Hearing Officer Rosa Figueroa's most recent decision, In Re: Student v. Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District – BSEA # 17-07353 & # 18-04291, is a page turner. The family comes across as highly-distrusting and the district as exceedingly accommodating. The most interesting sentence of the decision, however, is what Hearing Officer Figueroa says about parental rights:
A parent’s right to meaningful participation does not equate to micromanagement of a case to the point of stifling every process and impeding determinative decisions by those with the knowledge and experience to make them.
The right to to parental participation in the IEP process is important, but it is not unlimited. It is important for parents to understand their role in the special education process and to accept the advise of experts that have the student's best interest in mind.
Question: How long after my child's annual IEP meeting does the school district have to send me the proposed IEP ?
Answer: Parents are often surprised to learn that federal laws and regulations do not contain a deadline if the IEP team met to review or revise an IEP. (But note: If the IEP meeting was an eligibility meeting, federal regulations do provide a deadline - parents must receive the IEP 60 calendar days after the District received consent to evaluate UNLESS the state imposes a shorter timeframe. In Massachusetts the deadline is 45 school days after the consent to evaluate.)
In Massachusetts, Districts may take no more than two calendar weeks to prepare the complete IEP for the parent's signature. This two week requirement is permitted as long as the District provided the parents with a summary of decisions and agreements reached during the Team meeting. This summary must include: (a) a completed IEP service delivery grid describing the types and amounts of special education and/or related services proposed by the district, and (b) a statement of the major goal areas associated with these services. Source: Memorandum on the Implementation of 603 CMR 28.05(7): Parent response to proposed IEP and proposed placement.'
If you live in Massachusetts and have more questions about your child's IEP, contact Attorney Lillian Wong for a consultation.
A recent story from Portland, Oregon caught my eye. An occupational therapist is suing her former school district, claiming she was fired for reporting violations of special education law. The occupational therapist claims that her schedule did not permit her to service all children who needed it, as required by law. Instead, the school district allegedly told her to only service the students whose "parents are litigious." You can read the entire article here.
I hear a lot of similar stories from special educators here in Massachusetts, although many of those individuals are reluctant to speak up because they fear they would end up, like this Oregon woman, without a job.
It is disheartening to think that only children with litigious parents are receiving the special education services they need, especially since being a "litigious parent" usually requires a fair amount of money. This paradigm often leaves poor children with disabilities further disadvantaged and underscores the importance of pro bono representation. This story also highlights a reality many parents suspect but find difficult to confirm - that the school more likely to give your child the supports and services he or she needs if you, as the parent, understand and are ready to enforce the law.
If you are a parent of a child on an IEP in Massachusetts with additional questions about special education law enforcement, please do not hesitate to contact the North Shore Law Office of Lillian E. Wong.
On December 16, 2011 the State Director of Special Education, Marcia Mittnacht, issued a Memorandum advising against Procedures Lite for "legal and policy reasons."
In October, I warned parents against Procedures Lite. Read the entire article here. Many other special education advocates did the same. Ultimately, the Massachusetts Department of Education came to the same conclusion I made in October - "Procedures Lite" violates the law.
If you have questions about your child's special education rights, contact the Boston area office of Lillian E. Wong today.
UPDATE: On December 16, 2011 the Massachusetts Department of Education advised against Procedures Lite. Read the entire article here.
Have you heard about "Procedures Lite?" If you have a child in special education you need to.
What is Procedures Lite?
Procedures Lite is contract between schools and parents that waives special education procedural rights. Parents waive the right to convene an IEP meeting, develop an IEP, receive progress notes, and request annual evaluations. Parents also waive the right to enforce these rights and seek compensatory services and damages. What does the school waive? Nothing. Instead the school gains the unilateral right to educate your child without parent input, updated evaluations, and judicial oversight.
What is the purpose of Procedures Lite?
Schools and their attorneys claim that the purpose of Procedures Lite is to foster trust and communication between Parents and Schools. They believe that special education law, and not school officials or budgetary concerns, create conflict and distrust between parents and schools. Their solution - do away with IEPs as we know them and replace them with a one page Student Learning Plan (SLP). Don't allow parents to enforce the supports and services outlined in the SLP. Eliminate IEP meetings and Progress Reports in the name of better communication. Does this sound counter-intuitive? Maybe. But it's happening in Massachusetts. Read the current Weston, Massachusetts Procedures Lite contract here.
What is the ultimate agenda of Procedures Lite proponents?
Those proposing Procedures Lite would like to eliminate special education rights. One of Procedure Lite's vocal advocates is Massachusetts school attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman. In her recent presentation at the University of Chicago School of Law, Ms. Freedman compared special education to welfare and talked about the need to eliminate special education rights. In the meantime, Ms. Freedman supports Procedures Lite because, "Even if we won't or can't end the [special education] entitlement right away, [we can] end litigation and the fear of litigation about a proposed FAPE." Read the entire presentation abstract here.
What can you do?
First, NEVER sign away your child's special education rights without consulting an experienced special education attorney. Procedures Lite is a relatively new idea, but convincing parents to waive their child's rights is not. Read my warning to parents about waiving rights in settlement agreements here.
Second, inform other parents. Make sure every parent who has a child on an IEP is aware of their rights and the serious consequences of "Procedures Lite."
Third, talk to school administrators. Explain to them that eliminating laws designed to protect your child will not make your more trusting of the school. Emphasize that IEP meetings, Progress Reports and the IEP document are fundamental to parent-school communication. Point out that without required evaluations, your child's needs cannot be assessed and the school cannot provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
If you have any other questions about your child's special education rights, feel free to contact Massachusetts special education attorney Lillian E. Wong today.
Having a copy of your child's educational records is an important parental right, especially if you are in a dispute with the school. Educational records are broadly defined and can be thousands of pages. Read more about requesting educational records here.
How much can the school charge for a copy of the record?
Federal and Massachusetts law require that the copy fee be reasonable, no more than the school's actual cost, and not so high that it effectively prevents the parents from exercising their right to inspect and review those records.
How much is a reasonable rate in Massachusetts?
There is no state-wide policy in Massachusetts; rates vary by district. Here's some guidance:
- 10 Cents? In 2004, a Hearing Officer upheld a 10 cents per page fee as reasonable for an individual making $500/month.
- 20 Cents? In 2005, the Massachusetts Department of Education contemplated a 20 cents per page fee as reasonable, guided (but not governed) by the maximum allowable fee for copies of public records.
- 25 Cents or MORE? Since 2009, the maximum allowable fee for copies of public records in Massachusetts has been 20 cents per page for photocopies and 50 cents per page for computer printouts. While this rule does not govern educational records, it might be considered persuasive by a hearing officer.
So how to I get a copy of my child's records without breaking the bank?
- Ask for a copy of the District's fee policy before you request copies of your child's records.
- Specify what type of documents you want copies of (IEPs, discipline reports, evaluations) and what documents you don't need (attendance, immunization reports, report cards, anything more than four years old).
- Before the school begins copying, ask for a detailed fee estimate.
If you believe the fee is too high, try negotiating with the school. If that doesn't work, contact the Boston area Law Office of Lillian E. Wong today.
Massachusetts law (Chapter 71B: Section 1C) requires each school district to conduct, in cooperation with the local parent advisory council, at least one workshop annually within the school district on the rights of students and their parents and guardians under the special education laws of the commonwealth and the federal government and shall make written materials explaining such rights available upon request.
Below is a copy of Attorney Wong's sample Basic Right's Presentation. Please contact her if you are interested in having an experienced Massachusetts special education lawyer present to your SEPAC.
If you are in a dispute with the school, want to learn more about your child's educational history (attendance, discipline, testing, etc.), or if you just want to make sure your copy of the records is complete, you should request to review and or receive a copy your child's educational records. Always make the request in writing, and be as specific as possible about what information you want. If you only want the last two years of records or only want to see discipline records make sure you let the school know.
Do you have a right to this information?
Yes. The Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) grants parents the right to inspect, review, and receive a copy of their child's educational records.
What are educational records?
FERPA defines "educational records" as records that are: 1) directly related to a student and 2) maintained by an education agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution. 34 CFR 99.3. Education records may be recorded in any manner, including, but not limited to, handwriting, print, computer media, video or audio tape, film, microfilm, or microfiche. Id.
So what does that mean? Your child's educational records might not just be in one school file. Email correspondences about your child might be stored on the school's server. Handwritten IEP meeting notes might be in a teacher's notebook. Phone logs might be kept in the secretary's office.
How long does the school have to respond?
Districts must respond in a "reasonable" time, but in no more than 45 days. What is reasonable depends on the nature, amount, and the location of the records you are requesting.
Can the school charge me for copies?
Yes. The school can charge a reasonable rate for copies, as long as that fee doesn't effectively preclude a parent from accessing the records. The school cannot charge for the cost of retrieval. It's always a good idea to ask what the fee is for copies and approximately how many copies will be made, before the school sends you the bill.
Learn more about FERPA rights here.
If you need help requesting your child's educational records, contact Boston area attorney Lillian E. Wong today.
Special Education rights begin at birth. From birth until age three, children who qualify for special education services under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) receive supports and services through Early Intervention. In Massachusetts, the agency responsible for implementing Early Intervention services is the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services.
Just as the IEP main document for programming the services to be given a child with disabilities under Part B of the IDEA, the principal document for identifying services for an infant or toddler under Part C is the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).
The IFSP must provide the child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If you believe Early Intervention is denying your child a Free Appropriate Public Education, you have the right to request a Due Process Hearing and have an impartial hearing officer decide if your child is receiving FAPE through Early Intervention. IDEA also provides parents of children in Early Intervention other rights, including the right of Parental Participation.
If you need help advocating for your child's rights, contact Boston area attorney Lillian E. Wong today.
On December 10, 2010 Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, proposed the following changes to Massachusetts' Special Education Regulations.
This proposed change would clarify parents' right to revoke consent to all special education and related services, and will eliminate the suggestion that a school may file a due process hearing or court action to challenge a parent's decision to revoke consent to all special education and related services.
Bureau of Special Education Appeals
The proposed change indicates that the BSEA is a subdivision of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals and no longer within the Department of Education.
The proposed change would require sign language interpreters to be registered with the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Independent Education Evaluations
The proposed change would clarify the five school day timeline for responding for a parents requesting an IEE under federal law.
Read the text of the proposed changes here.
If you have questions about your child's rights, contact Massachusetts special education lawyer Lillian E. Wong today.
It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
The Law Office of Lillian E. Wong, LLC
15 Morningside Drive
Topsfield, MA 01983
15 Morningside Drive
Topsfield, MA 01983