In a recently published article, the Boston Globe reports that during this past spring, many school districts across the state asked parents to forgo their children’s special education rights by signing waivers releasing the districts from important special education obligations. These waivers have included releasing districts from providing IEP-related services and programming, conducting special education assessments, and issuing IEPs within state and federal timelines. That districts would request such waivers is concerning enough, in light of clear federal and state guidance that districts must adhere to these obligations despite the COVID-19 crisis. Further concerning is how districts have presented these waivers. Attorneys, parents, and advocates have stated that districts have portrayed the signing of these waivers as a necessary condition for parents to get IEP Team meetings scheduled or for certain services to continue. As a result, many less informed or less assertive parents consented to the waivers, misled by the districts to believe that they had no choice but to do so if they wanted their children to receive assessments, services, or meetings to which the families were in fact already entitled. Continue reading
Category Archives: Practice Pointers
Uncharted Territory: What Will School Look Like for Special Education Students in the Summer and Fall of 2020?
As most Massachusetts residents know, on March 15, 2020 Governor Charlie Baker ordered all public and private schools in the Commonwealth to cease in-person instruction through April 6, 2020. That restriction was later extended through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) directed school districts to provide students (including special education students) with remote instruction during that time. With the 2019-2020 school year drawing to a close, DESE been considering summer school programs and looking toward the reopening of school in the fall. DESE has issued the following guidance on those subjects:
- On June 4, 2020, DESE Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley issued “Initial Summer School Re-Opening Guidance.”
- On June 7, 2020, Senior Associate Commissioner and State Director of Special Education Russell Johnston issued “Guidance on Summer 2020 Special Education Services.”
- On June 25, 2020, Commissioner Riley issued “Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance,” including “Initial Fall Special Education Guidance” (Appendix C).
- On July 1, 2020, Commissioner Riley issued “Comprehensive Summer School Guidance,” which supersedes the June 4 initial guidance.
All four documents may be found at http://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop.html. Continue reading
BSEA Issues New Standing Orders Addressing COVID-19-Related Issues
The Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”), the state’s administrative body that handles special education cases, has recently issued Standing Orders to address the challenges presented by COVID-19. In order to comply with federal and state mandates requiring that special education timelines be maintained during this global pandemic, the BSEA has ordered that it will continue to hold resolution proceedings (which include Due Process Hearings). In light of the state’s closure and re-opening plans, these resolution proceedings shall be done remotely or virtually and not in-person until further notice. Any requests for a change in date of the resolution proceedings, location of the proceedings, and/or mediums from which to conduct these proceedings must be made to the individual Hearing Officer assigned to the case. Continue reading
U.S. DOE and DESE Make Clear: Districts Must Provide FAPE During School Closure and Timelines Remain in Effect
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), signed into law on March 27, 2020, contains a provision allowing the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to recommend that Congress waive certain requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, including requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). Many attorneys and advocates for students with disabilities feared that the Secretary would seek congressional approval to excuse school districts from complying with all of IDEA’s provisions during the current crisis. Such approval, if granted, could have relaxed IDEA’s substantive obligations, such as the requirement that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) to students with disabilities, during periods of school closure and/or could have tolled or extended IDEA’s procedural obligations, such as the requirements that district perform evaluations and re-evaluations within specific timeframes. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Issues in Special Education that Candidates Should Address
We are posting a link here to an article written by Bob Crabtree, of counsel with KC&S, regarding some of the critical issues surrounding special education and disability rights that candidates running for legislative and executive offices should address. Though IDEA is a federal law, states can establish increased requirements for special education and these are therefore issues to discuss with candidates for state office as well. The issues discussed in the article include: inadequate special education funding; the weakening of required standards governing IEPs; judicial decisions about recovery of attorneys’ fees and related costs; and the burden of proof in special education proceedings.
Special Education Today is a publication of the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.
Recording IEP Meetings
Neither federal law nor Massachusetts state law address the question of whether parents and/or legal guardians may be able to record IEP meetings. However, the Office of School Education Programs (“OSEP”) (which is part of the U.S. Department of Education) has issued some guidance on this issue. Continue reading
Providing Notice of a Unilateral Placement
Pursuant to both state and federal law, students with special needs are entitled to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). If parents are dissatisfied with the appropriateness of the school district’s programming, parents have the right to place a student in a private school program at their own expense and seek reimbursement from the district. This is called making a “unilateral placement.” Whether or not a lawsuit seeking reimbursement will ultimately be successful depends on a number of complex factors that are beyond the scope of this post, but it is important to provide adequate notice to the school district of a student’s new placement. Continue reading
A New First Circuit Case: C.D. v. Natick Public School District
In a recent decision, C.D. v. Natick Pub. Sch. Dist., No. 18-1794 (1st Cir. May 22, 2019), the First Circuit Court of Appeals grappled with the legal standards at the heart of most special education disputes – namely, the entitlement of a student with special needs to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). The First Circuit’s decision followed the Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017), which, for the first time since 1982, squarely considered the contours of a FAPE. For an in-depth discussion about Endrew F., please see our previous post here. Continue reading
KCS First Quarter 2018 BSEA Commentary Is Now Posted. We Highlight A Strike Against Work Product Protection for Lay Advocates.
In a posting in July 2017, we celebrated a BSEA ruling that we hoped signaled the BSEA’s recognition of the importance of non-lawyer parent consultants as a resource to help parents – especially those without the means to engage attorneys – understand and make informed decisions in their advocacy for their children. As we said in that post: