Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Massachusetts Special Education Director to Speak in Kingston

Don’t miss a great opportunity to listen to and meet Marcia Mittnacht, the Director of Special Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Ms. Mittnacht will be speaking in Kingston at the next meeting of the Kingston Special Education Working Group on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 7:00 PM.  The meeting will be held at the Kingston Council on Aging, 30 Evergreen St. in Kingston.  Ms. Mittnacht will be speaking about special education programs in Massachusetts.  For additional information, call 508-732-0033.

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

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School Discipline Gets Even More Draconian with Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H 1/2 –

In a prior blog post, I discussed how Draconian Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H can be.  For example, if a student is simply found in possession of marijuana at a school-sponsored event – regardless of amount, regardless of use or non-use, regardless of whether they are even aware of being in such possession – not only can the student be expelled from school, but they can also be prevented from enrolling in any other school district in the Commonwealth.

As the TV commercials say, “But wait, there’s more…”

Massachusetts has also enacted Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H 1/2.  Under 37H and 1/2, if a student is simply charged with a felony – even if the charge is baseless, and regardless of where the alleged event supposedly took place – the student can be suspended by the school principal.  For how long?  “[F]or a period of time determined appropriate by said principal or headmaster…” A day, a week, a month – the length of time is completely up to the principal.  There is a standard that the principal is supposed to utilize, but even that is very subjective.  Before a student can be suspended under this section of the law, the law requires that the principal determine that “the student’s continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school.”  The student does have the right to appeal the principal’s decision to the superintendent, but that has to be done within 5 calendar days.

But wait, there’s more…

If the student is actually convicted of a felony – even if the felony has absolutely nothing to do with the school – the student can be permanently expelled.  The same time frames, standards, and right to appeal as described above for suspensions apply equally to expulsions, as well.  And as described in the prior blog post for 37H, no other school system in the Commonwealth is required to admit a student who has been expelled under this section of the law.

37H and 37H 1/2 have unfortunately been used too often in an unfair way to keep certain students from accessing a public school education.  My child attended public school, so I certainly can appreciate the need to keep schools completely safe for all students and teachers.  As a lawyer, though, it is very frustrating to see students being denied an education – sometimes permanently – simply because they may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It is also possible that a student may have made a really stupid decision that they could learn from if given the chance.  When 37H 1/2 is used improperly, what it teaches young people who have made a mistake is that there is no sense being remorseful for one’s acts or learning from one’s mistakes, because punishment can be severe and permanent, even at a young age. Thanks to the very hard work and dedication of many state legislators and the fine people at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, improvements to the discipline laws are finally coming.  I will provide details of the upcoming changes in future blog posts, so stay tuned.

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.

Federal Anti-Bullying Website

The federal government has a great anti-bullying website.  Click on any of the following links for more information:

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.

Student Discipline Laws in Massachusetts: Big Changes Are Coming

Massachusetts has some rather Draconian student discipline laws.  The situation will be somewhat improved when a new set of recently passed laws go into effect on July 1, 2014 (yes, almost 2 years away).  Over the coming days and weeks, I will break down and explain the changes in this blog.  Before I dive into the changes, though, it’s probably worthwhile to explain the current law so that we have a baseline to appreciate the improvements.

The two discipline laws in Massachusetts that most directly affect students are known affectionately as 37H and 37H 1/2 (pronounced 37H and a half).  These are both sections of Massachusetts Gen. Laws Chapter 71.  37H grants tremendous discretionary power to school principals.  For example, school principals may (but are not required to):

  • Expel any student “who is found on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games, in possession of a dangerous weapon, including, but not limited to, a gun or a knife; or a controlled substance… including, but not limited to, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin…” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(a));
  • Expel any student “who assaults a principal, assistant principal, teacher, teacher’s aide or other educational staff on school premises or at school-sponsored or school-related events, including athletic games…” (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(b)).

Any student charged with any of the above violations must be notified in writing of an opportunity for hearing, and be allowed to have legal representation,  as well as the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses at a hearing with the principal. The principal does have discretion to suspend rather than expel a student. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(c)).  There is also the right to appeal  to the superintendent within 10 days of the expulsion.  (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(d)).

Although the above sections could be problematic, depending on how a principal wields his or her power, they are not what I find most troubling.  Here is what makes the law so Draconian:  “When a student is expelled under the provisions of this section, no school or school district within the commonwealth shall be required to admit such student or to provide educational services to said student. If said student does apply for admission to another school or school district, the superintendent of the school district to which the application is made may request and shall receive from the superintendent of the school expelling said student a written statement of the reasons for said expulsion.”  (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 71 § 37H(e)).   In other words, if a principal, in his or her sole discretion, expels a student from school because of one of the above violations, the student may not be able to attend  public school anywhere else in Massachusetts.  Even moving from one district to another might not help.

As we will see in coming blog entries, the new laws will drastically improve the current situation for students.

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 Special Education Evaluation Timelines

The law regarding timelines for special education evaluations can be confusing.  State law can vary from the federal IDEA requirement, and parents also need to be aware of whether the law refers to “days” or “school days.”  The term “days” refers to calendar days, which includes weekends, holidays and vacations; the term “school days” refers to days in which school is in session.

Federal law states that evaluations must be conducted within 60 days of receipt of parental consent for the evaluation, but defers to state timelines if such timelines exist (34 C.F.R. 300.301(c)).  Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire have implemented their own specific timelines.  The remainder of this article will be specific to Massachusetts law; I will post a separate article specific to New Hampshire law.

In Massachusetts:

“Within 45 school working days after receipt of a parent’s written consent to an initial evaluation or reevaluation, the school district shall: provide an evaluation; convene a Team meeting to review the evaluation data, determine whether the student requires special education and, if required, develop an IEP in accordance with state and federal laws; … The evaluation assessments shall be completed within 30 school working days after receipt of parental consent for evaluation. Summaries of such assessments shall be completed so as to ensure their availability to parents at least two days prior to the Team meeting.” 603 C.M.R. 28.05(1).

In other words, in Massachusetts, once a parent provides consent, the school district has 30 school days to complete the evaluation.  The entire process, including conducting the evaluation and convening the Team meeting to discuss the results, must be complete within 45 school days of parental consent.  Furthermore, a summary of the evaluations must be provided to the parents at least 2 days prior to the Team meeting.

We can look at an example to better understand these timelines.  Let’s assume that a parent provided consent for an evaluation on 09/12/11.  Counting ahead 30 school days, including a day off for Columbus Day, brings us to 10/25/11, which in this example is the deadline for conducting the evaluation.  Counting ahead 45 school days from 09/12/11, including days off for Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day, brings us to 11/16/11, which is the deadline for conducting the Team meeting and drafting the IEP.

But what happens if consent is provided at the end of the school year, and there is not enough time under the law as listed above to complete the evaluation and conduct the Team meeting?  In Massachusetts, parents may still be in luck.  Massachusetts has added the following protection:

“If consent is received within 30 to 45 school working days before the end of the school year, the school district shall 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.” 603 C.M.R. 28.05(1).

Again, let’s look at an example to better understand this law.  Assume that the school year ends on Friday, June 22, 2012.  45 school days prior to June 22, 2012 brings us to April 12, 2012.  30 school days prior to June 22, 2012 brings us to May 10, 2012.   Thus, we have three time frames to consider:

  1. Consent provided prior to April 12, 2012: the school district will be expected to complete the evaluation, Team meeting, and draft IEP before the end of the school year on June 22.
  2. Consent provided after May 10, 2012: the school district will not be required to complete the evaluation prior to the end of the school year, because there are fewer than 30 school days remaining.
  3. Consent provided between April 12, 2012 and May 10, 2012: the school district will be required to complete the evaluation prior to and of the school year.  If the 45 day rule would go beyond June 22, then the school district will be required to convene the Team meeting no later than 14 calendar days following the end of the school year.
 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.

Referral: The First Step in the Special Education Process

As the school year moves along, you may start to suspect that your child should be evaluated for special education.  To start the process, you should make a “referral.”  The following describes the referral process and timelines for Massachusetts and New Hampshire:

  1. Write a Letter to the special education director in your school system requesting a special education evaluation.  Explain that you are the parent or guardian of the child, and then explain some of your concerns (e.g. failing grades, distractibility, emotional concerns, etc.).  Be very clear that you are requesting an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services or accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  If you are able to go to the school office in person, you should obtain a date-stamped receipt as proof that you submitted the request on a certain date (read on to see why proof of the date is important).  If you are not able to go to the school office in person, you should send the letter certified, return receipt requested.  E-mail is also acceptable, as long as you get a response indicating that the e-mail has been received.
  2. Consent Form.  Federal law requires school districts to obtain parental consent before performing any evaluations.  This process can be more difficult for New Hampshire parents than for Massachusetts parents:
    1. Massachusetts: In Massachusetts, school districts must send the consent form to the parents within 5 school days of receiving the referral (i.e. your letter). 603 C.M.R. 28.04(1)(a).
    2. New Hampshire: In New Hampshire, when a referral is made, the IEP team must meet within 15 days of the referral to determine:
      1. whether the concerns raised by the referral can be addressed by existing educational supports that are available to all children;
      2. whether additional information is required; and
      3. what testing, if any, is needed to address any remaining concerns raised by the referral. Ed 1106.01(d).
  1. Evaluation.  If an evaluation will take place, federal law requires that it occur within 60 days of receiving parental consent. 300 C.F.R. 300.301(c)(1)(i).  Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire provide shorter timeframes, though.
    1. Massachusetts: Schools must complete the evaluation within 30 school days of receiving the consent form.  603 C.M.R. 28.04(2).
    2. New Hampshire: Schools must complete the evaluation within 45 days of receiving the consent form. Ed 1107.01(c).

I will examine the Evaluation procedures in more detail in a subsequent blog post.

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.

Timberlane Regional School District in NH Does Away with Midterms and Finals

This seems like such a great idea, but I have never heard of this being done before.  The Timberlane Regional School District in New Hampshire has decided, effective immediately, that there will no longer be any midterm or final exams within the school district.  They are doing this for the purpose of adding eight additional teaching days during the year.  As long as students are still expected to learn the same material, and can prove to the teacher that they have indeed mastered the material as expected, I really like this idea of adding additional teaching time to the year, and removing high stress exams.  This is particularly important for special education students, and students who may have mastered the material, but get so anxious about exams that they don’t test well.

Comparing Massachusetts to New Hampshire, lately it seems that New Hampshire is one step ahead of Massachusetts in terms of doing the right thing for the education of its students.  One other important area where New Hampshire has implemented a policy that I consider to be far better than a similar policy in Massachusetts is in regard to the implementation of NCLB (No Child Left Behind).  NCLB requires testing of students to ensure that the school system is providing a proper education for the students.  It does not require the passing of high-stakes exams as a requirement for a high school diploma.  Massachusetts, for some reason, has twisted NCLB such that the required testing has become a requirement for a high school diploma (MCAS).  New Hampshire has made it very clear that it has no plans to implement such a high-stakes approach to the NCLB requirement.

So why did I bring up the issue of MCAS in Massachusetts?  In Massachusetts, schools teach to the test so much, because of the high stakes aspect of MCAS, that they unfortunately don’t have enough time to teach much else.  Maybe that is an oversimplification, but I hear over and over from both teachers and students how frustrating it is that so many days are dedicated to the MCAS material rather than to other useful materials that students really should learn.  Given the Massachusetts approach, the opportunity to add 8 additional teaching days – perhaps unrelated to MCAS – sounds like a wonderful idea.  Students in Massachusetts have enough stress as it is.  As long as there is a way to ensure proper evaluation of students, I like what Timberlane is doing, and wish that Massachusetts would implement a similar policy.

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