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. In addition, pursuant to c. 19 of the acts of 2020, starting in 2021 the GJU will begin to hear appeals concerning the decisions of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.
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.
In 2019, the GJU decreased the number of open cases on its docket. On January 1, 2019, there were 3,854 open cases on the GJU docket. Tab 1 contains a list of open GJU cases as of January 1, 2020. This tab shows that the GJU had 3,336 open cases as of the first of this year, a reduction of 518.
The number of open Retirement Cases stayed about the same as the GJU closed 14 more Retirement Cases than it opened in 2019. The number of open Retirement Cases was 1,1261 on January 1, 2020. In 2019, DALA reduced the number of pending Rate Setting Cases on its docket from 2,586 to 1,981. 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 2019, 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 20192, there were 11,979 rejected IEPs received by the BSEA, an increase from the 11,900 received in 2018. In FY 2019, the BSEA facilitated 114 IEP Team meetings, a decrease from 142 the previous year3. There were 714 mediations conducted in FY 2019, an increase from the 699 conducted during the prior year. We note that the number of mediations requested increased from 1,059 in 2018 to 1,084 in 2019, mediations resulted in the parties reaching an agreement 83% of the time. The BSEA also conducted 76 settlement conferences and 67 of those cases settled, a success rate of 88%.
The BSEA received 483 hearing requests during FY 2019, as compared to 481 hearing requests received in the prior year. BSEA hearing officers conducted full evidentiary hearings resulting in the issuance of 19 decisions, an increase from the 13 decisions issued during the previous year. In addition, 48 substantive written rulings were issued in FY 2019 as compared to 35 during the previous year. Tab 2 contains a multi-year summary of the BSEA’s annual statistics.
In FY 2019, BSEA staff continued to provide 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 6, 2020|