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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Special Education Resources for Massachusetts Parents

From the Mass.gov Blog
Official Blog of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

By Mass.gov Staff
February 15, 2015

Massachusetts parents of children with learning disabilities can find special education resources through their local public school district or through the Executive Office of Education (EDU), primarily at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), to ensure their child receives an education that takes into account the challenges they face.

Special Education and Public Schools

Public school districts must provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. This may include specially designed instruction for access to the general education curriculum and services such as physical therapy or counseling, depending on an individual student’s needs.

Creating an Individual Education Program

Part of the special education process is creating an individualized education program (IEP) for children who are determined to be eligible for special education services. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) offers a breakdown of the basic special education process and how IEPs are created:
  • Parents, teachers, or school district officials identify students who may be eligible for special education.
  • Students are then evaluated by qualified professionals. A meeting takes place with the school district and the parent to determine if the student has a qualifying disability, and, if so, whether the disability is causal to the student’s inability to make effective education progress.
  • If their child is determined to be eligible, then parents must give their consent in order for services to be provided. In cases where a student is determined to be ineligible, parents can appeal this decision.
  • Once eligibility has been determined, parents, school officials, and experts (collectively known as the IEP team) meet to discuss the student’s needs. For older students, the student’s input is also considered. Parents should review required team membership and meeting guidelines.
  • The IEP team writes up an IEP, which is put into action upon the parent’s consent to the services.
The IEP is reviewed annually, or more frequently upon the request of parents or school officials. This enables revisions to be made based on the student’s development.

The IEPs of children with learning disabilities are also reevaluated by experts at least every three years if there is a need to confirm that the disability continues to exist or additional information is required to plan services for the student.

Special Education Appeals

Occasionally, parents may not see eye-to-eye with school officials or other parties regarding a child’s IEP. The Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) within the Executive Office of Administration and Finance (ANF) handles such disputes.

Topics covered by BSEA: matters regarding a student’s special education eligibility, placement, evaluation, or IEP.

Resolution Solutions Offered
Who Can Make a Request

Parents, legal guardians, students 18 years of age and older, duly authorized representatives, and school district officials can request to have a dispute resolved through BSEA.

How to Make a Request

Hearing request forms must be submitted for due process hearings and advisory opinions. An additional written request for an advisory opinion is also required. Parties can submit an advancement/postponement request form to reschedule a hearing.

Mediations may be requested by phone. To explore mediation, call the BSEA Coordinator of Mediation at (617) 626-7291.

One of the most widely used special education appeals channels is mediation, and it’s proven successful in the past. During 2014, more than 84 percent of mediations resulted in a mutual agreement, according to BSEA data.

Transition Planning

Planning for adult life is an important part of the special education process. There are two common tools parents should consider when they start transition planning.

The Transition Planning Form (TPF), which outlines postsecondary education goals for the student, his or her special needs, and the course of action that should be taken. Massachusetts requires that this form be filled out annually, beginning when the student turns 14 years old.

A Chapter 688 Referral helps plan for adult services and support for students with special needs once they graduate high school or turn 22 years old, which ends special education eligibility. Referrals should be discussed in IEP team meetings at least two years before special education ends.

Another transition service available to high school students with disabilities and their parents is the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program run by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), part of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (HHS).

What Services Are Offered
  • Development of an individual plan for employment;
  • Career counseling and guidance;
  • Education and training;
  • Tutoring;
  • Job placement;
  • On-the-job training; and,
  • Post-employment support.
How to Apply

Speak with a school official or directly contact a VR area office to learn more about the application process.

For additional information, read “A Family Guide to Transition Services in Massachusetts” or call the MRC at (800) 245-6543. The guide is also available in Spanish.

Additional Resources

There are numerous legal, support, and advocacy resources available to help parents navigate the special education process.

They include:
Parents are often their children’s best advocates. If you suspect your child has a learning disability, talk to your child’s teacher or another school official about whether your child qualifies for special education instruction.

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