Providing an IEP May Not Suffice if a District Fails in Its Child Find Obligation

Suppose a child exhibits troubling behaviors and/or difficulties learning basic skills in kindergarten or another early grade. Suppose further that, despite the child’s problematic performance, no teacher or other public school employee recommends that the child be evaluated. Perhaps that child passes through first and part of second grade with similar problems until finally a referral is made, an evaluation completed, and an IEP developed. Problem solved? Not entirely. The question remains whether the district should have taken these steps much earlier and whether any remedy is available to make up for the lost time and services.

The District of Columbia Circuit recently held that, although a school district’s provision of an IEP may satisfy the district’s obligations now and for the immediate future, parents may still be entitled to compensatory education for the months or years when their child was not yet on an IEP or identified as eligible for special education. Boose v. District of Columbia, 786 F.3d 1054 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Continue reading

Federal Guidance Regarding Speech-Language Services for Students with Autism

The Office of Special Education Programs of the United States Department of Education (“OSEP”) issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” letter on July 6, 2015 regarding speech-language services and evaluations for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Continue reading

Parents are awarded an out of district placement after proving that the district’s program for a child with Autism and Intellectual Disability does not provide FAPE

A Brookline family has just prevailed in a decision issued by the BSEA’s newest hearing officer, Amy Reichbach, finding that the district’s program did not provide a FAPE and ordering Brookline to place the student at the RCS Learning Center in Natick.  In Re: Jacqueline, BSEA #1408578.  Attorney Dan Heffernan of our firm represented the family in this close, complex, and hard-fought case.  The decision highlights many of the types of issues that frequently arise where districts struggle to address the severe and multifaceted needs of children who require intense, systematic, consistent, and comprehensive services and need to be with peers who will provide for mutual learning and progress.  Districts do their best to meet such needs in most cases, but the lack of a sufficient cohort of students with comparable needs and the incompatibility of the normal structure of a regular school setting – generally open and flexible, expecting growing independence from all students – often make it difficult for a severely involved child to make meaningful progress.  Continue reading

Work Product Protection: Fishing For Parent Consultants’ Files at the BSEA Should Be Off Limits

Some school districts have increasingly been seeking production of parent consultants’ (non-lawyer advocates’) files in the discovery process at the BSEA. We believe that most documents generated by parent consultants should be shielded from disclosure as irrelevant and/or as subject to the doctrine of “work product.” We are posting here an excerpt from a comment that we recently published in the Massachusetts Special Education Reporter (“MSER”) in which we took the occasion to highlight the need to protect consultants’ work product. Parents’ access to consultants who can help them navigate the complexities of special education process is essential, we think, to the integrity and effectiveness of the system; that access should not be chilled by concerns over the possibility of school districts and their attorneys picking through their consultants’ files if litigation ensues. (Our full commentary on BSEA decisions and rulings in the first quarter of 2015 is published at 21 MSER C-1 and may be read on our firm’s website. Continue reading

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

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.  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

Don’t Get Taken for (too long) a Ride; Watch Out for Silent Waivers in an IEP!

Parents should keep an eye out for language in their IEPs that might have them unwittingly signing away the right to limit the duration of their child’s transportation to and from a placement to an hour or less each way.   Massachusetts special education regulations provide, at 603 C.M.R. §28.06 (8)(a):

The district shall not permit any eligible student to be transported in a manner that requires the student to remain in the vehicle for more than one hour each way except with the approval of the Team.  The Team shall document such determination on the IEP. Continue reading