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.


Problems & Complaints


Working with the special education department at your child’s school should not be a contentious experience.  A professional and respectful tone should be maintained by all parties with the ultimate goal being the needs of the child. That being said disputes do occur and there are appropriate remedies for resolving those disputes.


Massachusetts Law has provided a system to allow parents to resolve issues for themselves without requiring legal counsel. Whether you choose to seek the help of an advocate or an attorney will depend on your comfort, knowledge and the complexity of your child’s disability. These are the current BSEA statistics with regard to outcomes for IEP Appeals.


There is a chain of command at your child’s school.  If things are not working as they should be follow that chain of command to try to resolve your problem;  teacher, team leader, principal, assistant special education director, special education director, superintendent.  The school committee and/or individual committee members can hear programmatic or curriculum centered issues, however, they cannot intervene in any individual case .   At any time you may bring problems to the attention of the DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and ask for help in resolving your dilemma.  Keep open lines of communication with your team and always keep detailed records of communications with staff.


If your child is denied services for any reason the school should be able to give you a clear explanation for that denial.  If you disagree with their reasoning contact PQA and/or the Federation for Children with Special Needs to review the denial and look for further guidance.


You have the right to begin the process for a mediation or due process hearing, you do not need to wait for the school to initiate the action.


Anytime you are having a problem with the district consider contacting SEPAC to let us know.  Part of SEPAC’s effort is to convey special education concerns to the district and sometimes to the school committee.  District-wide or school-wide problems cannot be addressed if we don’t know about them.  This does not preclude you from proceeding with any of the remedies below.  Contact SEPAC.   


The following are the methods for resolving disputes:


  1. PQA Procedural Complaint
  2. Mediation
  3. Advisory Opinion
  4. Due Process Hearing
  5. Spedex(currently being tested)
  6. Civil Rights Complaint


Program Quality Assurance(PQA)

1. PQA Procedural Complaint - PQA is part of the DESE.  It monitors and evaluates school district compliance with laws and regulations. This is a form of quality control to correct procedural problems. If a school is found out of compliance the staff will be re-trained in the proper procedures.  In general, they are either interested in procedural issues or adherence to existing IEPs. PQA does not get involved in evaluations and whether an evaluation or an IEP is appropriate.   

How to file a PQA Complaint


Bureau of Special Education Appeals(BSEA)

BSEA is the first place you go to settle a disagreement about your child’s IEP when you can't work it out on your own. There are several mechanisms they offer for settling issues:


2. Mediation - The most commonly used is mediation. Both sides, the school district and the parents, must agree to mediate.  Mediation is non-binding and can be attempted before presenting the case to a hearing officer. For more information about mediation or to receive the name and telephone number of the mediator assigned to your region, contact the BSEA Coordinator of Mediation at (781) 338-6443.


3. Advisory Opinion - The advisory opinion process is an optional dispute resolution process available to parties who have requested a due process hearing. Each party has one hour to give a brief presentation of its case after which the hearing officer issues a written, non-binding opinion within an hour of the close of the presentations. The parties may agree prior to the commencement of the process, apart from the hearing officer, to make the resulting opinion binding on the parties.


4. Due Process Hearing - The final authority in deciding issues around an IEP is normally a BSEA hearing officer. These are essentially administrative law judges who can make binding decision based on the law and facts of a case.  Parents may represent themselves (pro se). More important than an attorney are credible expert witnesses that will testify on your child's behalf.  You cannot recoup Attorney fees  even if you win.

How to file for a Due Process Hearing


5. Spedex - Currently being tested over a 3 year period, this option could be considered as an option for placement resolution however the parties are not bound by the report and recommendations of the Spedex consultant.  Read more here.  


Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education(OCR)

According to federal laws that prohibit discrimination because of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in programs that receive federal financial assistance, any program or activity that receives funds from the Department of Education must operate in a nondiscriminatory manner.  Any educational or other institution or facility that receives federal financial assistance may not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin,

sex, disability, or age so as to:



The complaint must be filed within 180 calendar days of the date of the

alleged discrimination.  

How to file a Civil Rights Complaint