If you and the school still don't agree about whether your child qualifies, the next option is a due process hearing.
This is a formal process that is like a lawsuit. It is run by the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA).
A trained, neutral officer will listen to both sides, review the evidence, and then make a decision.
Here's what you can do:
1. Consider getting help from a lawyer. It's not required, but is strongly recommended.
Click the box below for a review of how to get legal help:
You may need to find a lawyer to help you resolve your dispute.
It’s best to find one who has lots of experience with special education laws and regulations.
Choose a lawyer who lists one of these as their specialty:
Be sure to ask in advance about fees. Fees will vary based on each lawyer's experience and how complex the case is.
The organizations below can help you find a lawyer. If you are low-income, ask about free legal help.
Children's Law Center of Massachusetts
P.O. Box 710
298 Union Street
Lynn, MA 01902
Phone: (781) 581-1977; (888) 543-5298
Disability Law Center, Inc.
11 Beacon Street, Suite 925
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 723-8455; (800) 872-9992; (617) 227-9464 (TTY); (800) 381-0577 (TTY)
Greater Boston Legal Services
197 Friend St
Boston, MA 02114
Phone: (617) 371-1234
Massachusetts Advocates for Children
25 Kingston Street, Second Floor
Boston, MA 02111
Phone: 617-357-8431 ext. 3224
Special Needs Advocacy Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 509
North Attleboro, MA 02761
Phone: (508) 655-7999, 617-388-3638
The Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) also maintains a list of legal resources by region here: Directory of Legal Services.
Notes about legal fees:
You must pay your own legal fees, unless the court decides otherwise
If you win your hearing decision, sometimes the court will decide that the school district should pay your lawyer's fees
In turn, if the court decides your complaint was not valid, you may be ordered to pay the school district's legal fees
Your lawyer can help you understand how these would apply to your specific case.
Source: MA DESE
2. File for a hearing. Either you, an attorney on your behalf, or the school can start this process.
Click on the link at the bottom of the page to download the Hearing Request Form from BSEA. (It will open in a new tab or be at the bottom corner of your screen)
3. Fill out the form.Be sure to carefully describe your concerns, and what you think the solutions should be. You must list all of your concerns here, because the hearing can only address the issues you list on this form.
4. Send a copy of the form to the school. (If the school is filling it out, they will send a copy to you).
5. Make a copy of the form for yourself and keep it in your IEP notebook.
6. Send a copy to the BSEA:
Bureau of Special Education Appeals
One Congress Street, 11th Floor
Boston, MA 02114.
Click the box below to find out what happens next:
If the school thinks the complaint does not provide enough information, they can "challenge its sufficiency".
They must do this within 15 calendar days from receiving the request
The BSEA will decide on "sufficiency" within 5 days of the school's challenge
If the school does not challenge the complaint, then the hearing process continues
The school will send you a written response to your request.
They must send this within 10 calendar days of getting your request
If the school is the party who filed the request, then you must respond within 10 days to address the issues they list in the complaint
The BSEA will send you and the school the following:
the name of the assigned hearing officer
a date for the hearing
the timeline for the hearing process
The BSEA will schedule a 10-minute conference call to discuss the scheduling and timeline.
They must do this within 19 calendar days (that's right, 19) of the school getting your hearing request
They may also ask some questions about the case, depending on the situation
There are more steps before your hearing date. Check the hearing section of this Guide for more information.
Sources: Children's Law Center of MA, Commonwealth of MA, Division of Administrative Law Appeals (Bureau of Special Education Appeals), MA DESE, FCSN
To learn more about the BSEA and their dispute resolution process, click here to go to the BSEA Website. (It will open in a new tab on your screen.)
Sources: Children's Law Center of MA, Commonwealth of MA, Division of Administrative Law Appeals (Bureau of Special Education Appeals), MA DESE, Federation for Children with Special Needs