55 Chapel Street, Suite 202, Newton, MA 02458 (617) 658-9800

75 Gilcreast Road, Suite 305, Londonderry, NH 03083 (603) 818-8526

Search This Blog


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Discovery of Information about Proposed Peers at the BSEA: A Practice Note

From Special Education Today
A Special Ed Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong

By Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.
with Eileen Hagerty, Dan Heffernan and Joe Green

March 5, 2015

Why proposed peer group information is essential in BSEA proceedings:

The capacity of a school district’s program to meet the needs of a student with a disability often depends heavily on the learning, behavioral, and social communication needs of the peers with whom the district proposes to group the student.

An inappropriate classroom cohort can significantly undermine a student’s ability to make effective progress.

For example, suppose that a child of average intelligence who has severe dyslexia requires placement in small classes where all core subjects are taught with a specialized language-based methodology. Placing that student in a classroom with students who have different disabilities (such as emotional or intellectual impairments) that require different methodologies would not be appropriate.

Parents have the burden of proof in most cases before the BSEA. In order to meet that burden, any argument that a program is inappropriate due to a poor mix of peers must be based on detailed information about those peers. Broad descriptions of the student population or program provided by the school district, or impressions of the make-up of the proposed peer group through observation by parents or their experts, are not sufficient.

Parents’ counsel must be able to review – and to have an expert review – IEPs and related information concerning the peers with whom their client is or would be grouped under a district’s proposed IEP. Fortunately, the BSEA Hearing Rules provide for prehearing discovery, allowing either party to request that the other produce relevant documents and other information. See BSEA Rule VI.B.

As part of the discovery process, the BSEA has consistently required districts to provide parents’ counsel with IEPs and other information about actual or proposed peers. To safeguard the other students’ privacy, the BSEA has ordered that names and other personally identifiable information be redacted (blacked out) before production to parents’ counsel, that parents’ counsel’s use of the documents be limited to review with experts and submission as exhibits, and that the documents be returned to the district’s counsel after the case is closed. See, e.g., Mattapoisett Public Schools, BSEA #06-6153, 13 MSER 22 (2007).

School districts are pitting parents against parents in response.

We have recently become aware of a new tactic that some school districts are using in response to parents’ discovery requests for redacted peer IEPs and similar information. These districts are apparently sending written notices to parents of those peers, informing them of the proposed disclosure and asking whether the parents consent to the release of redacted documents.

Understandably, some parents react with concern or anger, thinking that sensitive information about their child is about to be revealed. If they can figure out which family is involved in the proceeding that generated the request, they will sometimes complain to or even harass those parents.

This tactic turns special education parent against special education parent and undermines the ability of all parents in dispute with the district to obtain the information they need to carry their burden of proof in BSEA proceedings. Ironically, in smaller communities but even in larger ones where special education parents enjoy active networks, the tactic also risks exposing confidential information about the families who are litigating against the district, and risks subjecting them to the resentment of the peers’ parents. These are considerably higher risks, we expect, than that the delivery of peer IEPs to parents’ counsel and experts will lead to public exposure of the information in those IEPs.

School districts characterize their request for consent to release redacted IEPs as necessary to protect the confidentiality of the peers. It is not.

Here is how it works: First of all, BSEA proceedings are not open to the public. Children’s names, even those of students on whose behalf litigation is brought, are never revealed. More specifically, the BSEA has acknowledged the relevance of, and need for production of peer IEPs, and has established a protocol that strictly limits the substance of the information to be produced and the scope of its circulation. That protocol is outlined and reaffirmed in a recent ruling by Hearing Officer Raymond Oliver, as follows:

“To reduce any risks of compromise to student privacy, production is subject to the following conditions:

The documents requested shall be cleansed of all identifying information, including, at minimum, the name of the child, name(s) of parent(s) or other family members, address, date and place of birth, gender, race/ethnicity, any language(s) other than English that are spoken by student and/or parents; and any student number(s) assigned to such student(s).

The redacted documents shall be provided solely to counsel for the Parents, and not to the Parents, Student, or any other person or entity. Counsel for the Parents may disclose the redacted documents to experts who are assisting Parents regarding appropriate peer groupings for Student and related issues and/or who may testify at the hearing.

Counsel for the Parents may submit copies of some or all of the redacted documents as exhibits at hearing.

Except as described in (2) and (3) above, counsel shall not disclose the documents or information therein to any other person or entity.

Upon the close of the record in this matter, counsel for the Parents shall ensure that any copies of documents that may have been provided to experts per Paragraph 2 are returned to counsel.”

In re: Vic, BSEA #1503712, Ruling on Discovery (February 26, 2015). The hearing officer concluded that neither the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) nor the Massachusetts Student Record Regulations prohibit disclosure of records that do not contain personally identifiable information. Thus, a district can have no legitimate need to seek the consent of peers’ parents to production of redacted records.

Districts may argue that, even with the protections outlined by the BSEA, a determined citizen of a district could read a BSEA decision that includes discussion of peer appropriateness and somehow figure out which student or students are being written about. While no system is perfect, parents can take comfort in the fact that BSEA hearing officers are highly sensitive to any such risk and take extra precautions to avoid giving information that could lead to inadvertent disclosure.

School districts know this is so, and yet some insist that they must advise and obtain consent from all parents whose children’s redacted IEPs may be produced, despite the safeguards outlined above. Why, except to stir trouble among special education parents, would they suddenly decide that they must take this step? By doing so they cause anxiety and anger for no good purpose and they risk breaching the confidentiality of the parents and child involved in the litigation in which the request for production of IEPs was made.

Information about this tactic and about the reasons for parents’ counsel’s requests for information should be spread widely. Peers’ parents should be forewarned and understand that their own ability to effectively pursue their children’s rights under IDEA may someday may depend in no small part on their counsel’s ability to obtain information about proposed peers, not only through program observations but also by limited examination of redacted IEPs and similar information.

The very small risk that someone may somehow be able to figure out a peer’s identity despite all the precautions to ensure anonymity is a small price to pay for the integrity of a due process system that offers all parents a chance to advocate for their child’s right to an appropriate education.


Robert Crabtree is a partner in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, MA.

He thanks his partners, Eileen Hagerty, Dan Heffernan, and Joe Green, for their contributions to this note.

Understanding and Supporting Social Learners in the School Community: Free Workshop March 10th in Dedham

From the Dedham SEPAC

March 4, 2015

Tracey L. Stoll, M.Ed., B.C.S.E., founder and executive director of Learning Solutions, LLC and founder and program director of the Social Fit Program at the New England Sports Academy, will present. This workshop will address social-emotional learning as a new emphasis in schools and within the Common Core.

Ms. Stoll’s presentation will also focus on executive function.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm, Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Where: Dedham Middle School
                  Distance Learning Lab
                  70 Whiting Avenue, Dedham, MA

This workshop is free and open to the public. All are welcome!

Let the Children Play

From Brain, Child Magazine

By Rachel Pieh Jones
February 23, 2015

“If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them
more time and opportunity to play, not less.” Peter Gray

Behind my childhood home was an open field. My dad cut a hole in our fence so all the neighborhood kids could climb through and go exploring. There was a creek way, way in the back, so remote it was on the other side of the world. Maybe half a mile away. I couldn’t see my house from beside the trickle of water. Even better, I couldn’t be seen by anyone at my house.

There was also a massive hole that we called ‘The Hole.’ So big I could fit inside it with my two sisters and a couple of friends. So big we could cover it with cardboard and snow in the winter and sit up inside, scrunched down, sipping hot chocolate or chicken noodle soup from thermoses. So big an adult wouldn’t dare climb down inside.

There was an old wagon wheel abandoned alongside a trail, surely left behind by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s contemporaries or settlers headed west. There were fuzzy green plants that made perfect diapers for Cabbage Patch dolls and that sometimes made our fingers itch.

I’m sure my memories of this field are all wrong. Now it is a bland corporate office and parking lot. But when it was wild, it was where I learned about nature and conflict resolution and patience and courage and how to tell a story. My younger sister might still believe the one about the settlers.

I’m also sure my parents accompanied us into the field at least a few times but I have zero actual memories of being behind the cut up fence with an adult. The kids in my neighborhood played kickball or bike racing in the street, we fought and quit and apologized and made up. We negotiated teams and when we got bored or when one team won, we headed to the field.

In short, we played. Outside. Even in winter. In Minnesota.

* * *

My kids tell me some of their favorite memories are of events of which I have no recollection because I wasn’t there. My son climbed over the wall around our house in Djibouti with his Congolese friend, and they explored the house that was under construction next door. My daughter collected discarded French military bullets on chaperone-less hikes up a steep hill at the beach. My youngest daughter kneels on top of our wall, nestled into a sea of bougainvillea blossoms and bottles of her personally mixed ‘magic potions’, and spies on the Ethiopian guards who sit in the shade at our front gate. She doesn’t know what they are talking about but enjoys being higher than someone and the unique perspective her position grants of our street.

My kids have time to climb and explore and gather and observe because school ends at 12:45 and there are few extracurricular activities to engage in. I used to bemoan this lack of activities in Djibouti. If I wanted my kids to learn a skill, I had to teach it to them. My husband started the soccer club and coached it. I taught the kids piano, even though I don’t play piano. (This also taught them about minor miracles.)

I taught them English, since their education has been in French. I ran the Sunday School program. My husband taught them how to sew and paint and build shelves and swim.

Locally available activities over the years? Intermittently: judo and tennis and dance. So, my kids participated in judo and tennis and dance when they could. But when school ends at noon and there is (maybe) an organized activity for one hour, they are still left with vast swaths of unscheduled free time.

What is a kid to do? They play. Unobserved and unguided.

I initially looked at the limited options available for my kids and saw a detriment, thought I had to teach them everything, thought that if an adult didn’t guide and instruct, my kids wouldn’t learn. But what if, in order to learn, they didn’t need to be taught? What if they simply needed to play?

Peter Gray says:

“…playing is learning. At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons, the ones that cannot be taught in school. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults.”

Kids need to build Lego mansions and create labyrinths out of pillows. They need to dress up, stage Nerf gun battles, and design soccer games that can be played even in miniature yards. They need to imagine they are kings and queens and serfs and astronauts. They need to solve problems, make rules, lead and follow and compromise.

My kids chase butterflies, discover newborn kittens in the cranny under our kayak, learn how to use a magnifying glass to burn a hole in a leaf and how to fry an egg on the street in August.

Sometimes they will get bored if I don’t structure every minute of their day, and I’ve decided that’s good for them. It is certainly not suffering for a kid to be bored. It’s essential to their development and I’m glad mine have time to get bored and to create their way out of it.

I can’t cut a hole in the solid cement block wall around our house in Djibouti like my dad did in our fence but I can cut a hole in my parenting and let the kids climb through, climb out. I can let them play.


Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year-old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Not All Kids ‘Outgrow’ Math Struggles

From Penn State University
via Futurity

By Amanda Mountz
February 26, 2015

Math difficulties can appear in some children from low socioeconomic status households as early as by age two. Early screening and intervention can help, say experts. 

Previous studies have shown that young children who have difficulty with math will continue to have difficulty as they get older. But until now, little was known about which children were most at risk.

The new study, published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, indicates that a family’s economic status is a significant factor in whether or not a child will continue to have trouble with math.

Original Study

What can schools do?

“Schools can’t do much to change a family’s economic circumstances,” says Paul L. Morgan, associate professor of education at Penn State, “but schools can decide how they allocate extra resources and how early they intervene to help children who seem to be struggling academically.”

Early screening and intervention efforts should begin when a child starts school—and should be multi-faceted to target early mathematics, reading difficulties, and behavior problems.

Attending preschool or Head Start can lower the risk of persistent math difficulties, Morgan says.

“Before entering school, children may not have much informal exposure to mathematics. Conversations and activities that include talking about mathematics may help reduce children’s later struggles when they are being taught more formally in the elementary- and middle-school grades,” he says.

Waiting to Fail

For the current study, researchers analyzed two nationally representative, longitudinal data sets of US children maintained by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. One sample of children was followed from birth to kindergarten; the other was followed from kindergarten to the end of eighth grade.

For preschool children, factors that increased the children’s risk for persistent math difficulties included low general cognitive functioning, vocabulary difficulties, and being from low socioeconomic status households.

For elementary- and middle-school students, reading difficulties, mathematics difficulties, and attention-related behavioral difficulties increased risk, as did being from lower socioeconomic households.

“Children who struggle in mathematics often do not ‘grow out of it,’ so a ‘wait and see’ approach might only have ‘wait to fail’ consequences for many children.” Morgan says.


The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences funded the study.

HOPEhouse at Cotting School Residential Transition Program has Openings

From Cotting School

March 2, 2015

The terrific  HOPEhouse at Cotting School residential transition program in Lexington, MA has openings.

At HOPEhouse, young adults have opportunities to:
  • Grow and develop independent living skills;
  • Live and learn with peers;
  • Build vocational and post-secondary experience;
  • Actively participate in planning their own futures;
  • Use home-school connections to expand opportunities in their communities?
  • Connect with others working toward similar goals.
For additonal information, please contact Outreach Director Lindsay Jean Casavant, by calling 781-862-7323 x 191 or by email to lcasavant@cotting.org.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Child Just Got Diagnosed. Now What? AANE Workshop Monday, March 9th

From AANE.org
The Asperger/Autism Network

March 2, 2015 

When your child gets an Autism Spectrum diagnosis it's hard to know what to do first.

Join other parents to learn about the most common characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger Syndrome, including basic information about behavioral issues, parenting strategies, disclosure, and school concerns. This seminar is exclusively for parents, family members, and caregivers.

Presenter: Nancy Schwartz, MSW

Nancy Schwartz is the mother of a young adult with AS and a past president of the AANE Board of Directors. She co-leads AANE's MRC/Employment Programs and Services. Nancy developed this workshop more than ten years ago to welcome families into the AANE community.

When:    7:00 - 9:30pm Monday, March 9, 2015

Where: AANE, 51 Water Street, Suite 206,
                   Watertown, MA

Cost:      AANE member (one fee for one or both parents): $40
                  Nonmembers (one fee for one or both parents): $55

You are a member of AANE if you have a paid membership on file. If you are unsure of your membership status, please call Karen at (617) 393-3824 ext. 10 to check. You will not be registered if you pay the incorrect fee.

No refunds or credits to attend another workshop for no-shows. No prorated/reduced fees if you cannot attend the full workshop.

AANE reserves the right to cancel if the minimum enrollment is not met by the registration deadline. Registrants will be notified by email if the workshop is cancelled.

Why Parents Should Stop Helping Their Kids with Homework

From News.com.au

By Rebecca Sullivan
February 24, 2015

Kids hate homework. Parents hate homework. Teachers hate unfinished homework. Homework probably even hates itself. 

Like many Aussie kids, this guy is battling with
his homework. Source: Getty Images

Homework is the cause of many suburban screaming matches and thousands of grey hairs. Many parents feel like they’re going through school a second time around as they sit down with their children each night and help with their homework.

The average Australian 15-year-old spends six hours a week doing their homework, according to the OECD. And a recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel like they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they spend too much time running the household or helping with homework.

Now several education experts are urging parents to stop helping. They say it will give their kids more independence, give parents back their free time and help reduce the number of homework-related arguments at home.

Homework Actually Isn't That Beneficial

There is extensive research proving that homework has little academic benefit, says associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker.

“There isn’t much academic benefit in homework for primary school children. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids,” he said.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg agrees: “Homework provides absolutely no academic benefit for younger students. But parents are demanding it in larger and larger doses, despite the fact that it does nothing. It’s a different ballgame in secondary school, but not in primary school.”

But research does show that doing homework helps kids develop “self-directed learning skills”--in other words, initiative, independence and confidence.

Also, homework helps to solidify a sense of belonging and autonomy. It gives kids a sense of control over their lives.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for
primary school children. Source: Getty Images

Why Getting Too Involved Does More Harm than Good

Associate Professor Walker says this sense of autonomy is taken away when parents get too involved in homework help.

“If parents are over controlling and interfering then that really has a negative effect,” he said.

“Some involvement is good for self-directed learning, but if they get too involved and the kid loses their autonomy, then it becomes a problem. I think parents have to pull back.”

He says many parents are exerting too much of what he calls “emotional labour”.

“Parents are often tired after a long day at work and having to put in the emotional labour to assist their kids with homework can be quite a burden.”

How Parents Can Take a Step Back

Education expert from yourtutor.com.au, Ciaran Smyth, says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

“You don’t have to be the ultimate expert in everything. Children need to put their hands up for help and parents also need to ask for help. There’s no reason to be stuck. Use your resources — teachers, tutors — just ask.”

Online tutoring services such as yourtutor.com — where students can seek help from accredited teachers in a live typed chat from 3pm after school — can help take the pressure off parents.

“I’ve seen so many arguments between parents and children about homework. By removing the burden of having to be the homework help the whole time, parents can reduce the number of arguments, the tension and the bad feelings that come from having to hound your kid all the time.”

If someone else is doing the hard yards helping out with homework, that leaves parents free to do other things and spend more quality (read: argument-free) time with their children, Mr Smyth said.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are
doing more harm than good. Source: Getty Images

What Should Kids Do Instead of Homework?

Given the lack of evidence to support the academic benefits of homework in primary school, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says primary schools should stop giving kids traditional homework exercises and instead equip them with important life skills.

Some schools are already getting on board.

St Michael’s Grammar in Melbourne asks students to play board games such as Scrabble with an adult and photograph the board as proof.

“Or they choose and cook a recipe for dinner and photograph the results — all of which helps with literacy and important life skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“These are much more pleasant family interactions than homework. Childhood is hard enough as it is without putting the stress of homework on them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to “rise up against the tyranny of primary school homework”

“I’m frustrated that schools aren’t responding to the research. I would be putting it on the parents to educate the schools about what is the current thinking around homework. Homework is not being set correctly at the moment. It’s very poorly coordinated.

“If the school is consistently not receptive to the idea, I would write over my kid’s homework, ‘Sleep was more important, I gave them permission to do this’. I really do want parents to act as their kids’ advocates.”