Overview of Massachusetts Regulations on Independent
By Steve C. Imber, Professor of Special Education, Rhode Island College
In 1974, Massachusetts passed a law designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents. In 1975, Congress passed a similar law. Both laws, with their accompanying regulations, describe the family’s right to an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
What is an IEE? It is an evaluation conducted by a person or persons
who are not employed by the school district.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law, says that parents have the right to obtain an IEE whenever they have a disagreement with an evaluation conducted by the school district, but no more than one per year in each area of suspected disability. Districts can inquire as to the nature of the parent’s disagreement but cannot “unreasonably delay” in responding to a request for an IEE. The district must agree to either pay for the IEE or initiate a due process hearing to demonstrate that its own evaluation is “appropriate.” Massachusetts regulations require school districts to respond to the parent’s request for an IEE within five school days. If the district’s evaluation is found to be “appropriate” the parents are still entitled to an IEE but not at public expense. If parents ask for referrals for outside evaluators, the school district must provide a list of qualified evaluators. The list must include all qualified evaluators within the geographic area. However, parents do not have to use an evaluator on the list. They can choose any qualified evaluator to conduct the IEE.
Massachusetts special education law and regulations provide additional requirements for IEEs that are not included in federal regulations. These include:
- Language about a “sliding scale.” Parents may disclose financial information about income, but it is a “voluntary” decision. If the parents choose not to disclose financial information, the school district must still consider the request and decide if their evaluations are adequate.
- A provision for state rate setting. This means that the school district will only have to pay the independent evaluator the fee set by the state. However, the regulations note that parents may be able to demonstrate that unique circumstances may justify a parent utilizing the services of an independent educational evaluator who does not accept the Massachusetts rates.
- A statement that a publically funded IEE, “continues for 16 months from the date of the evaluation with which the parent disagrees.” If it has been more than 16 months since the district evaluated the student, the district can ask the parents to allow the district to reevaluate, before agreeing to pay for an IEE.
- That an independent evaluation report should be completed within 30 days from the time that the parents have requested an IEE, “whenever possible.”
- A provision that a Team meeting must occur within 10 school days after the district and the parents receive a copy of the evaluation report to consider whether a new or modified IEP would be appropriate. While the district is able to have 10 school days to review an IEE prior to a Team meeting, parents only have two days to review an evaluation conducted by a school district. This occurs only in situations where the parent requested in writing to receive copies of the school district’s evaluations prior to the meeting.
- That an IEE report may include a recommendation about the type of placement that will address a child’s needs but not a specific placement, per se.
- That the IEE report will summarize procedures, assessments, results and diagnostic impressions as well as relevant recommendations for meeting the student’s needs.
The protection offered by the Massachusetts regulations on IEEs relative to the five school day rule is very positive because it requires districts to respond to parental requests for a publically funded IEE in a timely manner. Provisions relative to confidential information on income, state rate setting requirements and the 16-month window for requesting an IEE seem to include requirements that go beyond what the federal regulations require for publically funded IEEs.
Learn more about IDEA and read the federal special education regulations at http://idea.ed.gov/. Learn more about Massachusetts Special Education laws and regulations at http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/laws.html. For additional help understanding IEEs, or with navigating special education services and supports, call the Massachusetts Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) at 1-800-331-0688 or visit www.fcsn.org/pti