A. General Jurisdiction Unit
The GJU’s mission is to provide the due process hearings that are the pre-condition of other agencies’ final agency actions and, when provided for by statute, to hear de novo appeals of other agencies’ decisions. GJU cases come to DALA in two ways: (1) by legislation mandating that certain types of cases be heard at DALA; and (2) upon request of an agency, subject to the approval of the DALA Chief Administrative Magistrate and the Secretary of Administration and Finance (“A&F”). Currently, the GJU conducts hearings for approximately 20 state agencies, including the Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, the Board of Registration in Medicine, the Department of Public Health, and the Fair Labor Division of the Office of the Attorney General. The most pressing issue confronting the GJU is its large inventory of cases. The inventory is made up of Rate Setting Cases and Retirement Cases. Generally, the GJU is able to schedule other types of cases when the parties are ready to proceed.
The GJU decreased the number of open cases on its docket in 2018. On January 1, 2018, there were 4,815 open cases on the GJU docket. Tab 1 contains a list of open GJU cases as of January 1, 2019. This tab shows that the GJU had 3,854 open cases as of the first of the year. The number of open Retirement Cases was 1,480 on January 1, 2018. That number dropped to 1,080 on January 1, 2019. In 2018, DALA reduced the number of pending Rate Setting Cases on its docket from 3,171 to 2,586. DALA prioritizes Retirement Cases, because they typically require more intervention from a magistrate, including a hearing, and the parties to the Rate Setting cases work to settle them.
While the GJU’s success reducing the inventory of its cases has resulted in a reduction in the length of time litigants wait to have their cases reached for hearing, the length of time parties are waiting for a written decision is increasing. Generally, newer cases require more attention from a magistrate and, therefore, it takes longer to dispose of them. We will continue to review and modify the GJU’s practices and procedures as appropriate to address the ongoing challenges it confronts.
B. Bureau of Special Education Appeals
The BSEA is an independent unit within DALA. It provides a broad range of services applicable to resolution of disputes with respect to eligibility, evaluation, placement, individualized education programs (IEPs), special education services, and procedural protections for students with disabilities. The BSEA is federally funded through a grant managed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”). The Bureau was transferred from the DESE to DALA by Chapter 131 of the Acts of 2010 to ensure independence from any educational agency that could be a party to or interested in the proceedings before the Bureau. Pursuant to the transfer legislation, the Bureau and its caseload are managed independently of DALA’s other operations.
In 2018, the BSEA, a nationally recognized leader in dispute resolution in the area of special education, provided a broad range of dispute resolution services applicable to disputes concerning eligibility, evaluation, placement, IEPs, special education services, and procedural protections for students with disabilities. BSEA’s dispute resolution services include mediations, hearings, and settlement conferences. The Bureau also provides facilitators for IEP Team meetings. Parties to these proceedings include parents, school districts, private schools, the DESE, and other state agencies. The BSEA, through an ISA with the Department of Mental Health, also conducts mediations and due process hearings with respect to early intervention.
In Fiscal Year 20181, there were 11,900 rejected IEPs received by the BSEA, an increase from the 11,400 received in 2017. In FY 2018, the BSEA facilitated 142 IEP Team meetings, an increase from118 the previous year. There were 699 mediations conducted in FY 2018, a decrease from the 742 conducted during the prior year. We note that the number of mediations requested fell from 1,132 in 2017 to 1059 in 2018. In 2018, mediations resulted in the parties reaching an agreement 85% of the time. The BSEA also conducted 78 settlement conferences. 72 of those conferences resulted in a settlement, a success rate of 92%.
The BSEA received 481 hearing requests during FY 2018, a decrease from the 495 hearing requests received in the prior year. BSEA hearing officers conducted full hearings resulting in the issuance of 13 decisions, a decrease from the 22 decisions issued during the previous year. In addition, 35 substantive written rulings were issued in FY 2018 as compared to 50 during the previous year. Tab 2 contains a multi-year summary of the BSEA’s annual statistics.
In FY 2018, BSEA staff also provided numerous trainings and presentations for constituent groups, including Special Education Parent Advisory Councils, parent advocacy groups, school district personnel, non-profit groups, Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education presentations and other interested groups around the Commonwealth. This commitment to increasing the visibility of BSEA’s services will continue.
|Date published:||April 3, 2019|