Meeting with the school and finding advocates

The first step is to try to work things out with the school or the IEP team.

Here's what you can do:

  1. Contact the school principal or director of special education, or the IEP team, if there is one. Ask for a meeting to talk about your child's needs and why your child did not qualify (or any other issues you have related to special education).

  2. Before the meeting, list the reasons why you feel your child is not getting what they needGather documents that support your reasons.These may include evaluation results, medical reports or letters from specialists.

  3. At the meeting, use this evidence to make your case for why your child needs more support or services than the school has given them.

Try to be open-minded and understand the rest of the school team's opinions. Remember that this is a team effort, and that the school generally has your child's best interests in mind.

Hopefully this meeting will lead to an agreement on the changes. If that doesn't happen, you still have options! You can ask for a hearing to try to find a solution.

At this stage, you may also want to consider getting an IEP facilitator or an education advocate. Click the boxes below to get more info on how to do this.

The Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) has facilitators available at no cost to help with difficult IEP Team meetings.

Either the parents or the school can make the request for a facilitator. Both the parents and the school must agree before the facilitator can be used.

Who_is_the_facilitator-.jpg

What does the facilitator do?
  • Gets the school team to make a meeting agenda and stick to it

  • Keeps the team focused on the goal of agreeing on an IEP

  • Helps solve problems that come up

  • Keeps communication clear and open

  • Makes sure the meeting starts and ends on time

Ask_for_a_facilitator.jpg

Source: Commonwealth of MA

Who are special education advocates? 

  • They are experienced professionals who help families work with their schools. They can help you to stand up for what you need.

  • Some advocates are parents who have gone through the special education system. Some are former special education teachers. Usually they are not lawyers, but they are trained to know when to refer you to a lawyer.

  • There is no official certification for advocates, but a good one will have done some training with an organization like Families Helping Families or the Advocacy Center. They are trained to help negotiate and to know when to refer you to a lawyer.

A good advocate:

  • Is well-trained and knows the law

  • Understands disabilities

  • Understands your school system

  • Takes time to know your child

  • Empowers you

  • Acts professionally

If you want to talk to an advocate, ask your school district contact to put you in touch with one. Or ask Families Helping Families.

You can also use databases from COPAA and Wrightslaw to find advocates near you.*

Make sure to ask about cost. Some advocates work for free or on a sliding scale, others charge a fee.

*We do not endorse any of the providers listed on these databases.

Sources: Families Helping Families, Advocacy LA

Here's what you can do:

  1. Contact the Federation for Children with Special Needs, and ask to speak to an Information Specialist. The Federation provides training for advocates in your local area.Their number is1-800-331-0688 (toll-free) or 617-236-7210

  2. Contact your district's Special Education Parent Advisory Council for advice about local advocates. You can also click the link at the bottom of the page to download a list of advocates from the Special Needs Advocacy Network (SPAN).

Before you hire an advocate:
  • Make sure they are experienced, know about your child's school district and disability, and that they take the time to get to know your family

  • Ask about their fees. Advocates in Massachusetts usually charge about $60-90 per hour

  • Ask for references from other families they have worked with

  • Ask for a written agreement outlining their responsibilities and fees

Tell your IEP team in advance if you plan to bring an advocate to the meeting.

Source: FCSN

Note: If at any point you have a complaint, you can ask for help from outside your school district. Read on in the next pages to learn more.

Click the button below to learn about the state's Problem Resolution System (PRS).

What is the Problem Resolution System (PRS)?

This is a state program for resolving education complaints.

One example is when parents and the school don’t agree on the process of creating or following an IEP. PRS typically handles procedural complaints, not violations of FAPE.

Anyone can call this office for help. This includes parents, students, teachers, or anyone else.

When should you contact the PRS?

  • If your school did not follow a state or federal education law

  • If you have a problem with your school district that you want to resolve

  • If the problem started within the last year

You can still continue with other actions, like meeting with the school, getting mediation, or filing for a due process hearing. If you file for due process, the PRS complaint will be put on hold until your hearing is complete.

How to file a complaint:

1. Contact the Office of Program Quality Assurance Services (PQA), which runs thePRS.

  • You can find contact information for the PRS Education Specialist assigned to your area(Click to open a list in a new tab on your screen.)

  • You can also call their general phone number at 781-338-3700 (TTY: 1-800-439-2370) or email them atcompliance@doe.mass.edu.

2. Talk to the PRS Specialist about your complaint.

  • If they agree that your complaint is valid, the PRS Specialist may contact the school district to try to resolve the matter without your having to file a complaint.

  • If they do not think there is a valid issue or violation, you have the right to file a complaint anyway. You may need to assert this right with the PRS Specialist.

3. Fill out the PRS intake form.You may ask the PRS Specialist for help, or you can click the link at the bottom of the page to download the form and complete it yourself. It's available in many languages. (Click to open a list in a new tab on your screen.)

The form includes:

  • A statement of your concerns

  • Your attempts to resolve your concerns

  • What you think the school should do to resolve your concerns

  • Your signature and contact information

  • Name, address, and school of the student, if the complaint involves someone specific

4. Send a copy to the school district

5. Within 60 days, the Office of Program Quality Assurance Services will make a decision on the complaint and send you the findings.

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Source: MA DESE

Sources: Children's Law Center of MA, Collins (2013), MA DESE, Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee

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