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Education Laws and Regulations

603 CMR 28.00

Special Education


  • 28.01: Authority, Scope and Purpose
  • 28.02: Definitions
  • 28.03: Administration and Personnel
  • 28.04: Referral and Evaluation
  • 28.05: The Team Process and Development of the IEP
  • 28.06: Placement and Service Options
  • 28.07: Parent Involvement
  • 28.08: Continuum of Options for Dispute Resolution
  • 28.09: Approval of Public or Private Day and Residential Special Education School Programs
  • 28.10: School District Responsibility
  • View All Sections

Most recently amended by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education: September 20, 2022

28.02: Definitions

(1) Approved private special education school or approved program shall mean a private day or residential school, within or outside Massachusetts, that has applied to, and received approval from, the Department according to the requirements specified in 603 CMR 28.09.

(2) Approved public special education school shall mean a program operated by a public school or an educational collaborative providing full day or residential special education services to eligible students in a facility serving primarily students with disabilities. Such program shall be approved when it has applied to, and received approval from, the Department according to the requirements specified in 603 CMR 28.09.

(3) Certified special educator shall mean a person with a teaching certificate or license in an area of special education or a related service provider with appropriate certification or license in his or her professional area. Licensure shall meet the requirements of the Massachusetts Regulations for Educator Licensure and Preparation Program Approval at 603 CMR 7.00 and the requirements for renewal of license at 603 CMR 44.00, as necessary. A certified or licensed special educator may provide, design, or supervise special education services.

(4) Consent shall mean agreement by a parent who has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his/her native language or other mode of communication, understands and agrees in writing to the carrying out of the activity, and understands that the granting of consent is voluntary and may be revoked at any time. The consent describes the activity and lists the records (if any) that will be released and to whom.

(5) Day shall mean calendar day unless the regulation specifies school day, which shall mean any day, including a partial day, that students are in attendance at school for instructional purposes.

(6) Department shall mean the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

(7) Disability shall mean one or more of the following impairments:

  1. (a) Autism - A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. The term shall have the meaning given it in federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(1).

  2. (b) Developmental Delay - The learning capacity of a young child (3–9 years old) is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: receptive and/or expressive language; cognitive abilities; physical functioning; social, emotional, or adaptive functioning; and/or self-help skills.

  3. (c) Intellectual Impairment - The permanent capacity for performing cognitive tasks, functions, or problem solving is significantly limited or impaired and is exhibited by more than one of the following: a slower rate of learning; disorganized patterns of learning; difficulty with adaptive behavior; and/or difficulty understanding abstract concepts. Such term shall include students with mental retardation.

  4. (d) Sensory Impairment - The term shall include the following:

    1. Hearing Impairment or Deaf - The capacity to hear, with amplification, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in hearing acuity tasks; difficulty with oral communication; and/or difficulty in understanding auditorally-presented information in the education environment. The term includes students who are deaf and students who are hard-of-hearing.

    2. Vision Impairment or Blind - The capacity to see, after correction, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in visual acuity tasks; difficulty with written communication; and/or difficulty with understanding information presented visually in the education environment. The term includes students who are blind and students with limited vision.

    3. Deafblind - Concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs.

  5. (e) Neurological Impairment - The capacity of the nervous system is limited or impaired with difficulties exhibited in one or more of the following areas: the use of memory, the control and use of cognitive functioning, sensory and motor skills, speech, language, organizational skills, information processing, affect, social skills, or basic life functions. The term includes students who have received a traumatic brain injury.

  6. (f) Emotional Impairment - As defined under federal law at 34 CFR §300.8(c)(4), the student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The determination of disability shall not be made solely because the student's behavior violates the school's discipline code, because the student is involved with a state court or social service agency, or because the student is socially maladjusted, unless the Team determines that the student has a serious emotional disturbance.

  7. (g) Communication Impairment - The capacity to use expressive and/or receptive language is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: speech, such as articulation and/or voice; conveying, understanding, or using spoken, written, or symbolic language. The term may include a student with impaired articulation, stuttering, language impairment, or voice impairment if such impairment adversely affects the student's educational performance.

  8. (h) Physical Impairment - The physical capacity to move, coordinate actions, or perform physical activities is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: physical and motor tasks; independent movement; performing basic life functions. The term shall include severe orthopedic impairments or impairments caused by congenital anomaly, cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures, if such impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

  9. (i) Health Impairment - A chronic or acute health problem such that the physiological capacity to function is significantly limited or impaired and results in one or more of the following: limited strength, vitality, or alertness including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli resulting in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment. The term shall include health impairments due to asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle cell anemia, if such health impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.

  10. (j) Specific Learning Disability - The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. Use of the term shall meet all federal requirements given in federal law at 34 CFR §§300.8(c)(10) and 300.309.

(8) District or school district shall mean a Massachusetts municipal school department or regional school district, acting through its school committee or superintendent of schools; a county agricultural school, acting through its board of trustees or superintendent/director; and any other Massachusetts public school established by statute, certificate, or charter, acting through its governing board or director. School districts have programmatic and financial responsibility in accordance with the procedures of 603 CMR 28.10.

(9) Eligible student shall mean a person aged three through 21 who has not attained a high school diploma or its equivalent, who has been determined by a Team to have a disability(ies), and as a consequence is unable to progress effectively in the general education program without specially designed instruction or is unable to access the general curriculum without a related service. An eligible student shall have the right to receive special education and any related services that are necessary for the student to benefit from special education or that are necessary for the student to access the general curriculum. In determining eligibility, the school district must thoroughly evaluate and provide a narrative description of the student's educational and developmental potential.

(10) In-district program shall mean a special education program operated in a public school building or other facility that provides educational services to students of comparable age, with and without disabilities.

  1. (a) For young children ages three to five years, the term shall include programs provided by the public school in the eligible child's home if such setting has been identified by the Team as the natural or least restrictive setting to deliver the services on the child's IEP.

  2. (b) For students of ages three through 21, the term shall include programs provided by the district in a home or hospital setting if such setting is required by the student's physician and the student would otherwise have been served in an in-district program.

  3. (c) For students aged 14 years or older, when the Team has determined that a vocational program is appropriate, work settings shall be considered in-district programs if such programs offer ongoing opportunities for students to interact with community members and/or other workers without disabilities engaging in similar activities.

  4. (d) A program operated solely by an individual, not for profit corporation or agency, or proprietary corporation shall not be considered an in-district program unless it is located within a public school building.

(11) Individualized Education Program (IEP) shall mean a written statement, developed and approved in accordance with federal special education law in a form established by the Department that identifies a student's special education needs and describes the services a school district shall provide to meet those needs.

(12) Least restrictive environment (LRE) shall mean the educational placement that assures that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities, including students in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with students who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of students with disabilities from the general education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the student's disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

(13) Notice shall mean the notice and content required in accordance with the federal special education law whenever the school district proposes or refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement or the provision of special education services to the student.

(14) Out-of-district program shall mean a special education program located in a building or facility outside of the general education environment that provides educational services primarily to students with disabilities and shall include all programs approved under 603 CMR 28.09. Such program may be operated by a private organization or individual, a public school district, or a collaborative.

(15) Parent shall mean father or mother. For purposes of special educational decision-making, parent shall mean father, mother, legal guardian, person acting as a parent of the child, foster parent, or an educational surrogate parent appointed in accordance with federal law. Legal authority of the parent shall transfer to the student when the student reaches 18 years of age.

(16) Program school shall mean the school in which the student is enrolled according to the provisions of M.G.L. c. 71, § 89 (charter schools); M.G.L. c. 71, § 94 (Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools); M.G.L. c. 74 (vocational schools); M.G.L. c.76, § 12A (Metco) or M.G.L. c. 76, § 12B (school choice), and shall not include schools approved under 603 CMR 28.09 or institutional school programs as described in 603 CMR 28.06(9).

(17) Progress effectively in the general education program shall mean to make documented growth in the acquisition of knowledge and skills, including social/emotional development, within the general education program, with or without accommodations, according to chronological age and developmental expectations, the individual educational potential of the student, and the learning standards set forth in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the curriculum of the district. The general education program includes preschool and early childhood programs offered by the district, academic and non-academic offerings of the district, and vocational programs and activities.

(18) Related services shall have the meaning set forth in federal special education law at 34 CFR §300.34. Individuals providing interpreting services for students who are deaf or hard of hearing shall be registered with the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

(19) State agency shall mean a Massachusetts state agency.

(20) Special education shall mean specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of the eligible student or related services necessary to access the general curriculum and shall include the programs and services set forth in state and federal special education law.

(21) Team shall mean a group of persons, meeting participant requirements of federal special education law as provided at 34 CFR §§300.321 and 300.116(a)(1), who, together, discuss evaluation results, determine eligibility, develop or modify an IEP, or determine placement.

Regulatory Authority:
M.G.L. c. 69, § 1B; c. 69, §§ 1J and 1K, as amended by St. 2010, c. 12, § 3; c. 71, § 38G.

For an official copy of these regulations, please contact the State House Bookstore, at 617-727-2834 or visit Massachusetts State Bookstore.

Last Updated: December 6, 2022

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