The DESE is Seeking Comments on Proposed Restraint Regulations

In 2001, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (then known as the Massachusetts Department of Education) promulgated regulations concerning the use of physical restraints on students.  603 CMR 46.01.  The stated purpose of the regulations was to “ensure that every student participating in a Massachusetts public education program is free from the unreasonable use of physical restraint.”  The introductory language to the regulations continued: “Physical restraint shall be used only in emergency situations after other less intrusive alternatives have failed or been deemed inappropriate, and with extreme caution.” The regulations addressed the use of physical and mechanical restraints, the prohibition of “seclusion restraints,” the training of school staff in the use of restraints, and the requisite reporting of the administration of restraints to school administration and families. Continue reading

New DESE Advisory: Charting a Course for Charter School Students Who May Need an Out-of-District Program

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) recently released an advisory concerning the responsibilities of charter schools to special education students. Although charter schools have been a feature of the Massachusetts school landscape for over twenty years, there are still misunderstandings about charter schools’ obligations to their students who require special education.  The DESE advisory addresses some of these issues. It focuses on a Massachusetts special education regulation found at 603 CMR 28.10(6)(a), which covers the responsibilities of the charter school and the student’s public school district (“district of residence”) in the event that a student with special needs may need to leave the charter school in order to obtain an appropriate education.  (This regulation also covers special education students who attend vocational schools, Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools, and schools attended through the METCO program.  However, the advisory targets charter schools specifically.) Continue reading

Amendments to the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law

On April 24, 2014, Governor Deval Patrick signed An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools, which amends the 2010 anti-bullying law.  The Massachusetts House and Senate overwhelmingly supported the legislation, which was authored by the Attorney General’s office and sponsored by Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch (14th Norfolk) and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (2nd Suffolk).  The amendment changes the bullying law in four principal ways.  (An earlier amendment, effective July 1, 2014, had previously changed the law’s scope by broadening it to include bullying and harassment not only by peers, but also by school staff.) Continue reading

Developments in Discipline: a Federal Alert on Discrimination and a New Massachusetts Statute

Parents and advocates should take note of several important recent developments concerning how schools manage students’ behavior. We post this note to direct attention to some of the more important developments, each of which involves complex and detailed information worthy of more extensive study and discussion as their consequences unfold. Of most immediate concern is the third item discussed in this post, since it invites readers to consider submitting comments to DESE by March 7 on proposed regulations to govern school discipline policies and practice. We begin, though, by describing a federal publication that highlights the context within which those policies will be applied, noting some of the issues and concerns that give rise to the need for thoughtful and systematic attention to the way in which students, with or without disabilities, are handled when they misbehave. Continue reading

Task Force on Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Disabilities: Public Hearings Begin on November 1st

Advancements in the education of children with disabilities as well as higher expectations for more meaningful and fulfilling post-high school lives have led to more opportunities for students with disabilities to attend college. Several laws have helped develop some of these opportunities.  When the cornerstone federal statute, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, was reauthorized in 2004, it and resulting regulations emphasized successful transition to post-school life as an important goal of the education of children with special needs.  A crucial component of the transition planning that school districts must begin when the student turns fourteen years old is the post-school vision.  Transition services are to be coordinated, results oriented, and based on the individual student’s strengths, preferences and interests.  Where appropriate, therefore, there is no barrier to have college as the post-high school vision for a student with disabilities. Continue reading

Update on DSM-5: IEP Eligibility for Students with Autism or Social Communication Disorders

We posted a comment at the end of May noting that the new DSM-5 definitions substituting “Autism Spectrum Disorder” for a number of autism-related disorders such as Asperger Syndrome do not affect the broader definitions of disabilities under IDEA or Massachusetts special education law. We urged parents and advocates to challenge any school districts that attempt to use the DSM-5 as a basis on which to deny an IEP to a child with a disability falling under this type of impairment. Continue reading

Latest Developments in Transition Planning in Massachusetts

Transition services are part of, and not separate from, a school district’s responsibility to provide FAPE.  The IDEA requires transition services that are developed through transition planning by the IEP Team.  Specifically, the IDEA requires every IEP, beginning no later than the one that will be in effect when the child is 16 years old (age 14 in MA), to include “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based on age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills,” and to describe the “transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.” 20 USC § 1414 (d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII).  See also 34 CFR § 300.320(b). Continue reading