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Puccia Quits School Committee, Files Ethics, Civil Rights Complaints Against District Officials

Apr 13, 2015 03:24PM ● By Bill Gilman

Lisa Puccia, right, has resigned from the Tewskbury School Committee.

In response to the growing controversy surrounding the Tewksbury School District Special Education Department, School Committee member Lisa Puccia abruptly resigned Friday.
Her resignation came just one day before Puccia was elected, unopposed, to a seat on the Shawsheen Tech School Committee. Puccia had said, previously, she planned to serve on boath committees, at least through the final year of her current TSC term.
Puccia said she was been frustrated by what she described as insufficient action on the part of the School Committee in the wake of the release of private information pertaining to 83 out-of-district placement Special Ed students, including Puccia's own daughter. She said she was also angered by what she described as intimidation tactics by School District officials during meetings regarding her daughter's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and placement.
"I'm being bullied by the (Student Services Director Rick Pelletier) and I'm being bullied by the Out-of-District Placement Coordinator (Renee Czyzewski)," said Puccia. "And I can't go to the school committee or the superintendent and ask for a (department) audit because then I would be accused of a conflict of interest.
"I've had it. I'm through. If I cannot advocate effectively for my child while I'm on the school committee then I will do it from the other side of the table," she said.
Specifically, Puccia described situations during IEP or placement meetings, in which she was told her daughter's placement could be changed or that the district was prepared to force a BSEA arbitration hearing if she did not back off from her requests.
Czyzewski nor Pelletier immediately responded to email requests for comments on Puccia's allegations.
The tipping point for Puccia came last month when private information pertaining to out-of-district placement Special Ed. students was accidentally posted online as part of a School Committee meeting packet. While the student names were not included, there was more than enough detailed information to identify individual students. In addition, a column that appeared to "rate" parents, 1-3, based on how cooperative they were with the district officials, appeared on the documents.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor responded with a letter to the 83 parents apologizing for the release of the information. He also claimed the parent cooperation "rating" column actually had to do with the likelihood that a particular out-of-district placement could be brought back into the district to have the educational needs met at a cost savings.
Puccia didn't believe the explanation and said the apology was insufficient.
"That's not what I want to hear," she said. "I want to hear 'we're sorry and here is what we are doing to address the problem and fix it.'"
Puccia said she was very upset that none of the other four members of the school committee, nor O'Connor, reached out to her personally after the personal information/parental rating leak. She said it became clear to her that the committee had no intention of holding O'Connor or Pelletier accountable for what had happened.
"It's not our job to be buddy-buddy with the superintendent like some of them are. It's our job to keep the superintendent in line," she said. "None of them have done anything and they're still letting the superintendent get away with this.
"And we haven't heard anything from the special education director (Pelletier) about this and we're paying him over $100,000 a year!"
School Committee Chairman Brian Dick, Vice Chair Krissy Polimeno and School Committee member Dennis Francis declined comment on Puccia's resignation. O'Connor and School Committee member Jamie Cutelis did not return messages seeking comment.
Puccia is not going off the committee quietly. She has filed a complaint against O'Connor, Pelletier and Dick with the State Ethics Commission over the release of the personal/private information. She has also filed a Federal Civil Rights complaint over how she feels she was treated as a Special Education parent and another over an alleged violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. A complaint is also being filed with the Office of Special Education Programs.
Puccia's ultimate goal is to get a complete top-down audit of the Tewksbury Special Education Department. She said she feels that O'Connor, Pelletier and 
Czyzewski, among others, need to be replaced.
"I think they need to clean house," she said.
With the resignation of Puccia, the Tewksbury School Committee will be functioning with four members for a while. According to 
MGL Chap. 41 Sec. 11, the School Committee has 30 days to notify the Board of Selectmen of the vacancy and the two boards then have a week to appoint an interim replacement.
If the school committee does not notify the selectmen, the selectmen can then make the appointment on their own.
According to 
MGL Chap. 41 Sec. 10 it is up to the Board of Selectmen to decide if it wants to call a special election to fill the remainder of Puccia's term (which expires in April 2016) or if it wants to let the interim appointee serve out the remainder of the term.

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