The federal education oversight agency has opened an investigation against the Middletown Board of Education, charging discriminated against students with disabilities.
The complaint was filed Jan. 12 with The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by Special Education Advocate Diane Willcutts of Education Advocacy, LLC and Attorney Jennifer D. Laviano of Sherman after seclusionary or"scream" rooms, used for children with behavioral issues, came to light.
On Jan. 27, the OCR requested information from Superintendent of Schools Michael Frechette, according to Civil Rights Attorney Donna L. Russell, and spoke with Board of Ed Attorney Christine Chinni.
The investigation will seek to determine “whether the school’s use of seclusion room(s) denied students with disabilities a free appropriate public education” and “whether the school’s use of seclusion room(s) discriminated against students with disabilities by treating them differently from nondisabled students,” the OCR letter states.
“There were no guarantees that OCR would open an investigation, and I am very happy that this is moving forward,” Willicutt says. “The situation in Middletown has put a spotlight on a longtime, widespread problem. People outside of the disabilities community are shocked that scream rooms exist, thinking that Farm Hill Elementary School is somehow uniquely troubled. But students with disabilities are locked in seclusion rooms around the state every school day.”
Willcutts hopes Farm Hill School parents will contact her by email to offer their statements.
“The situation in Middletown is horrific, but maybe we can use this to make a difference for all children with disabilities,” Willcutts says.
The OCR joins three other investigations in Middletown: the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, the , and the state Department of Education.
Preliminary data collected by the state Department of Education reveals that there were during the 2009-10 school year, according to the New Haven Register.