Defending the Rights of Disabled Students in Massachusetts

In recent years, disabled students have achieved increased visibility in and out of the classroom. Roughly 15% of public school students nationwide in 2020-2021 were approved for disability accommodations. In Massachusetts, state and federal laws operate in tandem to ensure that disabled students receive the best possible support.

Despite this heightened awareness, not everyone understands the unique struggles disabled students face. In the event that you or your child receives unfair or discriminatory treatment at school because of a disability, you must seek out professional legal assistance. Because of his extensive experience navigating school bureaucracies, National Educational Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Student Defense Team are ready to work with you every step of the way.

Disabled Student Rights in Massachusetts

Disability Accommodations in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ensure that disabled students receive personalized accommodations and/or modifications for their education. In Section 504, those changes are outlined in a 504 Plan, while in IDEA, they're included in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It's essential to understand the differences between these laws to know which one would apply to you or your child.

IDEA

  • The student must not have graduated high school and must be under 21.
  • 13 categories of disability are eligible for IDEA, including deafness, blindness, autism, brain injuries, multiple concurrent disabilities, and others.
  • The disability must negatively impact a student's academic progress. School administrators will tailor an IEP to the disability to get the student back on track.
  • Each school must evaluate all students for IDEA eligibility. This is called Child Find.
  • IDEA provides funding to schools to implement their IEPs. IDEA applies to all public, charter, and public magnet schools.

Section 504

  • Section 504 applies to anyone of any age and isn't restricted to education like IDEA.
  • Section 504 covers any and all disabilities (including ADHD, unlike IDEA), but the student's disability must impact “major life activities.” This can include other issues beyond academic performance, like behavioral and/or emotional problems caused by a disability.
  • A 504 plan doesn't include the same tailored objectives as an IEP and has a looser organization.
  • Section 504 applies to any school or organization that receives federal funding. Section 504 itself does not provide funding like IDEA.

Examples of accommodations include extra time on tests, printed & spoken instructions, and verbal testing. Modifications can include supplementary educational opportunities, standardized testing stipulations, or even changes to what the student will learn in the curriculum.

ADA Issues and Lawsuits in Massachusetts

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act also requires schools, colleges, and universities in Massachusetts that receive federal funding to provide accommodations and/or modifications to disabled students. Title II covers a broad spectrum of disabilities, like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia.

The Department of Justice handles all private lawsuits in relation to Title II. An example includes this 2020 case in Massachusetts, in which a charter school was accused, among other things, of not providing ESL students with disabilities enough resources.

Massachusetts State Disability Laws

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is responsible for making sure that schools are creating effective IEPs and following federal law. In addition, Massachusetts may offer increased protections and opportunities for disabled students. In July of 2022, the governor signed a law stating that individuals without a high school degree who have autism or other intellectual disabilities can study as “non-matriculating” students at state colleges and universities. Additionally, Massachusetts state law stipulates that each school district has a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) so that schools and parents can collaborate to make sure that everyone's goals are met.

Despite these protections, discrimination is still possible, in which case National Education Attorney Joseph D. Lento can be of assistance.

Disability as a Mitigating Factor in Massachusetts

Disabilities Affecting Academic Progression Issues in Massachusetts

Even with accommodations, a student's disability may negatively impact their academic progress. In Massachusetts, an IEP would modify the expectations of satisfactory academic progress (SAP) based on the disability, ensuring that their success is not compared unfairly to non-disabled students. Besides the usual measurements like GPA, the IEP may also assess the disabled student's emotional and behavioral well-being to measure their SAP holistically.

IEPs and 504 plans are not always implemented correctly, and students may be judged by inappropriate SAP standards. If this is the case for you or your child, the ADA, Section 504, and/or IDEA could serve as effective defenses. The Massachusetts Department of Education also outlines procedures for hearings and mediations to sort out disagreements if a parent disagrees with the IEP.

In any of these cases, National Education Attorney Joseph D. Lento can collaborate with your school's administration to correct their error and ensure the student's renewed success.

Disabilities Affecting Misconduct Discipline in Massachusetts

Disabilities can also affect disciplinary proceedings in Massachusetts schools. IDEA provides additional protections to ensure that a disability is accounted for in misconduct cases. In Massachusetts, one of these stipulations is that any removal from school that exceeds ten days back-to-back or cumulatively is called a “change in educational placement.” This could trigger a “manifestation determination,” where the school reviews the misconduct to determine what role disability played in it. If their conclusion is that it was caused by disability, the disciplinary action can be undone.

In the event of a misconduct case, the Lento Law Firm can help make sure that your school is acting in accordance with disability law.

School Disability Attorney-Advisor Available in Massachusetts

Like all states, Massachusetts has an obligation to respect the ADA, Section 504, and IDEA. Massachusetts also provides additional benefits for disabled students, like SEPACs. However, there is always the possibility that a school disregard a student's disability. National Education Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Education Law Team can help make sure that disability and academic success go hand in hand. To retain attorney advisor Lento, call 888.535.3686 or visit his website today.