be clear that this program was closed because Mrs Slade wanted it that way. The excuses she's used are incorrect. Please get the facts new BOE - before the Federal government, State Department and others come down on us. You cannot believe that all of these students live in the Farm Hill District - that is untrue also.

Anonymous said...

thank you to the last post for explaining the real reason Deal was closed. I also knew that ms. slade and others at central office wanted to get away with DEAL which i know for a fact was a great program. So thank you to the person who clearly gave the TRUE facts not what att. sauer stated. this new BOE will get the truth i am sure. they are all working for our kids.

Anonymous said...

This is why the former mayor was suing the BOE administration. They constantly play by their own rules people!!! But people wanted Dan Drew and no lawsuits and you see this is what you get!!

Anonymous said...

See how much conflicting information is given to parents? How are we supposed to know what the truth is? How are we supposed to trust our children in the hands of leaders engaging in this horrible battle.

Please dr Nocera- I echo the cry- where is the documentation from the state that says DEAL was restrictive?

If there is none, how about a simple apology from the administrators -"we thought closing DEAL was a good choice, we messed up"

That's what I teach my children, own your mistake, apology, and repair the damage.

Being back DEAL-

Get some dignity and respect for the taxpayers in town.


David Sauer said...

The superintendent posted a letter from the state with his Farm Hill talking points on the BOE web site. This letter is written in typical bureaucratic double talk, by which I mean that is so vague and filled with catch words that it doesn't say anything definitively, but it does clearly indicate that the state was concerned about Middletown's compliance with the requirements of LRE. The letter also references a wealth of other material. You can ask the superintendent's office to let you read the materials referenced in the state's letter or if necessary you can get them by FOI. You can also look at the minutes of the meetings that are referenced in the talking points memo. Each of those documents will also reference other documents, which you can also examine. You might also want to speak to one of the child advocates that are involved in the scream room issue and discuss with them whether or not there were legitimate LRE issues with the DEAL program.
Knowledge is power here. If you are going to establish that the administration's reasons for closing DEAL are just a pretext you are going to have to know what they claim the facts are and look at whether or not their claims are accurate. You have gotten people motivated and involved. Maximize your knowledge and you will maximize your groups power and effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou- I will speak to the advocates and read the report.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sauer-
I just read the letter you pointed me to. It speaks to a period dated 2006-2008. This brings up several questions- perhaps we could talk?
The letter ends with a statement that a close out letter was also sent for 2005-2008.
I would like to see the original letter of 2006 and the close out letter- can you point me to it?

Second- why wouldn't this have been communicated efficiently to parents before now?

Why wasn't a parent advisory team part of the transitioning of deal kids into icm status?
The redistricting of our mainstream kids afforded such communication/ this appears to me at first glance to be discriminatory- I want the same voice in planning for my son as I was given for my other children in town.

I also don't see language that states DEAL was restrictive. I find it more restrictive to send a chd out if town with less frequency of integration that was afforded to us at DEAL. I am now looking at these schools as an option for my child.

I find the planning of transitioning to bielefield lacking. The classroom did not even have appropriate furniture- the new timeout room had an open circuit breaker box. The staff were not given adequate infrastructure to transition the children based on what I see.

I met with Dr. Frechette and Ms. Senges this past week. I am interested in being an active part of the changes at whatever level it takes to bring about an environment conducive to learning for all of our children- and their staff.

What stands out in my head the most about my meeting with Dr.frechette? A drawing on his wall from school children thanking him for reading to them.
Because I have photos of Mayor Giuliani reading to my three children at bielefield.

Both of these community leaders came to my school without the fanfare of recognition- and read to the children.

So why then, are we subject to this apparent political gridlock in town? Why do I take time from my family to attend BOE meetings where two sides have clenched teeth and political posturing?

I wonder if (and this is sarcasm) the DEAL staff could sit down with leaders of both sides and teach them some social skills- communication skills-
And the ability to work together nicely no matter what their "differences" are.

Anonymous said...

My biggest complaint about the closing of DEAL and some of the other things have to do with poor communication. It seems that there has to be a way to better communicate what is happening in this town and in the school district. Today is complicated with our many avenues of communication (internet, honeywell, flyers, blogs, text, etc) and it is impossible to use all the venues all the time. But, it seems to be that we can come up with a way to get the word out to people. To educate people and to give us a chance to help where we are needed. If the state came in and told the school district that we have to close DEAL, then involve the parents so we can talk to the state and share how we feel DEAL is providing a Least Restrictive Environment for some kids. By not involving us in that process the district took away our voice.

David Sauer said...

As far as I know none of the other documents are readily available online. I would suggest that you ask the superintendent's office to allow you to see them, and if they won't/can't give you access voluntarily request them through FOI. Be aware that you have to pay for copies of any documents that you receive through FOI.
You are correct that the letter from the state doesn't specifically mention DEAL, it just identifies the state's concern with the lack of inclusion in the district's special education programs. Be aware that there have been a huge number of cases, laws, regulations and articles that have given a very complex meaning to "least restrictive environment" and those three words greatly constrain what the district can and cannot do. It is important to thoroughly understand what the state and federal Departments of Education, and the courts, have decided that term means because your arguments are going to live and die on the "official" meaning of those words.
You raise some good questions, but I don't have much in the way of answers for you. I haven't been personally involved with anything involving the BOE for more than ten years now.

If you have any questions that you would prefer to discuss privately you can email me

Good luck.