Category Archives: In the News

Norwell Public Schools Trying to Identify Students With Disabilities

The following article, published today in Wicked Local Norwell, might be of interest to Norwell residents:

It is the responsibility of Norwell Public Schools to identify any child who is a resident of Norwell who may have a disability, regardless of the severity of the disability. Further it is the responsibility of Norwell Public Schools to evaluate these students to determine if any of these students are eligible for special education or related services under IDEA 2004 (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) or the Massachusetts Special Education Regulations.

Norwell Public Schools is committed to locating children before their third birthday in order to provide early intervention services to three and four year olds. If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s development and would like to have him/her screened, you may call for an appointment at (781) 659-8800. If you or your pediatrician believes your child should be evaluated to determine eligibility for special education services, please either request verbally by calling the Office of Special Education at 781-659-8800 or by making the request in writing (include your child’s date of birth, name, address and telephone number and a brief description of your concerns) and send it to:

Suzan A. Theodorou, Administrator of Special Education, Norwell Public Schools, 328 Main St., Norwell MA, 02061.

Read more: Norwell: Special education evaluations – Norwell, Massachusetts – Norwell Mariner http://www.wickedlocal.com/norwell/news/x1768343815/Norwell-Special-education-evaluations#ixzz1nJ8wWzLP

 

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

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Norton Public Schools: DESE to Conduct Coordinated Program Review

The Norton Patch published the following online.  The original article can be found here: http://preview.tinyurl.com/75f8jca.

Patricia H. Ansay, Ed.D., Superintendent of the Norton Public Schools was informed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education of an upcoming Coordinated Program Review that will be taking place this school year.

As part of this review, department staff will visit the district during the week of March 5. Such visits are routinely conducted by the department to satisfy federal and state requirements for the periodic review of specific education programs and services in schools throughout the Commonwealth. The department is reviewing several programs during a single visit in order to use department and school staff’s time most efficiently and to encourage strong connections among the programs.

The review will address the following programs: Special Education, English Language Acquisition and Civil Rights. After reviewing school district procedures for these programs, a department team will make its onsite visit, during which it will review individual student records, interview administrators, teachers and paraprofessional staff, survey parents and observe instructional spaces. After the onsite visit, it will prepare a report for the superintendent and school committee with detailed findings for each program.

Using a scale of ratings ranging from “Commendable” to “Not Implemented,” the report will rate the implementation of each requirement reviewed by the department. Where requirements are found not implemented or only partially implemented, the district must propose to the department corrective action to bring those areas into compliance with statutes and regulations. Districts and schools are encouraged to incorporate the corrective action into their district and school improvement plans and professional development plan. The school district will be provided with technical assistance from the department in developing a corrective action plan.

Both the department’s report and the corrective action plan are public information and will be available to the public upon request. Program Review Final Reports are also available on the Department’s Internet website at http://www.doe.mass.edu/pqa/review/cpr/reports/.

Any member of the public may request to be interviewed by telephone by a member of the department’s visiting team. Those wishing to be interviewed should call the Superintendent’s office at 508-285-0100 no later than Feb. 22 to leave their name and phone number, or they may call the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at 781-338- 3722.

A member of the visiting team will contact each person desiring an interview within two weeks after the completion of the onsite visit. If an individual is not comfortable communicating in English or requires some other accommodation, the Department will make arrangements to communicate appropriately with the individual.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

Massachusetts Appeals Court Rules That School System Is Not Immune from Being Sued after First Grader Suffered Injuries during Recess

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that a public school system can be sued by a student who suffered permanent injuries when he was pushed to the ground by a fellow student during recess.  The event took place in 2004 at the Wood End Elementary School in Reading.

Some Legal Background

There is a law in Massachusetts called the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA).  Basically, the MTCA defines the liability and limits of liability for government entities and their employees.  The following is a list of some of the more interesting features of this law.  There is a lot more to the law than this, so please note that this is not a complete and thorough explanation – it is simply a summary of some of the interesting points:

  • Protects state and city government workers from liability when the claim is based on the employee’s negligent or wrongful act when done while acting within the scope of his duties (G.L. 258, Sect. 2).
  • Allows for public employers to be sued just like private employers for an employee’s negligent or wrongful act, BUT limits liability for governmental entities to $100,000.  Interestingly, the MBTA is not subject to this $100,000 limit (Id.).
  • Requires that a written claim be presented to the governmental entity prior to initiating a lawsuit (G.L. 258, Sect. 3).

The government has legal immunity in certain circumstances:

  • When a claim is based upon an employee’s act or omission, if the employee was exercising due care in the execution of his duties (G.L. 258, Sect. 10(a)).
  • When a claim is based upon the exercise or failure to exercise a discretionary function of the public employee’s job (G.L. 258, Sect. 10(b)).
  • When a claim is based upon harm originally caused by a third person’s violent or tortious conduct, rather than the public employee’s act or omission (G.L. 258, Sect. 10(j)).  As with many facets of the law (to the chagrin of so many law students sitting for the bar exam), there are exceptions to this exception, but that goes beyond the scope of this blog.

I underlined sections 10(b) and 10(j) because those were the items which were in dispute in this Reading case.

Some Case Background

As described by the Appeals Court decision, here is some factual background:  “On November 1, 2004, plaintiff Nicola Gennari  (Nico or plaintiff), then a first-grade student attending Wood End Elementary School (Wood End) in Reading, was seriously and permanently injured during a school-mandated recess period. At the time of Nico’s injury, Wood End lacked a playground. Principal Karen Callan, who had served as an elementary school principal for eleven years, directed that the first graders’ recess be conducted in a concrete courtyard, although there were alternative locations where that recess might have been held, including the school gymnasium which was equipped with padded walls. The courtyard was not simply an empty area with a concrete surface. It was populated by several ‘bench-walls,’ essentially low, concrete-topped brick walls, each several feet long, that could be used as benches, and that had sharp edges and corners. The plaintiff filed this action against the defendant Reading Public Schools, alleging that Principal Callan’s choice of recess location was negligent, and was the proximate cause of Nico’s injury… At his deposition, Nico testified that his injury occurred while he was racing with other children around the courtyard. He ‘felt a push’ from behind, which caused him to fall, and his face struck the corner of a concrete bench-wall, resulting in a severe laceration. The push came from his fellow first grader and friend, six year old Samuel Turrecamo (Sam).”  Genarri v. Reading Public Schools, 09-P-644 (Mass. App. 2010).

Reading then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, meaning that they wanted the lower district court to make a decision based on the facts presented, without even having a trial.  This is a very common motion in litigation.  The district court rejected the Motion for Summary Judgment, and Reading then appealed that decision to the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

The Court’s Analysis

Reading tried to argue that the principal’s decision was a discretionary one, and thus Reading should be immunized under section 10(b).  The Appeals Court did not agree.  In his decision, Appeals Court Judge Peter J. Rubin wrote “decisions that require some discretion but do not involve social, political, or economic policy considerations are not immunized by section 10(b)” (emphasis added).   This short phrase appears to set new precedent, since it more strictly refines what is meant by “a discretionary function.”

Reading also tried to argue that it should be immune under section 10(j) because the town believed that the student’s push, rather than the principal’s decision to hold recess in the courtyard, was the “original cause” of the harm.  Again, the appeals court disagreed.  In its decision, the Court wrote, “Running, falling, and pushing are understood, foreseeable, even inherent parts of first-grade recess.  Thus, even though [the classmate’s] conduct in pushing or falling into [the plaintiff] can be said to be the more immediate cause of the injury, [the principal’s] decision to hold recess in the concrete courtyard, which contained whatever danger the protruding edge-walls represented, materially contributed to the ‘condition or situation’ which caused the harm.”  What this means is that the principal should have taken into account the expectation that first graders are going to run, fall, and bang into each other.  Being an expert on children, the principal should have realized that she was placing children into harm’s way by allowing them to have recess in an all-concrete environment.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal disputes.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com for more information.

Barnstable Special Education Parent Advisory Council to Meet on 10/18/10

The Barnstable Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) will meet on October 18, 2010 from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM at the Barnstable High School (Room 1202), 744 West Main St., Hyannis. For more information, please contact: 774-994-0713, 508-246-0467, or BarnstableSEPAC@comcast.net.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal disputes.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com for more information.

DESE Released Its Summary of MCAS Results; Media Reports Overlooked Some Troubling Numbers

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has released its annual summary of MCAS results for the exams taken last spring.  The media reports that I have read all seem to have missed some of the most important, and disturbing, numbers:

1.  For grade 4 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant.  54% of grade 4 students scored proficient or higher.  That number is unchanged from 2009, and is still below the 56% who scored proficient or higher in 2007.  Given that three years have passed, I do not view this as much progress.

2.  For grade 4 Mathematics, results also remained stagnant.  48% of grade 4 students scored proficient or higher – the same number as in 2009, and 2007.  We have shown no progress in grade 4 mathematics in three years.

3.  For grade 5 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant at 63%.  In fact, the number has been 63% in 2010, 2009, and 2007.   Stagnation is not progress.

4.  For grade 5 Mathematics, results rose a whopping 1% since 2009, from 54% to 55%.

5.  For grade 8 English Language Arts, results remained stagnant at 78% from 2009 to 2010.

6.  For grade 10 English Language Arts, the number scoring proficient or higher declined from 79% to 78% over the past year.

7.  For grade 10 Mathematics, the number scoring proficient or higher remained stagnant at 75% over the past year.

8.  For all racial subgroups in grades 8 and 10, the number scoring proficient or higher either remained stagnant or declined.

9.  Results for students with disabilities showed regression by 4% in English Language Arts in both grades 8 and 10.

10.  Results for students with disabilities showed regression by 1% in Mathematics in grade 10.

I have never been a big fan of MCAS, especially in the Commonwealth’s use of MCAS as a graduation requirement.  These results do nothing to change my opinion.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Minnesota Twins New Ballpark Sets New Standard for Accessibility

As a baseball fan, and as a lawyer representing children with disabilities, I was very interested in a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper (“Target Field rates ‘A’ for accessibility,” April 19, Kevin Duchschere, http://goo.gl/YCPQ).  The Minnesota Twins new ballpark, Target Field, appears to have set a very high standard for handicapped accessibility.  The article brings up issues which most non-handicapped people never think about.  For example, people in wheelchairs often never see home runs land, because the people in front of them usually jump up and block their views.  Likewise, counters at concession stands, which are usually a good height for people who can stand, are usually too high for people in wheelchairs.  And did you ever notice that the microphone and speakers in the ticket-selling booths are usually blocking the employee’s mouth, so anyone who needs to read lips cannot do so?  The article points out many accessibility features designed to address these issues, such as:

“•All concession counters are 8 inches lower than usual, 34 inches high, to help customers in wheelchairs and shorter people. Many include signs in Braille or large print for sight-impaired fans.

•There are two elevators, not one, at Target Field’s rail station. That was done to make sure fans in wheelchairs coming in from the Northstar commuter line, which runs below the ballpark, won’t be stranded if a single elevator breaks down.

•Speaker boxes at ticket windows were placed below the agent’s mouth so fans who are deaf can read their lips. Ticket windows have amplification devices that agents can use to transmit to a buyer’s hearing aid.

•Fans who are hard of hearing can read the ballpark announcer’s messages on captioning boards along the foul lines overlooking left and right field. Assisted listening devices to transmit ballpark audio are available for free.

•Curb cuts that are supposed to be 3 feet wide are double that in places near the ballpark so wheelchair users don’t have to fight with pedestrians to cross the street.”

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: www.lawbaron.com.

Foxboro Proposes Changes to Comply with State Observation Law – But Do They Comply?

The Foxboro school committee has proposed some changes to its policies on classroom observations.  These changes are intended to comply with a new law providing much more liberal access for parents and their representatives to observe special education classrooms.  Actually, the law is not so new – it was passed nearly two years ago.  The proposed changes, as reported by The Sun Chronicle, include the following:

  1. A requirement that the observer not interfere with classroom proceedings.
  2. A requirement that the observer be there to observe the suitability of a program given the child’s needs, and not to be there to evaluate a teacher’s ability.
  3. A parent must sign a release for a representative to observe.
  4. A request may be denied for specified reasons.

For the complete article, go to this URL: http://www.thesunchronicle.com/articles/2010/04/20/news/7216730.txt

What I find interesting in this article is its pro-school and anti-parent slant.  The actual law is much more parent-friendly. It was passed because of unreasonable observation restrictions that were placed by schools on parents and their representatives.  The actual wording of Chapter 363 of the Acts of 2008 is as follows:

“To insure that parents can participate fully and effectively with school personnel in the consideration and development of appropriate educational programs for their child, a school committee shall, upon request by a parent, provide timely access to parents and parent-designated independent evaluators and educational consultants for observations of a child’s current program and of any program proposed for the child, including both academic and non-academic components of any such program. Parents and their designees shall be afforded access of sufficient duration and extent to enable them to evaluate a child’s performance in a current program and the ability of a proposed program to enable such child to make effective progress. School committees shall impose no conditions or restrictions on such observations except those necessary to ensure the safety of children in a program or the integrity of the program while under observation or to protect children in the program from disclosure by an observer of confidential and personally identifiable information in the event such information is obtained in the course of an observation by a parent or a designee.”

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.