Alleged ringleader of special ed disaster retires early

After 10 years in Darien, Judith Pandolfo has retired from Darien Schools.

Pandolfo previously served as assistant superintendent, overseeing the elementary schools. However, a recent reorganization of district administration left her without a job. In a press release sent late Wednesday morning, Interim Superintendent Lynne Pierson announced Pandolfo’s decision to resign a year earlier than expected.

Pandolfo has taken a leave of absence, but she will be paid through the end of 2014, Pierson said. She will be on unpaid leave starting Jan. 1, 2015, until her retirement begins on June 30, 2015.

“As provided by law Dr. Pandolfo was entitled to be reassigned to a position for which she is qualified,” the district stated in a release. “However, Dr. Pandolfo informed… Pierson of her plans to retire at the end of the coming year and expressed concerns about assuming a new administrative position for only one year, and she and Dr. Pierson agreed that it would be in the best interest of the district to avoid this type of administrative disruption.”

Pierson thanked Pandolfo for her service to Darien Schools and for her “cooperation in reaching this agreement to facilitate the smooth implementation of the administrative reorganization plan.”

Pandolfo is the fifth person to resign or retire amid the special education debacle that happened in 2012-13, during which time the district was found to have implemented a program that eliminated parent involvement in developing education plans, and one that reduced, restricted or removed special education services from children with disabilities.

Many parents and staff members, including a former special education director, named Pandolfo as having led the district’s illegal campaign. Pandolfo has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

No staff members were terminated as a result of the illegal program.  All who left, with one exception, went on to other high-paying jobs in nearby districts. Those who were named as problematic supported each other in letters of recommendation.

Deirdre Osypuk, the former special education director, resigned after being placed on paid leave for six months. Investigator Sue Gamm found that Osypuk thought she was hired to cut costs. In an 18-page letter to the district, Osypuk said she was hired to rein in “insatiable” parents who bullied the district into getting unnecessary services for their children.

Some parents worried that Osypuk violated the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act by disclosing the initials of several students in her letter, including one set of initials that included an uncommon letter, which could have been enough to allow someone to identify the child.

Osypuk remains certified by the state of Connecticut as a school administrator, according to Kelly Donnelly, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. Osypuk’s possible FERPA violations did not appear to warrant an elimination of her license, nor did Gamm’s allegations of Osypuk’s involvement.

Originally published in The Darien Times.

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