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Winchester Special Education PAC


Special Education 101

Who is eligible to receive special education services?

Massachusetts Special Education Law MGL c.71B), and the federal law on which it is based (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)) cover the following disabilities:

  • Autism
  • Developmental delay
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Sensory impairment (hearing, vision, deaf-blind)
  • Neurological impairment
  • Emotional impairment
  • Communication impairment
  • Physical impairment
  • Health impairment
  • Specific learning disability (603 CMR 28.02)



What is an IEP?

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) contain the specially designed instruction and related services necessary to meet the needs of an eligible child with a disability. They are developed at Team meetings with the input of all team members. When finalized, an IEP becomes a contract between you and the school district about the services that will be provided to your child, and the specific benchmarks that will be used to evaluate your child's progress. CLICK HERE to access the IEP Writing Guide prepared by the Department of Education and Federation for Children With Special Needs.


How does the IEP process work?

Parents, professionals or school personnel may believe that a child needs special education services and refer them to the school district for evaluation.

Within 5 school days the district must notify the parents and request permission to evaluate the child.

Within 30 days of parental consent to evaluate the child, credentialed, trained professionals must perform the evaluation.

Within 45 school days of parent's consent, district determines eligibility based on its evaluation.

If a child is determined to be eligible for services, within 45 school days of parental consent, the Team develops an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

After the IEP is drafted, a team meeting is held to discuss it and determine placement.

Within 30 days of receiving the final IEP, parents consent to the plan and the placement, accept it in part and re-quest modifications, or reject it in whole.

Periodic written reports measure the student's progress toward IEP goals (these reports are prepared at least as frequently as those for students who do not receive special services.

At least annually, or whenever changes are needed the team reviews and rewrites the IEP.

At least every 3 years the school re-evaluates the child.

* (Source: A Parent's Guide To Special Education, a joint publication of The Federation of Children With Special Needs and The Massachusetts Department of Education.)



Special Education Terms

Free and appropriate public education. An eligible child:

  • receives services at no cost to the family
  • begins to receive services no later than than their third birthday, and may receive services until graduating with a standard diploma or turning 22 years of age, whichever happens first
  • has access to the same curriculum as children without disabilities and the right to be a full participant in the life of the school (including extracurricular and other activities sponsored by the school).

Least restrictive environment – The federal law (IDEA), requires students with disabilities to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate, based on the student's needs. This is known as the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Team – For the purposes of developing and annually reviewing a child's individualized education program (IEP), a "team" consists of:

  • parents/guardians
  • a special education teacher
  • a general education teacher
  • a district representative
  • professionals qualified to interpret test results
  • other individuals or agencies invited by parents or the district
  • the student, if 14 years of age or older
  • any other people or agencies that have special expertise or knowledge of the child

Out of district placement – When a child's needs cannot be met in their public school, an "Out-Of-District Placement" will be recommended. These placements, either day or residential, may be at charter schools, educational collaboratives, or other approved public or private schools.



Overview of Laws

Special education law is organized around the following six priciples:

  • Parents and older students should actively participate in the IEP process and come to meetings with a vision for their/their child's future. Parents should also have a role in guiding and evaluating the services provided by their district.
  • Regular, appropriate and comprehensive evaluation must be conducted to evaluate the students strengths and needs, before a determination is made about eligibility for special education services.
  • The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed at the team meeting and represents a formal agreement about the services the school will provide for your child's special education needs. It is a contract between you and the school. As with any contract, you should make sure you fully understand what was agreed to in the meeting. When you receive the written copy in the mail after the meeting, it is important for parents to review it carefully before signing and returning it, to ensure that everything agreed upon in the meeting was included.
  • Eligible children must receive "free and appropriate public education (FAPE)." This means that an eligible child:
    • receives services at no cost to the family,
    • begins to receive services no later than than their third birthday, and may receive services until graduating with a standard diploma or turning 22 years of age, whichever happens first,
    • has access to the same curriculum as children with disabilities and the right to be a full participant in the life of the school (including extracurricular and other activities sponsored by the school).
  • The federal law (IDEA), requires students with disabilities to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate, based on the student's needs. This is known as the least restrictive environment (LRE).
  • Procedural safeguards protect the rights of students and parents. They include:
    • timelines
    • requirements for parental consent
    • requirements for student evaluations
    • formal contractual agreement on services to be provided (the IEP)
    • provision for annual and triannual review
    • requirements for written notification whenever a school district proposes or refuses to initiate or change key aspects of a student's services

(Source: A Parent's Guide To Special Education, a joint publication of the Federation For Children With Special Needs and The Massachusetts Department of Education.) CLICK to view the entire document.



504 Accommodations

The U.S. Department of Educationís Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This section of the Act provides protection and services to school children with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance ó including public schools.

Whereas IEPs primarily support education, Section 504 plans focus on protecting and facilitating a child's ability to participate in all facets of school activities. To be eligible under Section 504, a student must:

  • have a physical or mental impairment (permanent or temporary) that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • have a record of such an impairment, or
  • be regarded as having such an impairment.

Section 504 regulations define a physical or mental impairment as: “any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.”

(Source: Aspergers Society Newsletter, Volume 72, “How does a 504 Plan Differ from an IEP for Students with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome”, by Kraig Kendall.)



Assistive Technology

Special educators play a critical role in teaching students who are nonverbal, have limited speech, and may or may not use Augmentative and Alternative Communication/Assistive Technology (AAC/AT). Acknowledging this, the Massachusetts legislature enacted a law, Senate, No. 2579, An Act Relative to Augmentative and Alternative Communication Opportunities for Children to ensure that special education teachers acquired necessary knowledge and skills in this area. CLICK to download the guidelines.