Status of the Commonwealth Dispute Resolution Offices During the Covid-19 Shutdown

The dedication of our public servants in meeting the educational needs of our community is manifest in their reaction to the Covid-19 shutdown.

The Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”), including the mediators and hearing officers, and the Problem Resolution System (“PRS”), are still open and functioning.

Concerning the BSEA:

  • Hearing requests and other pleadings should be filed via fax or mail so they can be docketed at the BSEA.
  • Instead of processing the hearing requests and sending out the initial hearing notice in one day, it may take two to three days.
  • Hearing officers can be contacted through email for general correspondence, scheduling issues and the like.
  • A party can request a continuance but they will not be automatically granted and will be addressed on a case by case basis.
  • The one thing the BSEA cannot do during the shutdown is to have face to face proceedings.
  • The BSEA is working with Catuogno Court Reporters to address technology issues so they can conduct hearings, pre-hearings and settlement conferences via video conferencing.
  • Reece Erlichman is still conducting settlement conferences remotely.
  • Lyndsay Byrne has postponed her retirement through June to help out.
  • If you have trouble communicating with a hearing officer, reach out to Reece Erlichman.

Mediations are going forward remotely. They are working out issues relating to sign-in sheets so the mediations comply with legal requirements and the associated commitment to keep the mediations confidential.

PRS is open and fully functioning in all respects:

  • Staff remain available daily to respond to inquiries and concerns. Everyone is working remotely, but regularly checking their email and voice mail. There should be little delay in response.
  • They are responding to inquiries submitted through the Compliance inbox and answering voice mails left on their main line.
  • PRS is accepting complaints filed with their office.
  • Due to the uncertainties of school closures, PRS is presently continuing to issue Requests for Local Reports and Letters of Finding which require the development of Corrective Action Plans (i.e., items that require a response on the part of the school district).
  • However, given the uncertainty of when schools will reopen, PRS is sending those letters with open response dates, i.e. asking that when school resumes, the administrator contact PRS to work together to set a response date.
  • Other correspondence that does not require a district response are being issued as per usual – letters finding the district in compliance, extensions, etc.
  • PRS’s ability to fully investigate concerns may be limited or delayed by the ability of the districts to access the materials and resources necessary to do their local investigation – such as accessing student records or other documents – which are only available to them onsite.
  • PRS remains committed to issuance of findings within 60 days, but if there is a change in the currently anticipated dates for school to resume, they may have to seek additional guidance as to the feasibility of meeting that goal on an ongoing basis.

Special Education Today is a publication of the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

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