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The Massachusetts Department of Education 
350 Main Street, Maiden, Massachusetts 02148 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts 
Department of Education 

350 Main Street, Maiden, Massachusetts 02148 

May, 1997 

Dear Parents, 

This revised "Parent's Guide to Special Education 
Appeals" is designed to answer questions regarding 
mediation, the new advisory opinion option, and hearing. 
It reflects current federal and state laws and regulations. 
If the laws or regulations change, a revised Guide may be 
obtained by contacting Special Education Appeals. 

As noted in the Guide, you and your school district 
remain in the best position to know your child's educa- 
tional needs. I continue to urge both you and your school 
district to work together to resolve any issues you have. 

If, however, you need to access Special Education 
Appeals, this Guide provides clear information in a 
question and answer format on mediation and hearings. 


Robert V. Antonucci 
Commissioner of Education 

Table Of Contents mmmmmmmmmmmmmm 

Glossary of Special Education Terms a 

Special Education Appeals • .5 

Mediation 6 

# What is Mediation? 

# How is a Mediation Session Scheduled? 

# What Happens at a Mediation Session? 

# How is Mediation Different from a Hearing? 

The Advisory Opinion i 

# What is an Advisory Opinion? 

# How is an Advisory Opinion Different from a Mediation 
or Hearing? 

The Hearing ..7 

# What is a Special Education Appeals Hearing? 

# What is a Pre-Hearing Conference? 

# How, Where, and When are Hearings Scheduled? 

# What Happens at a Hearing? 

# What Must Each Party Prove at a Hearing? 

# How Long Does It Take to Complete a Hearing and 
Receive a Decision? 

# Do I Need an Attorney to Proceed to Hearing? 

# What Kind of Evidence Do You Need for a Hearing? 
® What Will the Hearing Officer Decide? 

% What if I am Unhappy with the Decision? 

# What if the Public School Disagrees With or Refuses to 
Implement a Decision? 

# Where Can I Obtain Further Information About the 
Hearing Process? 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 12 

May Disputes Regarding Section 504 be Resolved through 
Special Education Appeals? 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 


These definitions are intended to give you a working knowledge of 
terms commonly used in discussing the Special Education Process. 
These terms do not, in all cases, use the identical language found in the 
regulatory definitions which appear in the Chapter 766 Regulations. 
See Chapter 1 of the Chapter 766 Regulations for the legal definitions. 


A voluntary and confidential process where both parties agree to present 
their case to a Hearing Officer who will render a non-binding advisory opin- 
ion on the merits of the case. The process is voluntary. Both parties must 
agree to participate. Each party is allowed one hour to present their case 
through exhibits and through no more than two witnesses. Based upon the 
advisory opinion, the parties may agree to settle the case or may elect to pro- 
ceed to hearing with a different Hearing Officer. 


A person you may choose or hire to support and assist you through the 
evaluation and appeal process. This person is considered a private, indepen- 
dent advocate. 


Either a test or an observation which describes your child's ability in a spe- 
cific area such as medical, educational, psychological, developmental, speech, 
hearing, vision, etc. 


The person in charge of all special education programs and services in your 
public school system. 


Specific, measurable, and observable skills toward which your child will 
be working, such as improving reading fluency and comprehension within a 
specific period of time. 


A group of tests, assessments, and other critical information about your 
child which determine whether your child has a special need and what are 
your child's strengths and areas of need. This evaluation forms the basis for 
determining whether your child is eligible for special education and, if so, for 
developing his or her Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). 


A group which includes the child's parent(s), teachers, and other specially 
trained people who will find out what your child can do, whether your child 
has a disability which is causing problems in school, what areas in which your 
child is having difficulties, and what services he or she needs in order to progress 
effectively in school. 



The member of the evaluation TEAM who is responsible for coordinating 
all of the activities of the TEAM, conducting the actual TEAM meeting, orga- 
nizing all forms and materials needed for your child's evaluation, and helping 
to choose and contact any needed specialist(s). 


Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education according 
to federal and Massachusetts law. In the area of special education, free and 
appropriate public education (FAPE) refers to special education and related 
services which: 

# are provided at public expense; 
#• meet state education standards; 

# include preschool, elementary or secondary education; 

# are provided in accordance with an IEP, and; 

# assure maximum possible development in the least restrictive 


A formal administrative procedure conducted by Special Education Ap- 
peals to resolve disputes between the parent and the school district over such 
things as the identification, evaluation, actual or proposed placement of a child, 
program implementation, etc. 


An evaluation, at your request, and at school committee expense that: (a) is 
similar to the school's original evaluation (although in certain circumstances, 
non-equivalent evaluations may be obtained - read special education regula- 
tion CMR 28.328.3) and (b) is performed by a person of your own choosing 
who is certified or otherwise qualified to perform the evaluation and who 
agrees to accept the rates established by the state agency responsible for set- 
ting such rates. This provides you with a second opinion if you disagree with 
the results from the initial evaluation. You may also choose to have an inde- 
pendent evaluation at your own expense. The TEAM will consider the inde- 
pendent evaluation in its planning process. The right to an independent evalu- 
ation continues for sixteen (16) months after the school district's evaluation 
with which the parent disagrees. 


The plan prepared by the TEAM which describes any special needs your 
child has and outlines the educational programs and services which will be 
provided to meet those needs if you accept the IEP. 


The program and placement which assures that your child is educated to 
the maximum extent appropriate with children who do not need special edu- 
cation, and that special classes or separate schooling are used only when your 
child cannot be educated in regular classes even with extra aids and services. 

This least restrictive environment standard is balanced with the legal man- 
date of maximum feasible benefit. 



The Massachusetts special education statute, Chapter 766, and relevant court 
decisions state that special education programs must assure the maximum pos- 
sible development of a child who is eligible for special education. This maxi- 
mum feasible benefit standard is balanced with the legal mandate to educate 
children in the least restrictive environment. 


An informal, voluntary process conducted by Special Education Appeals 
Mediators to resolve disputes over such matters as the identification, evaluation 
or placement of a child. This process is strongly encouraged, but not required, 
before proceeding to a hearing. 


A brochure produced by the Massachusetts Department of Education which 
is designed to help you to understand your school's procedures, your rights and 
your child's rights in the special education evaluation and placement process. 


A measure of special education service referring to the location of services 
and/or the amount of time a child receives special services within or outside of 
the regular education classroom. 


A request to have your child evaluated to see if he or she has a special educa- 
tion need. This step begins the evaluation process for your child if you give 
your written consent. 


Transportation, developmental, corrective, and supportive services which are 
required to assist a child in need of special education, including, but not limited 
to, the services described in paragraph 503.0 of the Chapter 766 Regulations. 


Days when school is in session. 


Specially designed instruction which meets the unique needs of a child who 
has been evaluated and found to be in need of special education. This instruc- 
tion is provided at no cost to the parents or guardians. 


A specially trained person, such as a psychologist, occupational therapist, 
speech therapist, or physician. 


The second type of advocate is a person who is assigned by the Department of 

Education to act on behalf of a child when the child's parents arc unavailable or 

have no educational decision-making rights. This person is called a Surrogate 

Parent (sometimes referred to as an Educational Advocate). A Surrogate Parent 

cannot be an employee of any state agency which educates or cares for the 




When you disagree with all or part of your child's Individualized Educa- 
tional Plan (IEP), you must indicate that decision on the page of the IEP which 
requires your signature and return the plan to your school district. The last 
agreed upon IEP remains in effect (sometimes called "stay put") until negotia- 
tions or the appeals process resolves the dispute. 

Within five days after the school district receives the notice that you have 
rejected all or part of an Individualized Educational Plan, your school district 
will send a copy of your rejection to Special Education Appeals. Special 
Education Appeals will then send you a letter explaining your options: 


You and your school district may settle differences voluntarily and infor- 
mally with an impartial mediator. If you contact the mediator at Special 
Education Appeals to request a mediation, he or she will arrange the session 
with your school district. If the mediation does not result in agreement, you 
or your school district may continue to proceed to a hearing. 

Advisory Opinion 

You and your school district may agree to voluntarily present your case to a 
Hearing Officer for an advisory, non-binding opinion (in a 2 1/2 hour pro- 
ceeding) on the merits of a case. 


You may immediately request a hearing to resolve differences. You must 
send a request, in writing with a copy sent to the school district, to Special 
Education Appeals; the hearing will then be scheduled for 20 calendar days 
from the receipt of the request. Even if you or your school district decide to 
go directly to a hearing, you may agree to postpone the hearing in order to try 
mediation or an advisory opinion. 

Special Education Appeals will send you a list of free or low-cost 
attorneys and advocates who may be available to assist you with 
special education hearings. Please note that this list of possible 
resources does not guarantee that representation can be provided 
by any of these agencies. 

What is Mediation? 

Mediation is a voluntary process in which you and the school agree to par- 
ticipate. It may not be used to delay your right to a timely hearing. Mediation 
provides an alternative method to resolve conflicts, clarify issues and promote 
problem-solving efforts between parents and school personnel. The goal is to 
work out a solution to a conflict which is acceptable to both parties and in the 
best interest of the child. The mediator will help to define and clarify the issues 
in dispute and may assist in identifying options that satisfy both parties. The 
mediator does not make decisions for the parties. In a majority of cases, media- 
tion results in successful agreements between parents and public schools. If 
you choose to schedule a mediation session, or want more information about 
mediation, you can contact the BSEA. 

How is a Mediation Session Scheduled? 

If you and your school district agree to participate in mediation, the mediator 
will arrange a date, time and place agreeable to all. 

What Happens at a Mediation Session? 

Usually mediations are held at the offices of the public school district. The 
mediator will conduct the meeting and assist you and school personnel in dis- 
cussing the necessary information. The mediator will ask you to discuss your 
child's special education needs and the components of the program you are 
seeking to meet those needs. The school representatives will have an opportu- 
nity to speak about their view of your child's special needs and also what ser- 
vices they are offering as of that date (this may or may not differ from the 
proposed IEP). The parties may also meet separately with the mediator (in 
caucus) to discuss their concerns confidentially. The mediator will ensure that 
each person is given a chance to talk, make and evaluate offers, and consider 
options without undue pressure. Parents and the school will have the opportu- 
nity to understand each other's perspective and feel that their own viewpoint is 

You may have an attorney or advocate with you at this meeting. The media- 
tor is available before, during, and after the session to answer any questions 
about special education and the appeals process. The mediator will ask you and 
the school to limit the number of persons whom you ask to attend the mediation 
to two or three. The school will also be asked to be certain that at least one 
person at the mediation has the authority to reach an agreement on behalf of the 
school district. If you reach an agreement through mediation, the agreement 
will be written and signed by you and the school, and in most cases, go into 
effect immediately. Any discussions which occur during mediation are confi- 
dential and may not be used as evidence at a hearing. 

How is Mediation Different from a Hearing? 

There are several significant differences: 

# Mediation is more informal; 

# Mediation usually takes two to four hours; a hearing can take from one to 
three days, or more; 


♦ Mediation is voluntary; 

•#• Mediation does not usually involve lawyers (although you have the right 

to have one with you, if you choose); and 
#• Mediation allows you and the school to negotiate your own agreement 

rather than have a decision imposed by a hearing officer. 


What is an Advisory Opinion? 

The Advisory Opinion Process allows parents and school districts one hour 
each to present their case via witnesses and documents to a Hearing Officer 
who will then issue a non-binding advisory opinion. Based upon this advisory 
opinion, the parties may assess their respective positions and elect to settle a 
case or proceed to full hearing with a different Hearing Officer. 

The Advisory Opinion Process is voluntary and both parties must agree to 
participate. The parties may only request an Advisory Opinion after, or simul- 
taneously with, a Hearing Request. Upon receipt of an Advisory Opinion Re- 
quest, Special Education Appeals will assign a Hearing Officer for the Advisory 
Opinion and will also assign a full hearing date in the event the case does not 
resolve through the Advisory Opinion Process. 

How is an Advisory Opinion different from a Mediation or a 

The Advisory Opinion Process is different than Mediation because in a Me- 
diation Session the parties negotiate their own agreement with a Mediator's as- 
sistance. The Advisory Opinion Process is different from a Hearing because a 
Hearing is a more formal process using Special Education Appeals Hearing 
Rules, and the Hearing Officer issues a binding decision. 


What is a Special Education Appeals Hearing? 

A special education appeals hearing is a formal, administrative hearing con- 
ducted by a Special Education Appeals hearing officer who is an attorney. The 
hearing officer is a different person than the mediator and is employed just to 
conduct special education hearings. The hearing officer will decide your case 
based on the evidence that you, your attorney or advocate, and the public school 
and its attorney present at the hearing. The hearing officer will only consider 
evidence submitted by you or the public school. Hearings are closed to the 
public and all evidence is kept confidential, unless you choose to open the hear- 
ing to the public. 

The evidence at a hearing can be in the form of written documents and/or 
testimony from witnesses. This is called the hearing record. Usually both types 
of evidence are part of the record. After the testimony has been heard and the 
evidence has been reviewed, the hearing officer will issue a decision determin- 
ing what special education program best meets your child's needs in accordance 
with Chapter 766 and the IDEA (the Federal Special Education Law). 


What is a Prehearing Conference? 

Usually hearing officers hold prehearing conferences prior to the actual hear- 
ing date to see if the case can be settled ~ something that happens quite fre- 
quently. The prehearing conference is designed to help understand the posi- 
tions of the parent and the public school; to clarify the issues in dispute; to 
explore settlement options; and to work on hearing mechanics (dates, times, 
witnesses, etc.) , if necessary. 

A hearing officer may order a prehearing conference even if one, or both, 
parties do not request a prehearing. It is an important and recommended tool 
for both parties, and particularly for parents who lack an advocate or attorney. 

How, Where, and When are Hearings Scheduled? 

Special Education Appeals will schedule your hearing for twenty days from 
the date that a written request for a hearing is received from either you or the 
school. A hearing officer will be assigned to your case, and you will receive a 
notice from Special Education Appeals with the date of the hearing and the 
name of the hearing officer. Notice of the hearing will also go out to your 
public school district Director of Special Education. 

Because of the information that must be in place and witnesses who must be 
available in order for the hearing to proceed, you or the public school may want 
to request postponement or rescheduling of the hearing. This request must be 
made in writing, with a copy sent to the school district, five days before the 
scheduled hearing date. It is up to the hearing officer to determine if the request 
for postponement is reasonable and to set a new date for the hearing. 

Hearings are held either in the hearing rooms of Special Education Appeals 
or at another location that the hearing officer determines is reasonably conve- 
nient to the parties. Hearings are held during normal working hours. 

What Happens at a Hearing? 

Generally, a hearing unfolds in four basic phases. First, the hearing officer 
may offer each party the opportunity to make a brief opening statement which 
summarizes their position and what they intend to prove. Second, the party 
who requested the hearing, usually the parent, presents their case. A case is 
presented by calling (asking) each of your witnesses to testify. For example, a 
parent may call their evaluator as a witness and ask them questions (direct ex- 
amination). After the parent finishes their questions of a witness, then the school 
district may ask the same witness questions (cross-examination). The hearing 
officer may also ask questions at any time if a point remains unclear. After 
presenting all of their evidence (witnesses and documents), the moving party 
then "rests" their case. 

Third, the responding party who did not request the hearing, usually the school 
district, presents its case in the same format described above. During the course 
of each side's case, the other party may "object" to a question or the introduction 
of a written document. The hearing officer will then decide whether the party's 
objection is valid or not. Fourth and finally, the hearing officer may allow each 
party to provide a closing argument or summary of their case. Sometimes, the 
hearing officer may also allow parties additional time to file a written closing 
argument (brief) in the case. 


What Must Each Party Prove at a Hearing? 

Both the parent and the public school have to present a case at a hearing. 
Generally, the public school must show, through its witnesses and documents, 
that it has offered an appropriate special education program for your child; that 
it has provided the services called for in the current IEP; that the IEP meets the 
substance and procedures required in Chapter 766 and the IDEA and their regu- 
lations; and that its program will provide for your child's maximum educational 
development in the least restrictive environment. 

If you are saying that the public school has not provided an appropriate pro- 
gram and you want a different program or services, then you must show through 
the documents and testimony of witnesses that the public school program does 
not meet your child's needs. You must also show how the program you are 
requesting provides for your child's maximum educational development. This 
is also true if you are asking the hearing officer to order reimbursement for a 
program or services for your child that you paid for after you rejected the public 
school's IEP or gave notice to the school that the program it was offering was 
not appropriate. 

The heart of a case is generally, what are the child's educational needs and 
which program maximizes the child's educational opportunities in the least re- 
strictive setting. 

Although important, remember that generally it is not enough to simply state 
your beliefs and opinions as a parent. You need evidence: documents and 
qualified witnesses supporting your position. For example, if the dispute in- 
volves different programs, the witnesses should be able to comment on both 
your, and the school district's, proposed program. 

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Hearing and Receive a 

The hearing officer is required to hold a hearing and issue a decision in your 
case within 45 days of the date that Special Education Appeals receives your 
written hearing request; however, the hearing officer may grant reasonable ex- 
tensions of time to you or to the public school. Hearings currently average three 
to five days in length because of the amount of documentary evidence and the 
number of witnesses who may need to testify. Due to conflicting schedules of 
the parties, hearing dates can occur over a period of weeks or months. 

When you are requesting a hearing, you should take into account the time it 
may take you to obtain a lawyer (and his/her schedule); the importance of hav- 
ing a completed independent evaluation; and the need to have your witnesses 
available and prepared to testify. Therefore, you should factor in all of the 
above time elements as well as the 45 day decision issuance time frame, when 
you file your hearing request. 

Do I Need an Attorney to Proceed to Hearing? 

You have the right to be represented by an attorney or an advocate at a special 
education hearing or you may represent yourself. It is common for both the 
public school and the parents to have lawyers at hearings. Since the hearings 
may be complicated and the issues are often emotional, it is usually advisable to 
have either an attorney or an experienced advocate assist you at the hearing. 
Special Education Appeals will send you a list of free and low cost attorneys 
and advocacy services who may be able to help you. Under the IDEA, if you 
are represented by an attorney and you prevail in your case either in settlement 
or at hearing, the public school is required to pay your reasonable attorney's fees 
from the point the dispute arose, usually the rejection of the IEP. You should 
note that attorney fees are often a subject of negotiation within settlement agree- 

If you choose to represent yourself in the hearing, the hearing officer will 
attempt to assist you in presenting your case, but s/he is a neutral party and 
cannot serve as your advocate. Please note that a hearing officer cannot discuss 
the substance of a case without the presence of the other party. 

Once the hearing officer is informed that you are represented by an attorney 
or an advocate, the hearing officer will communicate with that person regarding 
the scheduling or any other matters pertaining to the hearing, because s/he be- 
comes your legal representative. Your attorney or advocate is then responsible 
ethically to keep you informed regarding the status of your case. 

What Kind of Evidence Do You Need for a Special Education 


Some of the documents that are likely to be submitted as evidence in a hearing 
are your child's IEP(s); reports from individuals who have evaluated your child, 
such as teachers, school psychologists, a pediatrician, or an independent evalu- 
ator or hospital; report cards, progress reports and other student records; infor- 
mation on the staffing and qualifications of teachers or service providers; and 
information about the program you are requesting, or the program that is being 
offered by the public school 

You or your attorney or advocate must give a copy of any documents that you 
want to submit as evidence at the hearing to the public school and the hearing 
officer at least five days before the date of the hearing. You must also state, in 
writing, who you will call as witnesses to testify. The public school must follow 
the same procedure and provide you with its documents and a list of witnesses 
five days before the hearing. The hearing officer may also ask the parties to 
provide written statements of their legal positions at the beginning or end of the 


Some of the people who usually testify at the hearing are: you, as the parent of 
the child; sometimes the child (you may have your child attend the hearing, if 
you wish); your child's teachers; the administrator of special education from the 


public school; the individuals who evaluated your child; either at your request 
or at the request of the public school; and individuals who are familiar with the 
program(s) being offered by the public school or the programs that you are 
requesting. Anyone who testifies at the hearing will be testifying under oath. 
The witnesses that you present will be asked questions by you or your attorney 
or advocate (direct examination). The public school representative will then 
cross examine your witnesses. Sometimes the hearing officer will also ask ques- 
tions. You or your attorney or advocate will also be able to cross examine the 
witnesses presented by the public school. If you or your attorney or advocate 
want to require a person to appear at the hearing to testify, you can request, in 
writing, that the BSEA subpoena that person (you must allow ten days for a 
subpoena to be issued). If you wish that person to bring any documents pertain- 
ing to the hearing, those documents may also be subpoenaed. 


The hearing officer will tape record the hearing. You may have a free copy of 
the tape, if you request it in writing, following the completion of the hearing. 

Remember that current information is very important. In other words, 
what are the child's current educational needs and how can those needs be 
met to the maximum extent in the least restrictive setting. 

What Will the Hearing Officer Decide? 

Under Chapter 766 and the IDEA, the hearing officer must issue a decision 
which calls for the special education program which provides the maximum 
feasible development in the least restrictive educational setting for your child. 
The hearing officer has the authority to order the placement or services offered 
by the public school, or another placement or services, if s/he determines that is 
appropriate. The hearing officer is required to base the decision only on the 
evidence presented at the hearing and admitted into record. 

After the hearing is completed and the parties have submitted any written 
statements, the hearing officer will issue a written decision which will be mailed 
to you, the public school, and your legal representatives, if any. 

What if lam Unhappy With the Decision? 

You have the right to appeal the decision to state or federal district court 
within 30 days from the date that you receive the written decision. If you ap- 
peal the decision, your child will remain in the last educational placement that 
was agreed to by you and the public school, unless you and the public school 
agree on a different temporary placement, while the court reviews the hearing 
decision. If you do not appeal the decision, the public school will implement 
the Special Education Appeals decision, unless you wish your child to be in 
regular education. If you so request, the public school must put your child in 
regular education unless the school obtains court enforcement of the Special 
Education Appeals decision. 

What if the Public School Disagrees with or Refuses to Implement 
the Decision? 

The public school must also abide by the hearing officer's decision, and must 
appeal the decision if there is a disagreement. If the school district appeals the 
decision, your child will stay in the last agreed upon educational placement. If 
the hearing officer orders a new placement for your child, and you agree with 
that new placement, then the public school must place your child in that new 
placement, even if it chooses to appeal the decision. 

If you think that the school district is not implementing the hearing officer's 
decision, you may request a compliance hearing. At the compliance hearing, 
the hearing officer will determine if the school district is implementing the de- 
cision, and if necessary, will seek enforcement. 

Where can I obtain further information about the Hearing Pro- 

If you require additional information regarding the Hearing Process or espe- 
cially if you intend to not retain an attorney to represent you in the Hearing 
Process, please read the brochure, Hearing Rules for Special Education Ap- 
peals (June 1996). 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 

May Disputes involving Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 
1973 be resolved through Special Education Appeals? 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights statute that prohib- 
its discrimination against persons with disabilities by recipients of federal funds. 
Disputes relating to services under Section 504 may be presented to Special 
Education Appeals for resolution through Mediation, Advisory Opinion, or