Newsline Volume 33, Number 4

From the Executive Director

A Tale of Two Worlds . . .

The Federation seeks to empower parents and family members to advocate on behalf of their children with special needs. In my work, I see the struggles of families who are seeking to access high quality educational services and health care in a time of scarce resources. I witness their creativity, resilience and persistence, and also their vulnerability.

I am also a member of my local school committee. The School Committee is the legal body who has the responsibility for delivering public education. The School Committee is responsible for setting policy, evaluating the Superintendent and presenting the annual budget. The struggles I witness within the District are different than those at the Federation. But I can see the power of the school system and how it affects families.

Recently I testified before the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint (Senate and House) Committee on Education concerning the needs of families in special education. I spoke in favor of three bills: House 499, "An Act Relative to Provide Equity and Fairness for Students with Disabilities" and its Senate counterparts, Senate 233 and Senate 259. These bills will allow parents to obtain attorney's fees if they prevail through settlements to obtain essential services, to establish that school districts have the burden of proof, and to allow parents to obtain reimbursement for the fees of educational experts when they prevail.

They address the impact of a series of Supreme Court decisions over the past 10 years, which created what are frequently insurmountable barriers for families who need to utilize the due process system to try and ensure their children receive essential services. This has resulted in the creation of a two tiered system which prevents low and middle income parents from a prompt resolution of disagreements over the type of placement their child may be in or ensuring the appropriate level of service.

In the midst of my testimony, I commented that I do live in two very different worlds, that of families and the other of schools. While schools face resource struggles, families are generally at a significant disadvantage. It is truly a "David and Goliath" reality. We need new legislation to level the playing field. Families are simply not in a position to afford necessary legal counsel and professional consultation when needed. They need to be able to access their due process rights without hindrance. Here's where my two worlds collide!

I believe that these bills would reinstate parents' rights as previously available prior to 2001 and would help level the playing field, reduce lengthy delays which deny children a free appropriate education as guaranteed by state and federal law. I urge you to share your own story with your state legislators to be sure everyone has a fighting chance.

Best wishes,

Rich signature

Rich Robison
Executive Director