Tuesday, April 14, 2009

PA DRN Response to Open Letter

On April 2, 2009, we sent a letter to Salliey Lynagh at the PA DRN regarding a published news article which indicated Ms. Lynaugh witnessed staff at the Franklin Learning Center strapping disabled children to rifton chairs and that Franklin staff admitted they were restraining kids for disciplinary purposes. This is illegal in Pennsylvania. We know it, and we know DRN knows it because we served on a committee with Sallie which helped draft the current update to PA Chapter 14 regarding how/when restraints may be used.

In our letter, we asked Ms. Lynaugh to respond to the following questions:

* While the Department of Education investigates to see whether they agree with what you'd reportedly seen with your own eyes, who is protecting those children from further restraints?

* Who will finally put a stop to the abuse those children endure seemingly on a daily basis?

* Whose concerns will really be served by referring the case to the Department of Education? The childrens', or the districts'?

* What does the DRN hope to gain from this referral? Are you just following normal procedures? 

* Are there any other avenues (such as a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of all the children illegally and inappropriately restrained, a request for additional staff training so that they don't intentionally or unintentionally violate Chapter 14 as it pertains to restraints in schools), if any, also being pursued by DRN staff?

* If the DRN has no intention of seeking further remediation, then what rationale is being used to justify taking no further action, including and up to filing a civil rights complaint, as the DRN has the federally mandated authority (and receives federal and state funding) to pursue?

* DRN CEO Ilene Shane had reportedly stated that DRN is not trying to shut down the Franklin Learning Center, but rather the DRN's intent is to bring awareness to what placements and services may be available to disabled children in their home districts, thereby possibly expanding educational options for disabled children and their parents.   Ms. Shane also appeared to implicate that the districts are really the ones to be held accountable (and blamed as it were) for referring children to this school and not informing parents of the full continuum of placement options and/or services the children could receive in their home district.  So in essence, it's not the fault of the personnel at Franklin who you witnessed abusing these children, it's the fault of the district (and by extension the parents) who agreed to send them to Franklin to be abused in the first place. How is this even remotely logical?

A copy of our letter in its entirety may be found here:

On April 10, 2009, we received the following written response from Sallie Lynagh. Please note that most of our questions remain unanswered:

April 10, 2009

Dear Jennifer:

DRN has received your memo of April 2, 2009 outlining your various concerns regarding DRN’s monitoring of the Franklin Learning Center. Upon receipt of complaints of alleged systemic abuse and neglect, it is DRN’s usual procedure to conduct on-site visits and follow-up activities. It is also DRN’s usual procedure to refer matters of systemic abuse and neglect, once substantiated in whole or in part, to appropriate licensing and/or oversight authorities – in this case the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Bureau of Special Education (BSE).  [Note: As a mandated reported, Ms. Lynagh was legally obligated to contact Children and Youth Services; yet no mention has been made as to whether CYS was ever contacted.]

DRN shares your concern that the investigation/monitoring by PDE BSE not be limited to a paper compliance process, but that it address the substantive concerns DRN has regarding the safety and welfare of the children attending the Center. We have communicated that concern to PDE. [Note: According to PA law, restraints may be used if they are used in accordance with how they are written into the IEP. The PA Dept of Ed already investigated abuse allegations once, but did not substantiate abuse; they only cited "paperwork irregularities." This means that if the school changes the kids' IEPs to include restraints, magically and instanteously the school is no longer doing ANYTHING wrong. Yep, you read that right; it's not abuse if it's written into the IEP. This makes abuse virtually impossible to prove. Schools know this; it's why they pressure parents to sign off on IEPs which include restraints - because without inclusion in the IEP, it's the only way to "prove" the schools are doing anything wrong.]

Litigation is just one strategy that DRN may pursue on a case-by-case basis, very much dependent on the particular facts of the situation, the state of the law, and the preferences of the client(s), or parents, when the client is a child. [Note: Notice how the direct question, does DRN intend to pursue other avenues was deliberately not answered. FYI, DRN has the legal authority to file a civil rights lawsuit against this school, yet is apparantly choosing not to. WHY is this? Could it because the Dept of Ed has threatened to take some of DRN's funding if they pursue this, since some of DRN's funding could very well come from the Dept of Ed's IDEA funds?]

Thank you for your concern and the interest in this matter.


 Sallie Lynagh, Children’s Team Leader

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