Two Hauppauge parents publicly accused school officials on Tuesday of unfairly reporting parents of special education students to Child Protective Services after the students racked up unexcused absences.
Sara Sherman, president of the Special Education Teachers and Parents Association, said CPS has been called to her home twice in seven months due to absences. Her special needs child is enrolled in the middle school.
As a result, Sherman said she plans to hire an attorney to probe the possibility of filing a complaint against Hauppauge Public Schools for harassment.
“It’s disgusting and they should be ashamed of themselves, and I am putting a stop to their discrimination and harassing of families… specifically those of specials needs. It must stop,” Sherman said in a statement.
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services lists frequent absences from or tardiness to school as a possible indicator of maltreatment of a child, according to their website.
At the same time, school teachers and staff are required by state law to report any suspected signs of abuse to CPS, Assistant Superintendent James Stucchio said.
Sherman's son has been enrolled at Hauppauge schools since kindergarten and has always had attendance issues. The school has sent aides to her home to help get her child to school, so Sherman said she is unclear about why it is now an issue.
Sherman and Gizelle Batista, vice president of SEPTA, said the district is not adequately considering their students' special circumstances when reviewing attendance records.
Batista said she was notified by the school on Dec. 23 about her grandson's six latenesses, even though all were excused. Now she said she's afraid of receiving a call from CPS.
"Three tardinesses were due to the mess on Route 347 and the other three are days that he had doctor's appointments in the morning," Batista said.
When dropping off her grandson to Forest Brook, Batista said the district received doctor notes for his latenesses from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28 along with specific instructions for overseeing the student's medical care during the day.
Parent handbooks require that students entering school late or after an absence must have a written note giving the reason. However, Board of Education policy 5100 on "Student Attendance" allows "attendance at a health clinic" as a valid reason for an excused absence but warns "all written excuses are subject to verification."
"If you have a doctor's note that your child was there because they were ill, how is it up to discretion?" Sherman asked Board of Education members Tuesday.
The SEPTA president asked school officials if employees report every student who has more than the 18 absences to CPS, the limit for high school students to get full credit in a full-year course.
"We deal with children and situations as individuals, we do not target children based on race, color, creed or disability," Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss said.
Patch reached out to Sullivan-Kriss for further comment on these cases and received no immediate response.
"Those were regarding instances of specific children that we can’t discuss due to privacy involved. With regard to attendance, each case is unique. There are special circumstances regarding each matter that must be on a case-by-case basis," Stucchio said.
These allegations of the district's unfair reporting of special education families to CPS are not the first complaints against its special education program.
In a complaint filed to New York State Education Department in May 2011, the state found Hauppauge school district had failed to consider the concerns of a special education parent and did not provide a free appropriate public education to the student. The district received several citations and had a prescribed course of corrective action.