Lexington Special Education FAQs
1) Commonly used terms & abbreviations
Acronyms and special terminology abound in special education law, both at the federal and state level. In addition, there are many acronyms specific to LPS’ special education programs. Here are the most commonly used acronyms.
1.1 GENERAL SPECIAL EDUCATION LAW
504 Plan: A law known as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 offers students with disabilities both services and accommodations that are necessary for the student to participate fully in the life of the school. To receive services under Section 504 a student must have a mental or physical impairment, that substantially impairs a major life activity, and requires special accommodations
BSEA: Bureau of Special Education Appeals
CFR: Code of Federal Regulations
CMR: Code of Massachusetts Regulations
DESE: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education): The IDEA mandate that every child whose disability affects their school progress receives an appropriate public education at no expense to the family.
FBA: Functional Behavioral Assessment
IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act): The federal special education law, passed in 1990, that ensures students with a disability are provided with an education that is tailored to their individual needs.
IEE: Independent Educational Evaluation
IEP (Individualized Education Program): An IEP is a document that is developed for each public school child who needs special education and defines the individualized objectives of a child who has been determined to have a disability or requires specialized accommodation, as defined by federal regulations.
LRE (Least Restrictive Environment): The IDEA mandate that students with disabilities must be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate based on the student’s needs.
PQA: Program Quality Assurance Services
SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council): Chapter 71B of Massachusetts special education law requires a school district to establish a PAC (Parent Advisory Council) with both an advisory and a participatory function for the school district and school committee.
1.2 LPS ACRONYMS
Please note that more detailed descriptions of each of the programs mentioned here can be found in a separate Lexington Public Schools Special Education Programs document (add link).
ETS: Evaluation Team Supervisor
ILP: Intensive Learning Program
TLP: Therapeutic Learning Program
LLP: Language Learning Program
DLP: Developmental Learning Program
2) If I suspect an academic, social, or behavioral issue with my child that requires special education services, how do I request an evaluation?
To determine if your child is eligible for special education services, they will need an evaluation. Here are some key points to remember about evaluations:
• You can refer your child to be evaluated by asking for an evaluation for special education eligibility, or your child may be referred by a teacher or other school professional. You can ask your teacher or principal about the best person to contact at your school.
• The school cannot refuse to evaluate your child.
3) What is the evaluation timeline?
• After the request for an evaluation is made, the school must contact parents within 5 school days for written permission to begin the evaluation. Sign and return this consent form quickly!
• Evaluations must be completed within 30 school days of the parent’s written permission for evaluation.
• Within 45 school days of the school’s receipt of your permission in writing, a team meeting must be held to talk about the evaluations to determine eligibility and to complete the IEP for an eligible student.
• Parents have the right to receive all special education evaluation reports two school days before the Team meeting. You must ask the school for copies of these reports in order to receive them in advance of the meeting. Most experts advise parents to make this request.
• For evaluations requested at the end of the school year, if written parental permission to evaluate is received within 30 to 45 school days before the end of the school year (last day of school), the school district must ensure that a Team meeting is scheduled so as to allow for the provision of a proposed IEP or written notice of the finding that the student is not eligible no later than 14 days after the end of the school year (last day of school).
When you add up all the days allowed for each step, and remember that we are talking about school and not calendar days, you can see that the timeframe between asking for an evaluation and holding a team meeting to determine eligibility often exceeds two months. For example, if you request an evaluation at the end of September, you would not likely have a team meeting until the first week of December (assuming the parent consent form is signed and returned immediately).
4) What about evaluations done outside the school system?
You can also conduct evaluations by professionals outside of the school system, but be sure to coordinate any outside evaluations with the ETS to prevent duplication of testing.
The Team may consider outside evaluations, but it is within LPS’s rights to dispute or disregard recommendations or diagnoses made by outside evaluators.
5) How do I determine if my child is eligible for special education services/accommodations?
Eligibility is determined at a Team Meeting, which is scheduled and chaired by the ETS. IDEA has specific rules about who is invited and should attend the Team Meeting. According to IDEA, the following people should attend:
• You, the parent(s) or guardian(s)
• At least one of your child’s special education teachers and/or providers (if applicable)
• At least one of your child’s regular education teachers
• Other individuals or agencies, invited by the parent or the school district
• Someone to interpret the evaluation results and explain what services may be needed
• Your child if they are between the ages of 14-22
• Other people or agencies that have special expertise or knowledge of your child.
6) How is eligibility determined?
• To be eligible for special education services, the evaluations must answer the following questions:
o Does the child have a disability?
o Does the disability cause the child to be unable to progress effectively in regular education?
o Does the child require specially designed instruction to make progress or does the child require a related service or services in order to access the general curriculum?
The answer to all three of these questions must be “YES” for a child to be found eligible for special education services.
7) What happens after eligibility is determined?
If your child is found eligible, there must be school representative at the meeting who knows what services and resources are available to the school district. The law requires that this individual have the authority to commit the resources of the school district so that decisions about services can be made at the Eligibility Team meeting.
If your child is not eligible for special education services, you will receive a letter from the school stating that your child is not eligible, detailing why the student was found not eligible. You have the right to appeal this decision.
If you disagree with the school district’s evaluation results you have the right to have your child evaluated by a qualified professional(s) not employed by the school system. Both federal and state law allows parents to seek an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), and can seek financial help to pay for the costs of an IEE.
If your child is eligible for special education the special education services should begin immediately after you sign the IEP.
8) What belongs in an IEP?
If you child is found eligible for an IEP, the team will work to agree on the goals, services, and accommodations to be included in the IEP at the eligibility meeting. Here are some the key elements that will be included in the IEP:
• Student Vision
• Participation in the General Curriculum
• Other Educational Needs
• Annual Goals
• Objectives and Benchmarks
The goals, objectives, and benchmarks should be specific enough that they can be measured, and reasonable enough that they can be achieved in the one-year timeframe between the time the IEP is implemented and the next IEP review. The art and science of drafting effective IEPs is a subject of many books and guidelines. You can get more information in A Parent’s Guide to Special Education at https://fcsn.org/parents-guide.
9) What is the timeline for implementing an IEP?
• You should receive a summary of the goals, services, and accommodations at the IEP meeting (whether it is an eligibility meeting or annual/triennial review).
• For initial IEPs, if your child is found eligible, you should receive a copy of the IEP within 45 school days of consent to evaluate your child.
• For annual or triennial reviews, you should receive copy of the IEP within 2 calendar (not school day) weeks of the IEP meeting.
• You must accept or reject the IEP within 30 days of receiving the IEP.
10) Can I reject an IEP?
Yes. You can reject the entire IEP, or you can reject portions of the IEP that you feel need further discussion or changes. If you reject the entire IEP, no services will begin until the team has come to an agreement. If you reject portions of the IEP, you have to clearly list the parts you have rejected, and then services will start on the parts you have accepted. You must reject an IEP (in full or partially) within 30 days of receiving the IEP.
Note that your rejection of an IEP sets into motion a referral to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA). You can learn more about this process in the following sections.
11) When do I receive progress reports?
Progress Reports should be sent to parents at the same time as students in your school receive report cards. The Progress Reports should let you know if your child has met his/her goals and benchmarks, or if they are on track to meet their goals and benchmarks by the end of the IEP period (time between IEP implementation and the next IEP review). You can request a Team meeting to discuss progress at any time you have a concern.
12) How do I request team meetings outside of annual reviews?
You can request a Team meeting at any time (you do not need to wait for an annual review). You should contact the ETS in writing to request a team meeting. It is helpful to outline the reasons for the meeting when you request it.
There are no state or federal laws that require the school district to schedule these meetings within a certain timeframe. When you request the meeting, you can request that you meet by a certain date, and provide some timeframes that work best for you. Because the ETS must coordinate the schedules with the rest of the Team members, it may take several weeks before the meeting can be held. If you don’t need the entire team present, you can excuse some Team members if they are not needed for the meeting agenda, and that may make it easier for the ETS to schedule the meeting.
In addition, if you know you typically need a Team meeting at the beginning or end of a school year, and your annual review does not fall during that timeframe, you can plan ahead and request the meetings with the ETS in your annual review.
13) How are changes made to the IEP? Do I need to give my consent?
The district cannot make any change to the current IEP without notifying you and getting your written consent. If changes need to be made to the IEP, you usually need to meet with the Team to get agreement on any changes, after which a revised IEP or IEP amendment will be mailed to you for signature. The changes will not be implemented until you sign and return the IEP or IEP amendment.
14) What should I expect at IEP annual review meetings?
If your child is eligible for special education services and has an IEP, the school district will schedule an annual review of that IEP at least one year from the date the IEP is signed (however, team meetings to discuss IEPs, progress, or other concerns can be requested at any time as outlined above).
At the annual review, the Team will review the goals, objectives, and benchmarks outlined in the IEP, determine if they have been met or not met, and then draft new goals, objectives, and benchmarks. Parents will be asked to update the Student Vision portion of the IEP.
The Team will also review the Services, Accommodations, and Placement and make updates as needed.
You do not need to agree to any of the proposed changes during the meeting. If you need more time to get to agreement on a revised IEP, you can ask for an additional meeting. If the Team recommends removing Services, Placement, Accommodations, or believes that the child is no longer eligible for an IEP, and you disagree with this assessment, you can exercise your Stay-Put rights.
15) What are stay-put rights?
If your child is already on an IEP, and you reject the IEP after an annual review, you have “stay-put” rights, meaning the school must follow the last agreed-upon IEP. This agreement includes decisions about placement.
16) What if the team can’t come to an agreement about eligibility or an IEP?
If the Team cannot come to an agreement about eligibility or the services and accommodations outlined in an IEP, there are organizations defined in Massachusetts state law that give parents options for resolving the dispute. The two organizations are the Program Quality Assurance (PQA) at the Massachusetts Department of Education or the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA), which is an independent body located in the Massachusetts Department of Special Education. You can pursue both of the options at the same time if needed.
16.1 PROGRAM QUALITY ASSURANCE (PQA)
You can contact the PQA to ask a question about laws and regulations, or to file a written complaint if you believe the school district is not following special education laws and regulations. After the complaint is reviewed, parents will be sent a letter outlining the results of the review. If the school district is found to be in violation of any laws or regulations, the PQA will ask the school district to take corrective action.
PQA Contact Information: (781) 338-3700
16.2 BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS (BSEA)
Another dispute resolution option for parents is contacting the BSEA. The BSEA has various options for helping Teams resolve disagreements.
• Mediation: a voluntary and informal process where you and the school meet with an impartial mediator to talk openly about the areas where you disagree and to try to reach an agreement.
• Advisory Opinion: a process where you and the school agree to each present information in a limited amount of time to an impartial Hearing Officer, who will give an opinion as to how the law would apply to the situation as presented. An advisory opinion is not written, nor is it binding, and allows either the parent or the district to proceed to a hearing if either party is dissatisfied.
• Hearing: a process where you and the district each present your case to an impartial Hearing Officer for a written binding decision on the best outcome for the student. A hearing is a fairly complex legal proceeding and averages three to five days in length.
Bureau of Special Education Appeals: (781) 338-6400
17) What if I don’t believe the IEP is being implemented as agreed to in the IEP meeting?
If you don’t believe your child is receiving the services or accommodations outlined in the IEP, the first step is usually contacting the child’s teacher and/or special educator to get clarification. You may contact the ETS and principal at your child’s school if you are not getting a prompt response from the teacher or special educator. If you are not able to resolve the issue at the school level, you may escalate your concerns to Director of Special Education.
You may also contact the PQA to file a written complaint.
18) What is effective progress?
Special Education law says that students on IEPs should make Effective Progress. Massachusetts state law defines Effective Progress as follows: “Progress effectively in the general education program shall mean to make documented growth in the acquisition of knowledge and skills, including social/emotional development, within the general education program, with or without accommodations, according to chronological age and developmental expectations, the individual educational potential of the student, and the learning standards set forth in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the curriculum of the district.”
Here are some additional notes about Effective Progress to keep in mind. For longer descriptions and references to court decisions, please see http://michellemoor.com/top-5-things-to-know-effective-progress/
1. Effective progress does not mean maximum progress. School districts are not legally required to ensure that students with IEPs achieve the maximum amount of progress possible.
2. Effective progress must be “meaningful”. School districts do have to make sure that a student is receiving a “meaningful” benefit from their educational program
3. Effective progress is based upon each child’s individual learning profile. This is one of the reasons why effective progress is so hard to define – the standard will vary for each student based upon an assessment of each student’s unique needs.
4. Effective progress encompasses non-academic needs. School districts have to make sure that special education students are making progress not just academically – but socially, emotionally, behaviorally and physically as well. School districts cannot refuse to address a student’s non-academic needs just because the student is making Effective Progress academically.
NOTE: According to a 2006 amendment to Massachusetts special education law, Teams must consider the following 8 specific non-academic areas of potential need for students with an autism diagnosis:
• the verbal and nonverbal communication needs of the child
• the need to develop social interaction skills and proficiencies
• the skills and proficiencies needed to avoid and respond to bullying, harassment or teasing
• the needs resulting from the child’s unusual responses to sensory experiences
• the needs resulting from resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines
• the needs resulting from engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements
• the need for any positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address any behavioral difficulties resulting from autism spectrum disorder
• and other needs resulting from the child’s disability that impact progress in the general curriculum, including social and emotional development
5. Effective progress must be documented. Progress should be supported by objective data and assessments that show student’s performance over time.
19) What should I do if my child is having behavioral issues?
All schools have written rules of conduct and disciplinary measures for students (usually outlined in the school’s handbook). If your child breaks these rules, they may be disciplined according to the defined rules.
However, the Parent’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards (Basic Rights) outlines specific procedures for disciplining students with disabilities, especially regarding school suspensions. If you are concerned that your child is being disciplined for behavior that results from their disability, you can contact the teacher and/or ETS to get more information. You may also request a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA). According to the Procedural Safeguards,
“an FBA is a comprehensive assessment of behavior that provides the IEP Team with information about the student’s behavior and identifies behavioral intervention services and/or program modifications that are designed to address the behavioral violation so it does not recur. If the student has already had a functional behavioral assessment and has a behavioral intervention plan, then the IEP Team should determine if any changes should be made to the behavioral intervention plan. If the behavior was caused by the failure to properly implement the IEP, the school must take immediate steps to remedy the deficiencies.”
20) How do I request an observation of my child at school, by me or an outside professional?
Massachusetts special education law defines guidelines about how parents and other professionals may observe students and classroom settings. The full text of this guidelines can be found at http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/09_2.html.
The guideline requires that school districts develop processes for observations around the following key areas:
• Receiving and Responding to Observation Requests
• Timely Access
• Sufficient Duration and Extent (of the observations)
• Conditions or Restrictions on Observations
In Lexington, if you or another professional would like to conduct an observation of your child in a classroom setting, you should contact the ETS at your school. The ETS will provide you with the forms that will need to be filled out by the parent or guardian, and a separate form will need to completed by any outside observers prior to the observation.
21) How do I pursue a change in placement, or an out-of-district placement, for my child?
If you believe that your child’s current placement is not working, you should contact the ETS to schedule a Team meeting to discuss your concerns about the placement. When considering placement, remember that by law the school district must place students in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) such that they can make Effective Progress (see Effective Progress section above for how to define Effective Progress). The Team might recommend making changes to the current placement, or in some cases, your child might be referred to a different placement within Lexington Public Schools.
An out-of-district placement is often considered a more restrictive environment, so in order to make a referral for an out-of-district placement, LPS would need to agree that the student is not making Effective Progress in the current placement. If LPS agrees to refer a student for an out-of-district placement (a school outside of Lexington Public Schools), you will be referred to the Out-of-District Coordinator, who will work with you to determine which schools to look at, and will help you determine which options might work best for your child. If you are able to come to an agreement with LPS, you will sign a revised IEP that specifies the change in placement for your child.
As with all Team decisions, if the Team cannot come to an agreement, you can follow the dispute resolutions outlined in the “What if the Team can’t come to an agreement about eligibility or an IEP?” section.