Compensatory education is a well-established remedy for deprivations of special education services, recognized in Massachusetts at least since Pihl v. Massachusetts Dep’t of Educ., 9 F.3d 184 (1st Cir. 1993). The purpose behind compensatory relief is to make the student whole by providing services that place the student in the position that he or she would have occupied if the services been delivered in a timely manner. The remedy is an equitable one that has been characterized as broad and flexible. In some cases, school districts (or, when disputes occur, courts, administrative hearing officers, and state complaint agencies) have used a “one-for-one” approach, calculating the hours or days of services that the student missed and ensuring that the student receives compensatory services of the same type and in the same amount. At other times, compensatory services may differ in type or amount from those the student missed, with the goal of redressing the deprivation by meeting the student’s current needs. Continue reading
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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