STAR recognizes Times’ assistant editor with media award

 The Darien Times‘ assistant editor David DesRoches received STAR, Inc.’s media award Monday for his coverage of Darien’s special education crisis.

STAR, Inc., Lighting the Way is a not-for-profit organization that works with infants, children and adults with developmental disabilities, as well as providing support services to their families.

DesRoches was presented with the STAR Media Award by Katie Banzhaf, executive director of STAR, for his coverage of local news regarding special education. In her award speech, Banzhaf praised DesRoches’ coverage.

“If you’ve been following the multitude of stories in The Darien Times regarding the parents concerns with special education in Darien, you will find that most, if not all, of the coverage was authored by David DesRoches,” she said.

“David represents the best of his profession, pursuing important stories that affect people’s lives, even when these stories are difficult to investigate. He is persistent, one of the central characteristics of a good journalist,” she said

“He is fair — making every effort to get all sides of the story. Good journalists attempt to find ‘the best obtainable version of the truth’, as Woodward and Bernstein said. They publish it so that people can make up their own minds about it,” Banzhaf said.

“David pursued the story, attended parents’ meetings, Board of Ed meetings, reported the story — becoming a catalyst in the pursuit of the truth. Such good journalism is honorable and, I believe, vital to the proper functioning of people in power. As a result of such good journalism, some of the people with the least power in society (the people we care most about) get justice. I am honored to present this award to David DesRoches,” she said.

• Explore all stories, letters to the editor and editorials related to the special education crisis here

• View the state reports, parent complaint documents, and other PDFs here

In his acceptance speech, DesRoches credited the parents behind the original complaint that brought to light violations of state law in Darien — validated by an investigation by the State Department of Education.

“Kit Savage, Molly Van Wagenen, Katrina O’Connor and many others — their personal sacrifice is more than commendable — it has become a spotlight that illuminates problems beyond special education, showing that the root issue is one of cultural values, which affects America’s entire public education system,” he said.

“The right to an appropriate education is a human right. It is a civil right. As a member of the media, I promise to continue covering this story fairly and with great zeal, so that no children will ever be left behind,” he said.

Darien parents Patrick and Katrina O’Connor were also recognized as the Anne O’Callaghan parents of the year award at the 61st annual meeting and recognition awards of STAR, Inc., Lighting the Way, held on Monday, Oct. 28.

Darien residents Catherine and Edward Piorkowski, Jr. presented the award, which was given to the O’Connors for their contributions to the STAR community and the local community of parents with special needs.

Ed Piorkoski, Jr., president of the STAR board of directors, explained that the O’Connors have been committed to the STAR family, serving on the executive board, development committee, personnel committee and planning committees for the annual fundraising gala and Walk, Roll & Stroll events.

Catherine Piorkoski expressed how the two women became friends and then explained that in March of 2013, Katrina was one of 25 parents to file a complaint with the state department of education alleging that the town of Darien had violated the rights of children with special needs. The family now actively serves on the special education parent advisory committee, and is working with the Board of Education and school administrators to repair the situation.

Additional awards were presented to: Brian Hollstein of New Canaan, who received the humanitarian of the year award; George Kerr of Wusthof-Trident of America, Inc. in Norwalk, who received the employer of the year award; Abbey Fernandez of Westport, who received the youth volunteer of the year award; Brian Noccioli, vice president and business market manager of People’s United Bank and Ewa Dedios, vice president, financial services manager, People’s United Bank, who received the corporate volunteers of the year award; and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society of Norwalk Community College who received a special volunteer qward. In addition, Talisha Maxwell, a Norwalk resident, was recognized for her volunteer work and service to STAR on behalf of the self advocacy group for clients with developmental disabilities and Frank D’Acunto of Norwalk received the Jeanette Shivers Award for his service at Deloitte Services LLP. In addition, STAR employees Guy Francois, Myriam Galarza, Bill Saguta, Mary Lou Janulis, Lorraine Santo, Lois Marasco and Tony Bernardelli received STAR hero awards for their service and dedication to STAR.

STAR creates opportunities for individuals to live full lives with independence, freedom of choice and personal growth by providing support, services and advocacy. It informs and encourage the community to recognize and appreciate the value of all individuals.

Originally published in The Darien Times.

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