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LPS Officials Will Respond to NY Times OpEd Alleging 'Terrifying' Treatment of Special Needs Student

School officials are “very concerned” over allegations of mistreatment of a kindergartener with speech and language delays.

A opinion piece published this weekend by the New York Times has gone viral here in Lexington and has residents and school officials concerned over allegations of mistreatment a 5-year-old student in the Lexington Public Schools.

The piece, penned by Bill Lichtenstein, paints a disturbing portrait of a kindergartener with speech and language delays being shut away in a “seclusion room.”

According to Lichtenstein, the incidents involving his daughter, Rose, at the Lexington Public Schools occurred six years ago and the action the family brought against the LPS was settled when the district agreed to pay for Rose’s treatment.

However, Lichtenstein’s allegations—particularly the part when he describes arriving at the unnamed school with his wife to find his daughter “standing naked in a pool of urine, looking frightened as she tried to cover herself with her hands,” in a basement mop closet—have riled residents and sent officials scrambling to figure out what happened and how to respond.

On Monday morning, the School Committee was investigating the claims and working to formulate a response, according to Margaret Coppe, the board’s chairwoman.

“We’re very concerned,” Coppe told Patch. “The safety of the children is our top priority, and we are working to find out what happened.”

As of about 10 a.m. Monday, there was no official timetable for the district response, but stay tuned to Patch – we’ll post it as soon as we get it.

guest2012 September 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM
How is LPS just now getting concerned? I thought the Lichtenstein family sued and settled with them on this issue. According to the article, he called for a formal investigation by the LPS district and the local Child Protection Services. What's going on here?
SG September 10, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Was the settlement only financial or were measurements taken to address the person responsible for the event in addition to procedures and policy? If the allegations are right, this whole episode is highly reproachable.
OB September 10, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Six years later they still have not come up how to formulate it to the public? This is absolutely outrageous.
Dennis O'Donnell September 10, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Before we convict and sentence the school system, let's at least hear their side.
XP September 10, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Dennis I agree but it is concerning that there is still no response.
Aron Levy September 10, 2012 at 07:09 PM
If your organization had these kinds of allegations leveled against it, you'd probably want to take your time crafting your response as well. Be patient. The truth will emerge.
Guest5975 September 10, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I cannot fathom how grown adults can participate in such practices. I am disturbed that LPS has no comment on this. I am sure there are excellent teachers who are dedicated, and that overall the school is as horrified as you and I about this practice! It is is hard to fathom. I wonder if the Sate actually has a written position against the use of isolation rooms - many states do, not that it helps! I hate that this gives hard working schools a gigantic black eye and erodes the trust and relationship they are trying to build with families and communities...but it is absolutely good and right that this issue gets put in the public eye so it can be extinguished once and for all! Parents should be appalled. I truly think real educators want this horrible thing gone as much as parents. So hopefully our community and others who read this article will stamp it out in their schools.
Guest123 September 10, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I am aghast to learn about the treatment meted out to Rose and I am not surprised. Special Needs body of LPS is a shameless body who won't listen to parents of these special needs kids. Their approach of forcing their way of doing things and not listening to parents is reprehensible and requires state's intervention. I am not talking about what happened six years ago but I am talking about what goes on these days. My child goes to LPS special needs program.
TS September 10, 2012 at 08:18 PM
If this story is true and accurate I hope those involved are punished accordingly. Abuse in the name of "education" is simply unacceptable. I don't care if the educators condoning this treatment are Ivy League scholars. If any child cannot be assisted through traditional means, then the parents should be notified and simply told "the public school system is not equipped or trained to handle" such situations. At that point parents can determine what course of action to take. Public school is just that..."public", meaning it serves the greater student population. Despite being surrounded by well educated parents, it doesn't mean the school system can educate every special needs child. Some students require "private" school/progams to enforce "special needs" practices that go beyond what the average student or parent would expect as reasonable is just. Those parents are free to make their own determination if that particular practice is appropriate for their child's situation. Isolating a student in a closet is simply cruel no matter what the intentions are. I think the prisoners in Guantanamo actually have more rights than that. It is despicable to even be talking about this, and as I life long Lexington resident I hope those responsible are held accountable and are not given a "pass" by hiding behind some "method" or "practice" of special needs discipline.
Diane M Biglow September 10, 2012 at 08:41 PM
How can we expect an instant response from a school committee that wasn't even in office in 2007? Let us give them the time needed for them to do the investigating they should do before they respond.
Bbp September 10, 2012 at 09:16 PM
In the day and age of real time accountability, delays in producing statements or PR are viewed with suspicion. Their response should have been released yesterday. A curious unanswered becomes distrustful quickly...
SpecialMom September 10, 2012 at 09:28 PM
If school worked collaboratively with parents, everyone would be better off. This is what happens when schools think they know best ... but they don't. And this is what happens when no one wants to pay for outplacement. Only the extreme stories emerge, but sped kids are getting damaged every day in many less sensational ways.
SpecialMom September 10, 2012 at 09:29 PM
No one cares until it hits the media. Now their real estate is at risk... sad.
Andrei Radulescu-Banu September 10, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Yesterday was Sunday and the schools were closed. I'd also be interested in a timely response but we have to realize that the School Committee does not have an investigative staff to go around - and it does most of the work by itself. If that means waiting one extra day, so be it. The events happened six years ago, the school building changed, and perhaps so did some of the staff. In the meanwhile, the School Committee has a policy in place for how physical restraint is supposed to be handled - which is in line with MA regulations: http://lps.lexingtonma.org/cms/lib2/MA01001631/Centricity/Domain/201/LPS_SC_Policies/SC-RestraintUsage.pdf And according to this policy, student seclusion, i.e. 'physically confining a student alone in a room or limited space without access to school staff', is prohibited.
Poster123 September 10, 2012 at 11:03 PM
This isn't any different then MA law, the language is pretty much identical as what you can find on the DOE web site. The problem is ambiguous language like 'access to school staff'. As it turns out, schools can interpret this as 'staff can hear the student', and then confine kids alone in a room so long as they can be heard. Additionally, the superintendent *was* in office when this incident took place, and I am sure many other staffers are still here as well. Surely LPS could have put out some sort of statement. Why are we not holding these people accountable for this delay instead of the school committe, none of whom were here at the time? I am thinking lawyers are involved at this point, or else why take so long to make an official statement. Why not tell the public immediately that this no longer happens at LPS if that is the case?
Andrei Radulescu-Banu September 11, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Postert123, the question is whether the student had access to staff, not if the staff had access to the student. We're talking about School Committee policy, even if its language follows slavishly that of the MA regulations. Questions about it must be addressed to the School Committee, and the policy must be clear before it can determined if people followed it. Also, it would be appreciated if people posted non-anonymously on this message board.
John Kelly September 11, 2012 at 12:51 AM
NECN report on the story: http://www.necn.com/searchNECN/search/v/62309994/lexington-mass-father-claims-district-mistreated-his-daughter.htm?q=rose
Patrick Ball (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 12:58 AM
I'll have a more complete report posted by tomorrow morning, but I feel I should note what Bill Lichtenstein told me today -- that the alleged incident actually occurred not at the Fiske School itself, but at the former elementary school that currently houses the school administration. I'm not sure that's clear from in the NECN piece.
John Kelly September 11, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Rep. George Miller (D- CA) just posted the NY Times article on the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee web site. See http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/blog/seclusion-and-restraint-terrifying-way-discipline-children-news-day Lots of good information there about this problem nationally. See: http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/issue/seclusion-restraint
John Kelly September 11, 2012 at 01:02 AM
From what I understand, this action began and was settled while Superintendent Paul Ash was there. If so, this is not news to LPS. Could Lexington have asked the parents to sign a confidentiality agreement? I have heard of them doing that in other cases. That would explain a lot as well.
Poster123 September 11, 2012 at 01:08 AM
I agree with you, but again, the language is so vague that one can twist it any way and claim it was consistent with the law. And again, agree that the school committee needs to not copy the MA law but be crystal clear in what is, and is not, acceptable. In a larger sense, the law in Massachusetts needs to do the same, as well as across the country - this is not solely a Lexington problem. I at the moment do not feel comfortable using my real name on this board.
M September 11, 2012 at 07:45 AM
The public school system cannot turn children away. While I find the practice disgusting, the Lex Schools must take every child no matter the circumstances. They then, in concert with the parents, can try to find a private placement that the Lex Schools support and pay for and provide transportation to/from. But they are still responsible for the child's education just using outside expertise.
CD September 11, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Exactly - it's all about their budget and their reputation - not the kids!
Guest2207 September 11, 2012 at 09:03 PM
As the parent of a SPED student in the LPS that is the same age as Rose I am horrified by this story. I commend and thank Mr. Lichtenstein for getting his story out there for everyone to read. For years I have wanted to find a way to expose the LPS SPED for what it is, and it is not what LPS wants everyone to believe. They don't listen and they don't care - it all comes down to their budget and their reputation. Something like this should never have happened, and sadly LPS is only interested in protecting their reputation. And yes, I am sure their lawyers are involved. Probably the same lawyers that threatened us with legal action and forced us into a placement that we didn't agree with. Hopefully this will force everyone to take a closer look at SPED in the LPS and to start paying attention to how these kids and their families are treated by LPS.
Joe Deveau September 13, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Ash was in office???????????????
Ben Fein-Cole September 20, 2012 at 01:02 AM
The NYT did add an Editors Note: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/opinion/sunday/a-terrifying-way-to-discipline-children.html?_r=0 Editors' Note: September 16, 2012 An opinion essay on Sept. 9 criticizing the use of seclusion and restraint to discipline students described an episode on Jan. 6, 2006, in which the writer’s daughter, then a kindergartner, was kept in an isolation room at her school in Lexington, Mass. Several details of that episode have since been disputed. The girl wet herself while being confined in a closet for misbehaving. But school officials, and a 2008 deposition by the girl’s mother, state that she was then cleaned up and dressed while her parents were notified — and that it was not the case that the parents found her standing alone, unclothed, in her urine. The article incorrectly described the closet where the girl was confined. It was on a mezzanine between two classroom levels, not in the basement. While the girl’s parents sued the Lexington school district in 2007, and obtained a settlement in 2008, the writer did not notify two Massachusetts state agencies — the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Mental Health — “at the time” of the episode, according to state records. The girl’s parents divorced in 2007. If The Times had known before the article was published that the writer’s ex-wife was now the girl’s custodial parent, it would have contacted her.
Cathleen Favio October 18, 2012 at 01:51 PM
It isnt just parents of children enrolled in SPED at LPS. I have a child in kindergarten at LPS and I too have experienced the attitude that the school knows best. They may know a lot about teaching and curricullum, and ways to boost the MCAS scores, but the school adminstration are sadly misinformed when it comes to social/emotional development. I find the principal unwilling to genuinely listen and think about what a parent has said. Instead, she tends to respond with a condescrnding tone, immediately dismissing parental concern. I'm terribly disappointed in the school. It's like suddenly discovering OZ is just that man behind the curtin.

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