Late last month, the New Hampshire Department of Education made an unannounced visit to Lakeview School in Effingham. DOE had placed the special education school on provisional approval last November, and February 26 marked the third – though the only unannounced – visit to Lakeview since the fall.
“The Lakeview School has shown throughout the last several months a consistent pattern in the severity, length, and repetitive nature of the findings of noncompliance,” said Santina Thibedeau, the State Director of Special Education, in the 32-page letter to Lakeview’s COO, Tina Trudel, and CEO, Christopher Slover.
DOE had uncovered serious problems at the special education school on two prior visits, and this one was meant to determine if the school was correcting those issues. But the unannounced visit uncovered fresh problems.
Inspectors witnessed Lakeview’s first responders run to the wrong building during an emergency. They found teachers who could not account for the whereabouts of their students. And Lakeview's Director of Education changed her answer to critical question when inspectors challenged her.
DOE declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing investigation. But it has given Lakeview until March 26 to comply with state regulations.
“Minimal instruction to students”
Since last fall, a series of reports from the Disability Rights Center, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and the media has uncovered big problems at Lakeview Neurorehabilitation Center, a residential facility for people with intellectual disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. (Check out NHPR's Reporter's Notebook to see documentation of all these problems.)
Lakeview School serves the center’s residents, as well as several local families with children with disabilities.
In this latest letter from the Department of Education to Lakeview, state inspectors found a state-certified school that was breaking many state regulations.
- Four teachers had either expired or inadequate credentials.
- Three classrooms had students of multiple ages, despite the fact that Lakeview is not approved for multiage classrooms.
- Walkways between buildings were coated with ice and snow despite the presence of students in wheelchairs.
- The school could not provide evidence it was implementing each student’s Individualized Education Plan. IEPs are required for the education of every child with an intellectual disability.
The deficiencies were so systemic that state regulators concluded students were suffering: “Lakeview School provided minimal instruction to students.”
“Is this where the emergency is?”
On the day of the unannounced inspection, officials also found there were five fewer students than the 18 listed as in attendance on that day. When inspectors asked Lakeview Director of Education, Corrine Rocco, where those students were, she replied: “They’re around.”
In another instance, staff acting as what the report called “first responders,” walked from room to room looking for the emergency – a student had injured a staff member.
“Is this where the emergency is?” they asked the teachers in one room.
During the confusion, a student who was supposed to have one-to-one supervision left the building alone. A teacher asked for assistance, but no assistance came.
The inspectors questioned Lakeview’s Director of Education Corrine Rocco on many of these points. And in once instance, Rocco shifted her answer after being pressed.
Rocco told inspectors a particular staffer had been shifted from teaching to another position at the facility. Inspectors asked Rocco if she had notified the Department of Education, which is a state requirement, and Rocco said she had sent an email. But then she could not produce the email.
The letter continues: “The monitoring team then again asked directly if the Director of Education [Corrine Rocco] had notified the NHDOE that this employee was no longer employed at Lakeview School, and the Director of Education replied ‘No.’”
Lakeview declined to comment directly on the report. In an emailed statement, a Lakeview spokesperson stated: “We have received and are aware of the letter from the Department of Education. The DOE has our full cooperation in the matter as we look forward to addressing these issues.”
Governor Maggie Hassan’s office says an external review of state oversight of Lakeview is due at the end of the month. That review is focusing on how the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Department of Education, regulated Lakeview.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education’s deadlines for Lakeview keep getting tighter.
DOE’s most recent letter to Lakeview, dated March 11, lists 36 areas of noncompliance with state education regulations. That letter said many of Lakeview problems must be resolved by March 26.
That same letter also notes all other violations were supposed to be resolved months ago.