As the minutes ticked past the 7 p.m. start time, SEPAC and the superintendent decided to call an audible.
Their game plan going in to the Oct. 9 meeting called for a panel discussion for the Special Education Parent Advisory Council and school administrators to respond to concerns following the publication of an unsettling piece penned by a former Lexington parent and the subsequent flurry of allegations of mistreatment of special needs students. However, with about two-dozen gathered in Clarke Middle School's auditorium, and probably half of them SEPAC members or staff, the panel shifted from the stage down to the floor to encourage more of a two-way conversation.
That this meeting, a follow-up to a previous iteration on Sept. 20, drew a smaller-than-expected crowd did not necessarily signal that the community concern has evaporated. But, speaking to Patch after the meeting, both Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash and SEPAC co-Chair Jennifer Yaar said they do feel like the unease of the last month has lessened at least a little bit.
“I believe Lexington is a sophisticated community, and if people had concerns we’d be hearing them,” said Ash. “I think people feel like they’ve been heard.”
Indeed there have been a number of opportunities for Lexington parents and other residents to voice their concerns in the month that’s passed since former resident Bill Lichtenstein’s disturbing portrait of his young daughter being shut away in a “seclusion room” was published on Sept. 8 by the New York Times. And, as Lichtenstein’s story exploded across the interwebs, additional stories telling of isolation of young students with special needs emerged at School Committee meetings and in local news reports.
In response, district administrators rebuked Lichtenstein's allegations, enlisted a crisis management consultant and filed a request asking the Department of Children and Families to investigate two reports of young students with special needs being left in “time out” rooms. Additionally, SEPAC is developing a survey that will look into satisfaction among parents with students on IEPs or 504s in the Lexington Public Schools – both in and out-of-district.
Yaar, who agreed with Ash’s sentiments about some parents feeling as though their concerns have been heard, said the survey could provide an outlet for those who feel like theirs haven’t.
"The survey for us is a good way to more anonymously get feedback from parents,” she said. “Not everyone feels comfortable coming forward in an open meeting."
SEPAC hopes to begin circulating its survey in the next couple of weeks, and to be able to deliver the results to the School Committee sometime this November.
Meanwhile, the 51a investigation into the two cases is underway -- no filing has been made in response to the third family's case -- but there is no definitive timeframe for a response from DCF. Ash did say on Tuesday that he will release the findings unless there is a good legal reason why he shouldn't.
"I really, really want to be transparent about this process, and open to the possibility that we didn't handle things correctly," the superintendent said.
So what do you think? Has Lexington moved past its seclusion room saga? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
And check back on Patch for more complete coverage of the Oct. 9 SEPAC meeting.
Read More on This Issue
LPS Officials Will Respond to NY Times OpEd Alleging 'Terrifying' Treatment of Special Needs Student
LPS Superintendent Statement Challenges NYT OpEd Alleging Mistreatment of Special Needs Student
Lichtenstein Responds to Ash's Statements
LPS Officials to Further Address 'Seclusion Room' Allegations Tonight
VIDEO: LPS Superintendent Was 'Disturbed' By Seclusion Room Allegations
Ash Asks State to Investigate Seclusion Room Allegations at LPS
Recapping the LPS "Seclusion Room" Controversy Thus Far
New Developments in LPS Seclusion Room Saga
Seclusion Rooms Only Part of the Story
School Committee's Sept. 20 Statement on Special Education
Lexington's SEPAC Sizing Up Special Education Survey