The heart of MAC's work since its beginnings in the early 1970s has been to create new laws, policies and regulations to benefit children - including the first special education and bilingual education laws in the nation - and to hold accountable those institutions which are responsible for implementing and enforcing those laws, policies and regulations.
This type of advocacy is done with public and elected officials, whether in the state legislature, state departments, or local school districts, by combining technical expertise and political support from constituency groups.
The following is a sample of MAC’s recent legislative and administrative advocacy that will result in improved educational opportunities of children with disabilities:
Victory in Preserving the State’s Bureau of Special Education Appeals
MAC successfully led lengthy and intensive advocacy efforts concerning the proposal by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to restructure the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA). Working closely with the pro bono support of Kotin, Crabtree & Strong LLP and other private and public interest lawyers and parent advocates, MAC collaborated with key leaders in the House and Senate in negotiating with the administration to craft legislation that ensures the BSEA is moved in a manner which preserves its expertise, independence and professional integrity. The final legislation provides that the BSEA will remain largely intact, and move from DESE to the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA)
The BSEA conducts mediations and due process hearings to resolve disputes between parents and school districts. It is the linchpin of the autonomous due process system that exists in our state to ensure equal educational opportunities for children with disabilities in the Commonwealth. The BSEA has been structured over the years as an independent bureau of experienced hearing officers and mediators dedicated to the field of special education providing a system best able to meet federal statutory requirements for hearing officer competence. Hearing officers must possess knowledge of: the wide body of federal and state special education law, regulations, and case law; appropriate legal standards for the conduct of hearings; and the complex skills required for writing decisions. There was grave concern by advocates and parents that dismantling the Bureau would deprive the Commonwealth’s children with disabilities of requisite expertise, independence and integrity of decision makers. We are very pleased that the final legislation signed by Governor Patrick strives to preserve the autonomy and professional expertise of the BSEA in its new home at DALA.
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Enactment of S.286, An Act to Maintain Transition Ages Requirements for Students with Disabilities.
MAC’s transition bill, S.286, An Act to Maintain Transition Ages Requirements for Students with Disabilities, was signed by the Governor in August 2008. Under the new law, special education transition planning and transition services must commence at age 14, rather than waiting to age 16 as permitted under federal law. Transition services are critical to facilitate a student’s movement to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation. Delay beyond age 14 (waiting until high school) is too late to facilitate the most effective transition planning for youth with disabilities.
MAC staff then created two transition implementation alerts in response to the passage of the bill, one for parents of students with disabilities age 14 and 15 and the other for professionals. The alerts were distributed widely. In response to the bill’s passage, DESE issued a technical assistance advisory that notified local school district special education directors.
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Parent Notice of Procedural Safeguards
With the research and policy analysis support from DLA Piper, in 2009 MAC provided suggested changes to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding the Parent’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards. Changes were being implemented due to current changes in federal laws pertaining to parents’ revocation of consent and termination of all special education services. This was an opportunity to assure language was included in other areas to further protect families and help families to advocate further for their children. Most of the changes were accepted, and the new document is posted on the DESE’s website.
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Enactment of H. 391, An Act to Provide Access to Information for Parents’ Evaluators, and subsequent DESE Advisory
In 2008, with the pro bono assistance of Attorney Robert Crabtree, MAC led a significant legislative victory with passage of H. 391, An Act to Provide Access to Information for Parents’ Evaluators. This bill ensures that parents and independent evaluators will have access to observe special education programs, providing critical information needed to participate in the special education decision making process.
MAC then participated in the group of stakeholders convened by DESE to provide input to the agency as it drafted its guidance to school districts for implementing the bill. MAC provided key leadership in gathering information and coordinating in preparation for this meeting. DESE issued a balanced Advisory, consistent with legislative intent, notifying superintendents, principals, administrators of special education, and other interested parties that parents and independent evaluators have clear rights to observe special education programs. This law and advisory will help provide parents with critical information needed to participate in the special education decision making process.
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Stopped attempt by DESE to weaken monitoring standards
In early 2009, MAC discovered that DESE was no longer monitoring compliance with many of the most important provisions of special education law (transition, provision of services by age 3, class size requirements, etc.) as part of its Coordinated Program Reviews. Parents and advocates were not informed about this dramatic change in procedure. MAC informed members of the legislature and their staff about these new procedures, and the chairs and members of the Special Education Legislative Caucus were very concerned. Before members of the legislature took action, project staff met with officials at DESE and continued to discuss the issues with members of the legislature and DESE. DESE ultimately agreed to reinstate the monitoring standards in February and convene the different stakeholders to advise the Department about how best to proceed in the future.
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