Know your rights:
· By law the school district must provide your child with a free appropriate public education, or FAPE. In order to do this the school district must work in partnership with you. You are a key member of the IEP team that must consider your child’s unique needs.
· The IEP must provide instruction that is tailored to your child’s unique needs. It must also include sufficient support services to enable your child to make meaningful educational progress and to assist your child in acquisition of knowledge and skills, including those necessary for social and emotional development according to appropriate chronological and developmental expectations.
· Any special education services identified for your student must be provided at public expense with no cost to you.
· All students with disabilities are entitled to the opportunity to learn the material that is covered by the academic standards in the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.
· Massachusetts also provides an individual right to FAPE for its resident students with disabilities who attend private schools at private expense, and who seek public special education services.
A Parent's Guide to Special Education
Written by the Federation for Children with Special Needs in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Education, the Guide is meant to serve as a resource for parents, and the organizations that serve them. The Guide contains the most current and accurate information available regarding the special education system in Massachusetts. It is the hope of the Federation that this publication will assist families in obtaining the supports and services that their children with disabilities need to succeed in school.
Request for Special Education Assessment Including Sample LetterTo request assessment to determine if your child is eligible for special education you should submit a written letter to your child’s school. If your child is preschool age and not enrolled in school yet then direct the letter to the School District’s Special Education Division. Otherwise, address the letter to your School’s Principal and hand deliver asking for a date stamped copy for your records. The written request will trigger specific timelines that the school must follow. The easiest way to remember these timelines is 15 – 15 – 60.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA) requires that transition goals are integrated into the Individualized Education Program (IEP) beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child is 16 or younger if determined appropriate. However on August 6, 2008, with the passage of Chapter 285, Massachusetts requires that beginning when the eligible student is 14, the school district must plan for the student's need for transition services. The school district must document the transition discussion annually using the MADESE Transition Planning Form, designed to organize the transition discussion and lead to goals in the IEP.
Driven by a student's own vision and appropriate transition assessments, IEP goals are developed to support student preferences and interests. In high school, transition planning for each student includes exploring post-secondary educational opportunities, vocational and employment options as well as community participation. The transition plan is intended to guide and prepare young adults with disabilities as they move from school to post school activities. For some students, transition planning may include connecting with adult service agencies that may provide services to eligible young adults when they graduate from high school or turn 22 years of age.
Equal Opportunity For Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics: U.S. Department of Education Clarifies Schools' Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics
On January 25, 2013, the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights issued guidance clarifying school districts' existing legal obligations to provide equal access to extracurricular athletic activities to students with disabilities. In addition to explaining those legal obligations, the guidance urges school districts to work with community organizations to increase athletic opportunities for students with disabilities, such as opportunities outside of the existing extracurricular athletic program.
Students with disabilities have the right, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, to an equal opportunity to participate in their schools' extracurricular activities. A 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that many students with disabilities are not afforded an equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and therefore may not have equitable access to the health and social benefits of athletic participation.
"Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The guidance letter provides examples of the types of reasonable modifications that schools may be required to make to existing policies, practices, or procedures for students with intellectual, developmental, physical, or any other type of disability. Examples of such modifications include:
- The allowance of a visual cue alongside a starter pistol to allow a student with a hearing impairment who is fast enough to qualify for the track team the opportunity to compete.
- The waiver of a rule requiring the "two-hand touch" finish in swim events so that a one-armed swimmer with the requisite ability can participate at swim meets.
The guidance also notes that the law does not require that a student with a disability be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.
"Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student's overall educational experience," said Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). "Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities."
The mission of the Office for Civil Rights ("OCR") is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. Among the federal civil rights laws OCR is responsible for enforcing are Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For more information about the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and the anti-discrimination statutes that it enforces, please visit OCR's website at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/aboutocr.html and follow OCR on twitter @EDcivilrights.
FYI: The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act defines new standards for teacher quality. Under NCLB, teachers must hold a Massachusetts teaching license at the Preliminary, Initial, or Professional level and demonstrate subject matter competency in the areas they teach. Under the law, school districts must annually notify the parents/guardians of each student attending any Title I school that they must request information about the qualifications of their child’s teacher(s):
• Whether your child’s teacher has met State qualification and licensing criteria for the grade levels and subject areas in which the teacher provides instruction.
• Whether your child’s teacher is teaching under an emergency license or waiver through
which the State qualifications or licensing criteria have been waived.
• The baccalaureate degree major of your child’s teacher and any other graduate certification or degree held by the teacher, and the field or discipline of the certification or degree.
• Whether your child is provided services by paraeducators and, if so, give their qualifications.