The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Statement on the Revision of Special Education Regulations
March 28, 2000
The regulatory reforms we are considering today are designed to do two basic things: first, to ensure that special education resources are not dissipated on students who are not disabled, and second, to provide some administrative flexibility in order to increase the educational productivity of those resources.
The revised regulations clarify eligibility criteria by defining more specifically the kinds of disabilities that qualify students for special education services. This change is consistent with federal criteria and the criteria of most other states. Its purpose is simple, but clearly needed: to ensure that special education resources, and the system of mandated procedures and protections, are focused on those students with clinical or specific disabilities who can benefit from specialized educational services, rather than students who are simply falling behind their peers academically or who present discipline problems.
The proposed changes are also designed to introduce a modicum of local discretion in the administration of special education programs. I emphasize the word modicum. The revised regulations do not affect the mandated standard of service, popularly known as maximum feasible benefit. The revised regulations do not affect the timelines for evaluating students and developing IEPs. The revised regulations do not affect the existing class size or age-span limits. The revised regulations continue to require free second opinions (also known as independent evaluations) for low-income families. And the revised regulations continue to require meaningful involvement by special education parents in district decision-making.
The proposed revisions before us today are important and overdue. Nevertheless, they offer only modest potential for driving the kind of reform in special education that I believe is necessary.
It is increasingly clear to me that by focusing on issues of civil rights and procedural protections, the 30-year debate over special education has unintentionally diverted us from what now matters most: quality and improvement. Accurate assessments, effective instruction and services, and educationally sound placements cannot be assured through legislation or litigation. Indeed, the attempt to do so deflects our attention to matters of process, rather than substance, leaving little time for addressing critical weaknesses in the programs and the services for students with special needs. It also erects barriers between parents and school staff, turning them into adversaries and making cooperative effort difficult, if not impossible.