The director of a state agency that has been criticized for failing to meet its legal obligations to provide disability services to Maine’s youngest children has retired.

Child Development Services Director Roberta Lucas’ retirement went into effect Monday, according to an email the department sent to employees on Tuesday.

Her departure follows a vote in November in which nearly all of CDS’ unionized employees said that they had no confidence in Lucas. They said her leadership contributed to a toxic work environment, staff turnover and a general failure of the agency to appropriately provide Maine children who have disabilities with the services they need and are legally entitled to.

CDS is a state agency under the Maine Department of Education. It is charged with providing special education services to Maine children before they reach the K-12 school system. But for years, the agency hasn’t been fulfilling its responsibilities, breaking federal law and failing to provide young children with the early intervention that can reduce the lifelong impacts of disabilities.

The union representing CDS employees asked for a say in the hiring of a new director and demanded that the state education department redouble its efforts to get the agency back on track.

“CDS workers and the parents of children served by CDS must be part of hiring the next CDS director,” Mark Brunton, president of the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989, said in a prepared statement.


“We call on Commissioner Pender Makin to include these stakeholders in a nationwide search for a new CDS director who is serious about the success of CDS and is committed to its mission to deliver the services these children need to make the most of their public education.”

In an emailed statement, the education department said Erin Frazier, the director of the office of special services and inclusive education, is serving as the acting CDS director. The statement did not say anything about searching for a permanent director.

The department did not grant a request to interview Lucas or Makin, or answer questions about Lucas’ salary or the reason for her departure.

Lucas served as the director of CDS for over three years. She previously worked as a learning strategist in Portland Public Schools and was a special education teacher in Brunswick, according to an email about her retirement sent to CDS staff.

Other CDS leaders lauded Lucas’ work in the email, saying that she was integral in expanding CDS’ capacity, which included adding 13 preschool classrooms, making families feel safe and valued, and advocating for staff to ensure salary increases and educational opportunities.

“She has been a passionate supporter of children and families in CDS programs,” the email said. “We will miss Roberta’s commitment, enthusiasm, humor and dedication to children with special needs and their families.”

The organization for years has been falling short of its obligations to provide disability services to children from birth up until they reach the K-12 system. CDS has left children desperately in need of services like speech, physical or occupational therapy on waitlists for months and sometimes as long as a year.

Failing to provide these children with services is a violation of federal law.

The Maine Department of Education and the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committees are working on a bill to overhaul CDS to better serve young children with disabilities. The education committee voted in March that the bill ought to pass. To do so, the bill needs to be approved by the House, Senate and Gov. Janet Mills. Earlier this year, she signaled her support for an overhaul of CDS.

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