Massachusetts has long been a front-runner in the field of special education. For over twenty years, the Massachusetts legislature has granted an individual entitlement to special education to all Massachusetts children with disabilities. This means that every child has the right to specialized instruction to meet the child’s unique needs at no cost to the parents regardless of where they attend school.
The Massachusetts regulations specify that “[s]pecial education provided by the school district to a private school student shall be comparable in quality, scope, and opportunity for participation to that provided to public school students with needs of equal importance.” (See 603 CMR 28.03 (e) (4)). Furthermore the regulations state that LEAs must provide nonpublic school students with disabilities a “genuine opportunity” to receive special education. (See 603 CMR 28.03 (e) (1)).
The “catch” for nonpublic school students with disabilities is in the implementation of this right. Services are offered only at the public school the student is zoned to attend and only during the school day. This means that these students must necessarily miss out on classroom instruction time and risk falling even further behind their peers in order to receive services.
Transportation to and from services is also not provided and this presents serious logistical challenges for working parents who must take time off from work several times per week to transport their children to and from services. For many working parents, this is simply untenable and as a result many students with disabilities forgo necessary services.
This arrangement is even more of a challenge for students with disabilities that attend an out of district public school. For example, a Sharon resident attending a nonpublic school in Brookline would be expected to travel back to Sharon in the middle of the school day to benefit from services. In some cases, students would spend up to 2 hours commuting to and from services to receive just half an hour of therapy. For most families this trade-off is simply not worthwhile.
For many students the right to services therefore exists only on paper.