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Special Education

Special Education Surrogate Parent (SESP) Program

To:Administrators of Special Education
From:Marcia Mittnacht, State Director of Special Education
Date:April 13, 2009 (updated February 11, 2014)

I would like to bring to your attention the efforts of the Special Education Surrogate Parent (SESP) Program (formerly Educational Surrogate Parent Program), in recruiting volunteers in your district. With this memorandum, I am asking all district Administrators of Special Education to seek volunteers from your community who are willing to serve as an SESP for an eligible student.

Consistent with federal and state special education regulations, the SESP Program was created to assign individuals to stand in the place of parents for the purpose of making special education decisions for children in the custody of the Department of Children and Families (DCF, formerly DSS), and for children whose parents cannot be identified or located.

The SESP Program depends upon volunteers to fulfill this vital role.

Section 28:07 (7) of the Massachusetts Special Education Regulations indicate that when a student requires a SESP, the Department may request assistance from the district in identifying a person willing to serve in that capacity.

Federal special education regulations now require efforts to ensure that appointments are made within 30 days from the day that the student is determined to need one. Prompt appointment of an SESP is a high priority in serving special education students. I have asked the SESP Program to actively seek the participation of school districts in identifying individuals who are willing to step into the SESP role for eligible students.

By seeking volunteers within school communities, we hope to identify SESPs familiar with the district and have a faster and more efficient appointment. Many districts may choose to recruit SESP volunteers through their district Parent Advisory Council or other parent and teacher organizations, as well as from the general public. Since districts offer an annual workshop on the rights of students and their parents as required by state special education law (see 603 CMR 28.03(1)(a)(4)), the district has a readily accessible means of providing a trained core of potential volunteers familiar with special education rights and responsibilities.

In addition, the SESP Program provides training sessions across the state that review special education laws and regulations, the IEP process, and the role of the SESP. The schedule is posted on their website,

Once assigned, SESPs have the same rights and responsibilities as a parent with respect to the special education decision-making process. The SESP may meet with their assigned student, observed proposed or current programs, attend school meetings, review school records, and approve the IEP for the student or discuss changes if deemed appropriate. SESPs do not work directly with the student, but stand in the place of the parent in the special education process and as a Team member.

In order to be appointed as an SESP, a person must be at least eighteen years old, and not be employed by an agency involved in the care or education of their assigned student (such as the Department, the student's school district, or the student's social worker). The individual may not have personal or professional interests that conflict with the assigned student's interest. The individual must have, or be willing to obtain, adequate knowledge in special education and the Individualized Education Program process. Volunteers must complete an application, provide two references, and complete a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check.

We encourage you to provide your volunteers with an application from the SESP Program as early as possible so that the application process is complete and assignment can be made promptly, if needed. The SESP Program will also be contacting districts with traditionally high numbers of students requiring SESP appointments to work on facilitating the identification, recruitment and training of volunteers. Please welcome them when they call upon you.

For information regarding becoming a Special Education Surrogate Parent please visit or you may contact the Recruitment, Training and Support Center by phone at (617) 236-7210, (800) 331-0688 (in MA), or by email at

All other inquiries may be directed towards the SESP Program at (508) 792-7679 or email at

Thank you for your assistance.

Download MS WORD Document
SESPP Volunteer Application

Last Updated: February 11, 2014

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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