US probes rights violations in school

Dedham official alleged to benefit

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / September 30, 2009

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Federal investigators visited the Dedham public schools yesterday, part of an inquiry into allegations that school officials violated the civil rights of 13 students in a special education class last winter when their teacher was pulled from their classroom to home tutor the child of a School Committee member.

Investigators from the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are following up on a complaint a group of Dedham Middle School teachers filed in mid-June. The teachers contend that civil rights of the students were ignored in December and January when their teacher left their classroom for two hours a day to home tutor the disabled child of the committee member, who is no longer in office.

The arrangement, the teachers maintain, left some of the remaining students in the care of a retired French teacher and a noncertified teacher’s assistant. In some instances, the students were placed in mainstream classrooms.

The investigation was confirmed yesterday by the Department of Education and the chairman of the Dedham School Committee.

“It is not a criminal matter in any way, shape, or form,’’ said David Roberts, who chairs the Dedham School Committee. “It’s a civil process, and the Dedham schools are cooperating fully.’’

Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the US Department of Education, confirmed that a complaint was received June 18. He said that it alleged that the district denied students with disabilities “a free, appropriate public education by not providing teachers trained in instructing students with disabilities and that the district failed to implement a grievance procedure that provides for prompt and equitable resolution of disability discrimination complaints.’’

Bradshaw said involvement of the Civil Rights Office does not mean the office has made a determination on the merits of the case. Rather, the office is a fact finder, he said, that will collect and analyze relevant evidence from the parties involved in the case to develop its findings.

“We try to wrap up our investigations within six months, although sometimes it takes longer, depending on the complexity,’’ he said.

Last winter, teachers said they noticed that a colleague who was missing every morning was never named on the e-mailed absentee list. Then, in late January, it came to the attention of the school’s Faculty Council that the special education teacher was directed by Superintendent June Doe to leave the building to provide in-home services to a student, members said.

Doe did not return a call yesterday for comment. She has said in the past that students were left in good hands and that lesson plans were available.

Middle school history teacher Daniel Megan was one of nearly 30 teachers who signed a Feb. 27 letter asking the School Department for answers. That letter was followed by several others in the succeeding months, but school officials always declined to comment, citing student confidentiality.

Yesterday, Megan said he did not feel comfortable commenting on the ongoing federal investigation.

However, he did confirm his role. “I was a member of a small group of teachers that filed the complaint on behalf of the middle-school students we believe have had their civil rights violated as a result of losing their teacher,’’ he said.

Teachers have asked Doe for an explanation and to inform the parents of those students involved, while also offering compensatory services for lost learning time. The teachers said the School Committee told them they will not be receiving compensatory services.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at