Parents of a child (or children) with disabilities often feel an overwhelming responsibility to ensure their child can access the same activities and experiences that are available to children without disabilities. Unfortunately, accomplishing this goal in the face of opposition can be frustrating, intimidating, and exhausting. But remember: You and your child have rights under broad federal and state statutes and regulations to receive services that will help your child with disabilities receive what our laws refer to as a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) in the “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE).
At Next Phase Legal, we understand your children are more often than not your highest priority, and that is just the way things should be.
More specifically, federal and state laws require that your child receive the same education provided to students without disabilities, and when applicable, provide your child with specific, specialized services. These services must be provided in the most mainstream setting(s) possible unless such settings are not appropriate for your child due to his or her disabilities.
These laws are complex and are constantly evolving in interpretation. During what can be tense meetings with your local school district, you may feel lost and overpowered when trying to advocate for your child’s educational needs.
You have the right to refer your child for evaluations under federal and state law to determine if your child has disabilities and is entitled to services that will address those disabilities. If a determination is made that your child has a disability or disabilities, he or she may qualify for special education services. From the point where your child is referred for an evaluation and found eligible for services, your role as a parent-advocate for your child is likely to become complicated.
This is when a Massachusetts Special Education attorney can play a vital role in helping you advocate for your child so that his or educational needs are met in accordance with their federal and state law. Ultimately, our goal is to help our client’s children thrive and flourish to the fullest extent possible.
MA Special Education Law
Massachusetts expanded on federal law and created a specific set of rules which implement the federal protections for students with disabilities. The majority of our state laws mirror the federal statutes; however, Massachusetts provides more specific rules when it comes to your procedural rights.
For instance, Massachusetts identifies explicit steps and timelines schools must follow to ensure that parents and children are notified of any actions the school district plans to take on behalf of a child. Specific steps include providing parents evaluations that the school plans to conduct and placements that the school is proposing.
Under federal and Massachusetts law, when your child qualifies for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the school must gather a team of individuals possessing the requisite skills and knowledge to assist in the drafting and implementation of the student’s IEP. You also have rights regarding the development of this team.
To put it another way, Massachusetts law thoroughly incorporates federal laws and expands on them with specific provisions related to procedures and the rights of parents and children throughout the special education process.
Federal Laws & Special Education
Two major federal laws provide disabled students with the right to obtain special education services—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The IDEA is a special education entitlement law that specifically applies to children with disabilities.
For the IDEA to apply to your child, your child must undergo an evaluation and the evaluation must determine that:
Your child has one of the disabilities identified in the IDEA
Your child is not making effective progress
Your child is not making effective progress due to his or her disability.
Once it is determined that your child is eligible for services under the IDEA, a team must be put in place to draft, review and implement an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) designed for your child. An IEP outlines goals, and it must be reevaluated annually to ensure implementation and effectiveness.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)
Section 504 is a broad disability law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in entities that receive federal financial assistance, including in educational settings. Section 504 protects children from being denied access to the school curriculum due to their disabilities, from being harassed based on their disabilities, and from being treated differently due to their disabilities. This law is incorporated into Massachusetts special education law.
Under Section 504, if your child has a disability that substantially limits his or her ability to engage in specific life activities outlined in Section 504, then he or she is entitled to services under a 504 Plan. This plan outlines accommodations to students that the school must implement. Accommodations range from transportation services to wheelchair access and auxiliary aids and services.
To learn more about your rights and special education laws and procedures in Massachusetts, and how we can help, please contact us by completing our contact form or simply call our office at (508) 359-4043 to schedule a confidential meeting.