COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS

DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATIVE LAW APPEALS

BUREAU OF SPECIAL EDUCATION APPEALS

 Fiscal Year 2014 Report

The Bureau of Special Education Appeals ("BSEA"), an independent subdivision of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals, conducts mediations and due process hearings to resolve disputes among parents, school districts, private schools and state agencies. [1]  The BSEA derives its authority from both federal law and regulations (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, "IDEA") and Massachusetts law and regulations. (MGL ch.71B).

A parent or a school district may request mediation and/or a due process hearing on any matter concerning the eligibility, evaluation, placement, individualized education program (IEP), provision of special education or procedural protections for students with disabilities, in accordance with state and federal law. [2]

In addition, a parent may request a hearing on any issue involving the denial of a free appropriate public education guaranteed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Mediations and hearings are conducted by impartial mediators and hearing officers who do not have personal or professional interests that would conflict with their objectivity in the proceeding. The BSEA comprises seven (six full time equivalent) hearing officers (all of whom are attorneys), seven mediators, a coordinator of mediation, a scheduling coordinator, administrative staff and a director.

What follows is a summary of BSEA data for fiscal year 2014 (covering the period July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014).

Rejected IEPs

 

There were approximately 9,830 rejected IEPs received by the BSEA during FY 2014 (representing an increase from the 8,860 received in the prior year).

 

Facilitated IEP TEAM Meetings

 

This year the BSEA facilitated 150 IEP Team meetings, an increase over the 140 conducted during the previous year. (Note: Ten (10) additional requests for Team meeting facilitations were declined this year owing to staff unavailability.)

 

Mediation  

 

There were 790 mediations conducted in FY 2014 (representing a decrease from the 818 conducted during the prior year), with an agreement rate of 84.3%.

Due Process Hearings

The BSEA received 590 hearing requests during FY 2014 (representing an increase from the 552 requests in the prior year). The seven (six full time equivalent) BSEA hearing officers conducted full hearings resulting in 25 decisions (representing a decrease from the 30 decisions issued in the previous year). In addition to the 25 decisions, at least 53 substantive written rulings were issued (an increase from the 37 substantive rulings issued in the previous year).

Prevailing Party

Of the 25 decisions noted above, parents fully prevailed in 7 (28%), school districts fully prevailed in 13 (52 %), 4 decisions involved mixed relief (16 %) and 1 decision (4%) involved an LEA assignment.

 

Representation

 

Statistics with respect to outcome in relation to representation are as follows:

 

Of the 7 cases in which parents fully prevailed:

 

parents were represented by counsel in 4, by a lay advocate in 1 and appeared pro se in 2;

 the school district was represented by counsel in all matters.

 

Of the 13 cases in which school districts fully prevailed:

 

the school district was represented by counsel in all matters;

parents were represented by counsel in 3 and appeared pro se in 10.

 

Of the 4 cases of mixed relief:

 

            parents were represented by counsel in 2 and appeared pro se in 2;

the school district was represented by counsel in 3 of the matters and was unrepresented in 1.

 

In the LEA assignment case:

parents were not a party;

school districts and DESE were represented by counsel.

 

 



[1] In addition to mediation and due process hearings (both of which must be offered pursuant to federal law), the BSEA offers the following alternative dispute resolution options: IEP Team meeting facilitations; settlement conferences; and advisory opinions.

 

[2] A school district may not, however, request a hearing on a parent's failure or refusal to consent to initial evaluation or initial placement of a child in a special education program, or to written revocation of parental consent for further provision of special education and related services.