Federal Law - IDEA PART B

MA Regulations 603CMR 28.00 - all sections

Federal Law - Definitions Under IDEA

Massachusetts  Advisories

The information on the following pages emphasizes key points, re-iterates answers to frequently asked questions and explains some of the processes used in Arlington from a parent’s point of view.  You must read the full text of the laws themselves to be fully informed.


About Special Education Laws     



The law requires that public schools make available to all eligible children with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education(FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment(LRE) appropriate to their individual needs.  School districts are responsible to offer students programs and services that will allow them to make meaningful, effective progress commensurate with their individual potential academically, socially and emotionally. The standard in Massachusetts is FAPE, that is, the public school is not responsible to offer the student the equivalent of a “Cadillac, but rather a serviceable Chevrolet that allows him to get around effectively.”  


Federal law presents a national standard for providing services to students with disabilities while state law interprets and elaborates upon federal law. Federal law sets the floor, state law sets the ceiling. The Department of Education is then charged with applying regulations to the law.  School districts, through their school committee, can set the standards even higher using policies and procedures for the district to follow.  If state and federal laws differ, state law prevails if it sets a higher standard. If there is a conflict between state and federal law, the federal law prevails.


Below are links to many of the special education laws & regulations, advisories and the Arlington School Committee Manual.  The legal references most commonly needed by Massachusetts parents are in the black box to the right so you can easily access the information as you read through our Special Education section.


  1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  2. No Child Left Behind(NCLB)
  3. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  4. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  5. Assistive Technology Laws
  6. Family Education & Privacy Act(FERPA)



To get started it is highly recommended you read the guide prepared by the Federation for Children with Special Needs which can be reviewed online and/or downloaded for printing.  This gives a user friendly explanation of the process, timelines, and procedures of Massachusetts Special Education, it is also linked at the book icon at the top right of the page:


“A Parent’s Guide to Special Education”


Once you’ve read through the Guide the information on the following pages will highlight key points, answer frequently asked questions and explain some of the processes used in Arlington from a parent’s point of view.


Start by looking to Massachusetts Regulations, then look to Federal Law. You will find that most definitions are deferred to the federal law, the link is also listed on the right.  The MA regulations are not very “search friendly”, but they should be the first stop in getting the information you need.  When searching for information on a specific topic, it’s best to scroll down the entire listing of MA Regulations to ensure you find everything on your topic and then search through the MA Advisories, you’ll also want to know federal definitions, otherwise you could miss key pieces of information. Transportation, for example, is found under the federal definition of related services, is listed in at least three separate areas of the MA regulations, and was discussed in a technical advisory as well.


The official agency dealing with special education in Massachusetts is the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education(DESE), information relative to general and special education can be found on their website.


All states must have a Parent Information & Resource Center(PIRC) to answer parents’ questions relative to disabilities and special needs as well as lend guidance regarding special education procedure and law. Ours resides at the Federation for Children with Special Needs. Telephone: (617) 236-7210, (877) 471-0980 (in MA) Email:


If you are unsure about procedures to follow, or if you question information you have received from the school district you can contact Program Quality Assurance(PQA)to review. 781-338-3700, email:


The NICHCY Website is one of the most comprehensive sources for disability information and offers excellent overviews and organiza  tion of the federal laws, it’s recommended you peruse their site to further your understanding of laws and their application.


Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts offers some excellent quick reference materials on various aspects of Massachusetts Law relevant to Special education.




** It is important to note that in timeframe references; school timelines are in school days and timelines for the parent are in calendar days.




  1. Credentialed, trained specialists must complete evaluations within 30 school days from written consent.
  2. Must convene a Team meeting to review evaluation
  3. determine eligibility
  4. and, if required, develop an IEP
  5. and provide the parents with two copies of the proposed IEP and proposed placement.  See exceptions, 603 CMR 28.06(2)(e)



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