Have the Purposes of Chapter 766 Been Achieved? – An Invitation
By Bob Crabtree, Esquire – Kotin, Crabtree & Strong
Federation Executive Director Rich Robison and Special Ed Projects Director Julie Sinclair
participated in the USDOE’s Special Education National Leadership Conference in Washington, DC in July.
For 40 years the Federation has represented the “parent voice” to our nation’s leaders.
When Massachusetts’ Chapter 766 was signed into law in July 1972, its implementation date was delayed for two years to give school districts and state agencies time to reorganize and gear up. September 2014 will thus mark the 40th anniversary of the effective date of our landmark special education reform act -a time for both celebration and reflection.
Chapter 766 included a purpose section that described some of the problems the Act was meant to address and goals the legislature wanted to achieve. (We have published a full copy of that purpose section on our KCS special education blog at www.kcsspecialeducationlaw.com).
The purpose statement expressed concern over a number of problems in the special education system that existed then, including, for example: the wide variation across the state in the quantity and quality of services available to students depending on their disability category or the local resources; the potential for stigma in the use of disability labels; the over- or under-exclusiveness of special programs; and the extent to which cost drove placement and service decisions.
Among the goals were to provide “a flexible and uniform system” of program opportunities for children with disabilities, a non-discriminatory system to evaluate the particular needs of children with disabilities, and a system to periodically assess each child’s needs and the adequacy of the program proposed to meet those needs. The purpose section also spoke of leaving the task of defining disabilities up to educators and other professionals, recognizing that children with disabilities “have a variety of characteristics and needs, all of which must be considered if the educational potential of each child is to be realized.” And the section spoke of involving parents as they had not been previously involved – directly in the processes that led to the provision of services to their children. While the purpose section did not explicitly refer to the Act’s establishment of a due process system for the resolution of disputes by impartial hearing officers, that, too was a major feature of the special education reform embodied in Chapter 766.
Now, as the 40th anniversary of implementation approaches, we have an opportunity to look back and consider whether and to what extent the aims embodied in Chapter 766 have been achieved. Parents, advocates, educators and administrators are sure to have a wide variety of perspectives on this question.
To air some of those perspectives, about how things that have not turned out well could be improved and how some of the better results can be extended or reinforced, we invite the readers of this Newsline to record their reflections in the Comments section of our blog. We will also contribute our own thoughts from time to time. Succinct and thoughtful comments are greatly welcomed; lengthy diatribes, not so much!
Bob Crabtree is a founding partner of Kotin, Crabtree, and Strong (www.kcslegal.com). He has supported the work of the Federation for 40 years.