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Under Superintendent Harutunian, many of the problems Mr. Ormbsy describes in his article existed in Reading, Massachusetts. Even worse, Harutunian allowed and encouraged Reading Special Education to grow far past what was actually needed and become "a run-away freight train" because it suited his (and his followers) agendas.
Special Education is a topic informed residents have barely touched upon thus far (other than to say that, along with maintenance, raiding special education funding was a favored method of quietly feeding administrative spending projects) but a great deal of documentation exists on the subject.
For now, however, Mr. Ormsby's observations will have to suffice.
Resources for parents / anyone seeking to advocate for (special needs) children:
1. School Records. Do you have copies of the school records file?Families are entitled to records “as soon as practicable” and within ten calendar days of request (603 CMR 23.07). (see attached form letter requesting records) If the family is about to go into shelter or move around a lot, they should ask for the records immediately and, if possible, take the records with them.
2. Evaluation. Are you concerned about your child’s development?School must evaluate in all areas of suspected need upon parental request. Initial evaluation must be completed within 30 school days from parent consent and team meeting held within 45 days from consent 603 CMR 28.05(1). (see form letter requesting evaluation)
3. Independent Evaluation. Do you disagree with the school’s evaluation?If school evaluation has been completed less than 16 months ago and you disagree with it, you can ask for an independent evaluation(603 CMR 28.04(5). Free to legal services clients. (Call Massachusetts Advocacy Center, Disability Law Center, Children’s Law Center for suggestions on evaluators specializing in that child’s particular needs)
4. Individual Education Plan (IEP). Is your child getting the services on his IEP? The IEP is a written statement signed by the parent that lists goals and services designed to meet the unique needs of eligible children. It can also contain “related services” to help the child access the general curriculum. Review all the potential services listed on an IEP “grid.” An IEP is legally enforceable.
5. Reviews and Re-evaluations. Have your child’s needs changed? Each qualifying child is entitled to an IEP review every year and to a re-evaluation every three years. Can always ask for an unscheduled reevaluation, especially if there are new circumstances. (603 CMR 28.04(3)
6. Rejecting the IEP. Did the school refuse your child services you believe he/she needs? The schools must provide special education and related services that are necessary for the student to benefit from special education or access the general curriculum. Parents can reject or withdraw consent for the IEP if s/he believes services do not meet the child’s unique needs. There is a right to a hearing; encourage parents to get an independent evaluation beforehand.
7. Due Process rights. Do you disagree with the IEP proposed by the school? Parents may appeal to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) with further appeal to state or federal court. There are extensive notice requirements and procedural rights. Parents should seek legal advice.
8. Stay Put. During any appeal of the IEP, except in very specific circumstances the child stays in the last agreed upon placement. If child has been placed out of school, seek legal advice.
9. Strong protections against being suspended or expelled from school for more than 10 days. Is your child facing disciplinary proceedings? Was the behavior related to his/her disability? Was there a manifestation determination? Did the school write a behavior plan? Does your child have unidentified special needs? You can a refer for an evaluation even after the student is expelled. Is the school using the courts to avoid providing services? Legal advice may be needed. (see referral list)
10. MCAS Has your child with disabilities had difficulties with (or failed) the MCAS ?Ask if the child got accommodations needed for the test. Ask if child had a chance to learn the material covered by MCAS. If not, call the MAC MCAS and disabilities hotline (617-357-8431)
c 2003 Massachusetts Advocates for Children, 100 Boylston St. Boston, MA 02139 617-357-8431