Greenwich school board invites public comment on special ed report at meeting

Central Middle School in Greenwich, Conn., photographed on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.

Central Middle School in Greenwich, Conn., photographed on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018.

File / Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

GREENWICH — Parents and community members will have their first opportunity Tuesday to publicly speak out about a recently released audit of the long-embattled special education department in the Greenwich Public Schools.

Public Consulting Group, the Boston-based consulting firm hired to complete the audit, late last month released an executive summary of the audit, then the full 127-page report. On June 23, PCG presented the results of its work, which began in October, to the Board of Education at a special meeting without any public comment.

That lack of opportunity for parents to comment on the report — a long-awaited, wholesale review of the beleaugured Pupil Personnel Services Department — raised some concerns. At the June 17 meeting of the school board, Caroline Lerum, a special education parent and co-founder of the district’s Special Education Advisory Council, questioned when parents would be able to speak. She also raised other transparency issues, including the failure to release the full report before the board meeting at which it would be presented.

“How can PCG present a report that no one has seen?” Lerum asked. “How is this transparent?”

The full report is now available on the district’s website and outlines a list list of recommendations to improve the district’s special education services, which have been the target of criticism from parents and teachers for more than a decade.

At the June 23 meeting, board members expressed the need to hear the community’s thoughts on the report. Board of Education Chair Peter Bernstein said at that meeting that the board would schedule a meeting to hear from parents.

The July 6 meeting at 7 p.m. at Central Middle School, will provide parents that opportunity. The meeting will also be available virtually, via Zoom.

The report listed a litany of needed improvements in the long beleaguered special education department and gave 28 recommendations for the Pupil Personnel Services Department — of which special education is a part — including a name change.

According to the report, the department overseeing special education is in need of a “culture” change and must modernize many of its practices. It highlighted a persistent achievement gap between general and special education students and over-identification of Black and Hispanic students. It also noted that many of the issues outlined have persisted despite repeatedly being highlighted in prior reviews of the department.

PCG will also help the district implement the recommendations from the report. The Board of Education voted June 25 to extend its contract with PCG for up to $200,000 of federal COVID-19 relief funds. The school board had originally approved a contract just shy of $100,000 for PCG in September, with the funds coming from the district’s capital budget.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586