|For Immediate Release|
|Thursday, January 22, 2009|
|Contact:||Heidi Guarino 781-338-3106|
Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to Revamp BSEA Structure
MALDEN - The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is poised to revamp its structure for conducting special education hearings and mediations following a recent federal notification that the existing system is not in compliance with the Individual with Disabilities Education Act.
The notification came in response to an October 2008 letter from Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester to the U.S. Department of Education where he asked federal authorities to evaluate the existing structure based on his experience in and knowledge of the work in other states.
The finding challenges the current structure of the state's Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA), but does not question the impartiality or integrity of previous decisions.
"I am confident that our system for due process hearings and mediations has been and is operating in an impartial manner, but its structure needs to comply with federal regulations," said Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester. "Over the next few months we will seek input from Massachusetts stakeholders and review the appeals process practiced in other states. As we evaluate our options we will ensure that the resolution of special education matters will not be disrupted and the needs of students, parents, and the special education community continue to be met."
Every state is required by the federal law to establish a process for resolving disputes between parents, school districts, private schools and state agencies concerning eligibility, evaluation and placement of students with disabilities. In Massachusetts, most of that role is played by the BSEA.
According to the January 15, 2009 letter from the USED, federal law requires that hearing officers and mediators not be employees of the state education agency. Currently, the 18 members of the BSEA staff are all employees of the ESE.
The Department will respond with a plan by mid-April to bring the state into full compliance with federal law.