Changing conditions for many.
MAC prioritizes systems change – through legislative, regulatory, administrative or legal remedies – in order to have the greatest impact affecting the most children. Our legislative victories include The Autism IEP Act, an important provision of the Massachusetts special education law that includes protections for students who have a diagnosis of Autism. We have helped create reform that protects students and families across the Commonwealth.
MAC successfully advocated for an important state program, Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment, for young adults ages 18-22 with disabilities, bringing public institutions of higher education together with school districts to enable the students to attend college courses in an inclusive manner, participate in campus life, and develop employment and independent living skills.
MAC led the charge to reform school discipline law, leading to the enactment of Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012. This law will allow students who are excluded from school or facing exclusion to make academic progress during the period of their exclusion through alternative education programs and services provided by the school district. This law will also improve the fairness of the discipline process, and reduce the number and duration of school exclusions.
MAC’s administrative and legislative advocacy has led to the enactment of the following:
The Autism Omnibus Law
The Autism Omnibus Law is a landmark law addressing unmet needs of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reflecting many of the priority recommendations of the Commonwealth’s Autism Commission and MAC’s Autism Center.
This bill reflects the state legislature’s commitment to address the needs of the growing numbers of people with ASD in the Commonwealth. MAC and other stakeholders dedicated an enormous amount of effort advocating for passage of the bill, and we are thrilled that on August 6, 2014, the Governor signed the Autism Omnibus Bill into law.
The law includes the following key provisions:
- A requirement that MassHealth cover medically necessary treatments for children with ASD who are under 21 years old – including ABA therapies as well as dedicated and non-dedicated AAC devices;
- Extension of Department of Developmental Services (DDS) eligibility to many persons with Autism, Prader Willi Syndrome and Smith-Magenis syndrome;
- The creation of an Autism Endorsement for special education teachers to enable them to voluntarily gain in-depth knowledge about the complexities of educating students with ASD;
- The creation of tax-free saving accounts (called “Achieving a Better Life Experience” or ABLE) to help families cover anticipated disability-related expenses for individuals with ASD and other physical and developmental disabilities;
- Requiring DMH and DDS to develop and implement a plan to provide services to individuals who have both a mental illness and a developmental disabilities; and
- Establishing the Autism Commission as a permanent entity.
The Augmentative and Alternative Communication “AAC” Bill
MAC led a major campaign resulting in enactment of of the Center’s 2009-2010 priority legislation, An Act to Improve Teacher Training in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. The law ensures that teachers of students with moderate disabilities and teachers of students with severe disabilities receive instruction on the appropriate use of augmentative and alternative communication devices. The law is a critical first step, as teachers of students with moderate disabilities represent the majority of special education teachers. In enacting the AAC bill lawmakers recognized that it is essential to statutorily protect the rights of children with autism and other disabilities who are nonverbal or have limited speech and use AAC.
In 2011, MAC subsequently led strong advocacy efforts to ensure that the Department of Education issued regulations addressing issues critical to ensure full and effective implementation of the law. The Department issued regulations, and also agreed to issue Guidelines for the development of teacher preparation programs that address areas of concern voiced by MAC and others during public testimony. MAC provided extensive input to the Department in the creation of the Guidelines and developed a comprehensive list of AAC Resources that can be used to support the preparation of teachers of students with moderate to severe disabilities.
Additional information and resources are available in the Resources section of the Autism Center page.
- An Act to Improve Teacher Training in Augmentative and Alternative Communication
- DESE Guidance
- AAC Resources
- DESE Regulations – 603 CMR 7.00
- DESE Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers of Moderate and Severe Disabilities: Instruction on the appropriate use of augmentative and alternative communication and other assistive technologies
- Your rights regarding assistive technology and devices (including augmentative and alternative communication) under federal special education law.
Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver
One of MAC’s long term priorities was the development of the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver Program. The Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver is a program Massachusetts developed to provide intensive in-home services (such as ABA and DIR/Floor Time) for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other services that will support children who are from low-income families in their homes and communities.
Research demonstrates that children with autism who receive intensive in-home services can make substantial progress, and in some instances acquired skills within typically developing ranges, in areas of social skills, language acquisition, nonverbal communication, and reductions in challenging behaviors.
The program is limited to children between the ages of 0-8 who are Medicaid eligible and at risk of institutionalization now or at some point in the future. Each child is eligible for up to $25,000 worth of services per year. Under the Waiver, the federal government will reimburse Massachusetts 50% for the cost of intensive in-home services.
Massachusetts Advocates for Children continues to conduct legislative and administrative activities to work towards full implementation of the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver which provides intensive in-home services for low-income children at risk of institutionalization.
The Waiver presently has a capacity of 220 children with an extensive waiting list. MAC advocates vigorously for state appropriations to fund the Autism Waiver, which currently receives $4 million in funding from the legislature.
The Anti-Bullying bill supported by MAC was incorporated into the highly-publicized Anti-Bullying Act – Chapter 92 An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools signed by the Governor on May 3, 2010. The law ensures that IEP Teams address bullying of children on the autism spectrum, specifically focusing on the skills necessary to help individual children avoid and respond to bullying, harassment, or teasing. Requiring IEP teams to address bullying as it impacts individual students with ASD, coupled with provisions requiring school-wide bullying prevention programs, will help to work towards effectively mitigating the instances and effects of bullying for children with autism.
MAC conducted an online survey to document the extent of bullying of children on the autism spectrum in Massachusetts schools. The responses were overwhelming, as parents across Massachusetts courageously shared their children’s heart wrenching experiences. Their stories inspired MAC to publish Targeted, Taunted, Tormented: The Bullying of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (available in the Publications section of our website), which, along with the heartfelt testimony of parents and others at the legislative hearing, was instrumental in gaining the support of legislators for the autism anti-bullying bill.
The legislature responded to MAC’s advocacy, and the law addresses the needs of children with other types of disabilities as well. Specifically, the IEP must address skills needed to avoid and respond to bullying for all children with a disability that affects their social skills development or that otherwise makes them vulnerable to bullying, harassment or teasing.
MAC led statewide advocacy efforts providing input to DESE to ensure that the Department’s Technical Advisory and the Department’s Bullying Prevention and Intervention Resource Guide will help schools with implementation of the bullying prevention law. The Guidance document provides an integrated approach, consisting of whole school efforts to create safe and supportive school environments, as outlined in the DESE Model Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan, and the individual supports provided through the IEP process that will build students’ skill and proficiencies to avoid and respond to bullying.
The Short Term Objectives Act
In November 2013, Governor Deval Patrick signed important special education legislation that will require school districts to continue the current practice of including short-term objectives and benchmarks in the IEPs of all students with disabilities. The inclusion of measurable short-term objectives in IEPs is important to assist in measuring the impact of special education services, providing essential information for educators to adjust services and strategies in a timely fashion.
Many thanks to our leaders in the State House that are committed to equal opportunities for children with disabilities, including: lead sponsors Sen. Creem and Rep. Benson; Joint Education Chairs Rep. Peisch and Sen. Chang-Diaz; Senate President Murray; House Speaker DeLeo, and the many other legislators who supported this legislation.
The Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Grant Program
MAC has worked over the past few years at the legislative and administrative level creating, among other initiatives, a state program, Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment, for young adults ages 18-22 with severe disabilities who fail MCAS, bringing public institutions of higher education together with school district to enable the students to attend college courses in an inclusive manner, participate in campus life, and develop employment and independent living skills.
The Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment (ICE) line item supports school districts and state public institutions of higher education partnering together to offer inclusive concurrent enrollment programs for students with disabilities ages 18 to 22, the grant program is limited to said students who are considered to have severe disabilities and, in the case of students ages 18 and 19, is limited to students with severe disabilities who have been unable to achieve the competency determination necessary to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam. The goal of the grant program is to meet the transition needs of students with severe disabilities by developing the capacity of school districts, working in partnership with institutes of higher education, to support college success, participation in student life of the college community, competitive employment, and provision of a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
Read more about MAC’s transition work on our Special Education project page.
MAC worked successfully in 2005-06 to secure enactment of the Autism IEP Act which requires the IEP Team to consider and specifically address the full range of a child’s complex communication, social, behavioral, and academic needs resulting from ASD to help ensure provision of state-of-the-art supports and services. The law became effective in July 2006, and subsequently the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued a Technical Assistance Advisory regarding implementation of the law. Project staff integrated the strong components of this advisory into its training curricula to enable parents and professionals to utilize the state’s policy effectively and help implement the law.
Maintaining Transition Age Requirements for Students with Disabilities
MAC’s Transition Bill, S.286, An Act to Maintain Transition Ages Requirements for Students with Disabilities, was signed by the Governor in August 2008. Under the law, special education transition planning and transition services must commence at age 14, rather than waiting to age 16 as permitted under federal law. Transition services are critical to facilitate a student’s movement to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation. Delay beyond age 14 (waiting until high school) is too late to facilitate the most effective transition planning for youth with disabilities.
- The Transition Law
- Implementation Guidelines for Parents
- Implementation Guidelines for Professionals
House Bill 3720 (formerly H.159), An Act to Promote the Successful Transition of Students with Disabilities to Post-Secondary Education, Employment, and Independent Living
MAC was instrumental in the passage of H. 3720 (formerly H.159) An Act to Promote the Successful Transition of Students with Disabilities to Post-Secondary Education, Employment and Independent Living, codified as Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2012
The law requires the Board of Education to revise educator licensure regulations to provide a mechanism for current special education teachers and rehabilitation counselors to obtain a Specialist Teacher Endorsement in Transition Services.
With transition specialists prepared to provide services already required under federal law, the law helps to ensure that existing dollars are spent in a more effective manner and will improve competitive employment and independent living outcomes for students with disabilities ages 14 – 22 years old. The law also helps reduce litigation costs, by providing school districts with trained personnel necessary to fully implement the transition requirements of federal special education law.
Upon passage of the bill, lead sponsor Representative Tom Sannicandro stated, “this legislative victory belongs to a lot of people, including students and parents who told their story, who collected signatures, and who delivered their message to policy makers in a powerful way. This legislation will empower students with disabilities by better preparing them for independent living. Skills such as navigating a bus route, cooking a meal, and managing a budget will now be integrated into the curriculum for these students. This training will help more students with disabilities hold jobs and be active and engaged members of the community.”
The Parents (and their Evaluators) Observation Act
In 2008, with the pro bono assistance of Attorney Robert Crabtree, MAC led a significant legislative victory with passage of H. 391, An Act to Provide Access to Information for Parents’ Evaluators. This bill ensures that parents and independent evaluators will have access to observe special education programs, providing critical information needed to participate in the special education decision making process.
MAC then participated in the group of stakeholders convened by DESE to provide input to the agency as it drafted its guidance to school districts for implementing the bill. MAC provided key leadership in gathering information and coordinating in preparation for this meeting. DESE issued a balanced Advisory, consistent with legislative intent, notifying superintendents, principals, administrators of special education, and other interested parties that parents and independent evaluators have clear rights to observe special education programs. This law and advisory will help provide parents with critical information needed to participate in the special education decision making process.
Special Education Observation Bill (S391)
The Observation Bill Fact Sheet
The Observation Bill Technical Assistance (DESE Advisory)
School Discipline Law (Chapter 222)
Through the incredible advocacy of MAC’s School Discipline project, on August 6, 2012, Governor Deval Patrick signed House Bill 4332 into law as Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012. This law allows students who are excluded from school or facing exclusion to make academic progress during the period of their exclusion through alternative education programs and services provided by the school district.
This law will also improve the fairness of the discipline process, and reduce the number and duration of school exclusions.
- A summarized version of the bill
- A fact sheet explaining the details of the bill
- A copy of the bill signed by the Governor
- Letter sent to Governor Patrick encouraging him to sign bill
Trauma Sensitive Schools as part of the Alternative Education Act
Please click here to review the general laws at it relates to Trauma Sensitive Schools as part of the Alternative Education Act.
Section 19 of the Children’s Mental Health Act states:
There shall be a task force on behavioral health and public schools, within the department of early education and care, to build a framework to promote collaborative services and supportive school environments for children, to develop and pilot an assessment tool based on the framework to measure schools’ capacity to address children’s behavioral health needs, to make recommendations for using the tool to carry out a statewide assessment of schools’ capacity, and to make recommendations for improving the capacity of schools to implement the framework (read more).