Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

75 Pleasant Street, Malden, Massachusetts 02148-4906 Telephone: (781) 338-3000 TTY: N.E.T. Relay 1-800-439-2370

August 27, 2012 Mr. Justin Smith, Education Director New Directions School Cutchins Programs for Children and Families, Inc. 78 Pomeroy Terrace Northampton, MA 01060 Re: ESE Response to Cutchins’ Corrective Action of the July 19, 2012 Incident involving student D.A. at the New Directions School Dear Mr. Smith: Thank you for submitting Cutchins’ corrective actions as described in your response received August 21, 2012 pertaining to the July 19, 2012 incident involving student D.A. at the New Directions School. While it is evident that a considerable amount of time was allocated to Cutchins’ response, there are portions of the corrective action plan that require clarification. In the initial internal investigation, the Department noted significant operational issues that were systemic. Of serious concern was that Cutchins failed to keep the student safe because back-up procedures to ensure appropriate supervision of students were either not in place, staff was not aware of them, or they were poorly developed. While the recommendations provided in the Internal Investigation report alluded to this problem, the Department requested a detailed, written plan that specifically addressed each of the identified issues. The staff involved in the incident who used poor judgment and the ensuing disciplinary actions taken only partially addressed the problem. The greater issue was the absence of procedures required to ensure adequate supervision of students, along with established procedures not having been adequately understood and/or properly followed by staff, which resulted in a serious breakdown in the overall operation of the program. Specifically, you were required to examine crisis communication, staff availability and immediate notification. Cutchins responded by submitting a narrative assuring the Department that it takes responsibility for the safety of students seriously and has examined and revised its policies and procedures. Updated policies titled “Policy on Communications”, “Policy on Communications – Walkie-Talkies” and “Policy on Immediate Notification of Serious Incidents” were submitted. 1. The area of crisis communication required immediate examination. Cutchins was required to provide thoughtful, planned written policies and protocols that ensured the health and safety of the students at all times. Cutchins was required to decide which options mentioned in its internal investigation were chosen to be implemented, develop a specific plan based on these decisions, generate protocols so that the plan had minimally three back-up strategies, and train all staff, regular and substitute, in the details of the plan as soon as possible.


The Department finds that Cutchins’ two submitted policies titled “The Policy on Communication – Walkie-Talkie’s” and “Policy on Communications” requires further revision. Specifically, Cutchins has embedded within the Walkie Talkie policy the extremely important protocol for signing students out of the building. This protocol should appear first and foremost in your communication policy so that its importance is made evident to staff and can easily be referred to when needed. Furthermore, the corrective action narrative that was submitted states that the walkie-talkies have a 23 mile range – this fact should be included somewhere within the communication policy so that staff are expressly aware of the operative range of the walkie-talkie. Having the policy named for walkie-talkies and then stating the preferred means of communication is cell phones in the first sentence is also contradictory and confusing. Finally, the contacts should be listed in the order by which they are responsible for implementing the policies and procedures and it should expressly state that is the case. Please revise the policies accordingly, including renaming them and consider having one single cohesive communication policy rather than two. Submit to the Department by September 13, 2012. 2. Staff availability and experience-level were noted as key areas of deficiency. It was of concern to the Department that such a high proportion (over two thirds) of staff on this day was not “regular staff”. The report by Cutchins noted " . . . the staffing pattern of 5/6 staff to the 13 students was fine; however if 4 or 6 are substitutes did we need to change the expectations of the structure." AND "An examination of the structure on a day to day basis and what changes should be made based on the number of regular staff and substitutes on a shift." Cutchins was to address the high number of substitute teachers and ensure there were teachers in place who understood and could address the unique needs of the students. This required a concretely developed plan to address and correct this issue in short order. Cutchins is currently approved to operate with an 8 students to 1 licensed educator ratio and a 12 students to 1 licensed educator to 1 aide ratio. The Department had not received any Form 1s from Cutchins notifying us of vacancies in approved staff positions not filled by another appropriately licensed or waivered staff that have a direct impact on the service delivery to students. If Cutchins was experiencing these vacancies it was to notify the Department as required. Cutchins responded to this concern by explaining that the two substitute staff that day were not substitute teachers, but rather substitute aides that were leading the learning activities that a teacher had designed the instruction for. The Department wants to make clear that it is extremely important that Cutchins always be specific when referring to the role a substitute staff person is playing in its program by including the position, i.e., substitute teacher aide, substitute teacher, etc. The language Cutchins used in its original reports created the misimpression that it had been a substitute teacher involved in the incident that day. The Department also wants Cutchins to provide it with a written assurance by September 13, 2012 that teachers are utilized appropriately to design all instruction for students and that they are available to teacher aides who are delivering that instruction to ensure it is delivered as intended. Cutchins also has not yet mentioned in any report thus far where the other teacher was on that day. The one teacher that had been present was the person who told the substitute aide to go locate a time-out staff in response to being informed the student was off program. Please provide an explanation as to where the other teacher in that program was that day. Cutchins had explained in its response to the Department that there are no current vacancies at the program; thus no Form 1 was required. The absences that occurred on that day were for that day only. The Department accepts this explanation. 3. Immediate telephone and written notification to the Department was required pursuant to 603 C.M.R. 28.09(12)(a). Serious Incidents – Immediate Notification and Reporting. In the event of serious injury or death of a student, criminal activity on the part of a student or staff member, or other serious incident affecting the


well-being of any student, the approved special education school shall immediately notify, by telephone and by letter, the parents, sending school district(s), any state agency involved in student care or program placement, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Cutchins did not notify the Department until Nina Marchese contacted Jay Indek the day after the incident to inquire as to what had occurred. A written notice, via a Form 2, was received the following Monday (July 23, 2012) when the Education Coordinator returned from a previously scheduled vacation. Both of these instances were unacceptable and were indicative of communication breakdowns and a lack of staff being able to cover for absences. Cutchins was required to address this area as well. An updated Policy on Immediate Notification of Serious Incidents was submitted. The Department finds that the persons listed as contacts responsible for correct implementation of New Directions School incident reporting policies and procedures are confusing. In the narrative it is stated that the Educational Coordinator is first. When unavailable, the Milieu Coordinator is responsible, then the Clinical Coordinator and lastly the Program Director. However, in the paragraph immediately following this statement, the four contacts listed are: The Executive Director; Program Director; Educational Coordinator and Milieu Coordinator. In addition to some being different positions, the contacts should also be listed in the order by which they are responsible for implementing the policies and procedures and it should expressly state that is the case. Secondly, if the Milieu Coordinator was the person responsible that day for the day to day operation of the program in the Education Coordinator’s planned absence for vacation, as Cutchins has stated, then it was that person’s responsibility, as well as the responsibility of the Executive Director and/or the Program Director who supervises that person and the overall program operation, to be aware of the reporting requirements before the Education Coordinator went away on vacation. It is therefore unclear to the Department why the Educational Coordinator was found to be responsible for not having immediately notified the Department. According to the narrative, the New Directions School Policy of Immediate Notification of Serious Incidents indicates, “The Educational Coordinator, or his designee will complete the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Incident Report Form. DESE will be notified by telephone and the use of the Form 2…” The Program’s conclusion that the Educational Coordinator was responsible while on vacation conflicts with the Program’s own policy. Please provide the Department with the required responses pursuant to these concerns no later than September 13, 2012. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need further clarification of the information noted above. I can be reached directly at (781) 338-3725.


Doreen Donovan-Barbera, Educational Specialist Program Quality Assurance Services

Caryn N. Goldberg, PRS Supervisor Program Quality Assurance Services Cc: Darlene Lynch, Director Program Quality Assurance Services Jay Indek, Executive Director, Cutchins Programs for Children and Families, Inc.


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