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What is Special Education?         Who qualifies for Special Education?      Eligibility under Section 504


504 Plan                                          IEP                                                               Requesting Evaluation


Transition (age 14-22)                   Rights

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Teacher and Student
What is SPED?
Who Qualifies?

What is Special Education?

Special education is a range of services provided in different ways and different settings, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a student with (dis)abilities.


Services and supports one child receives may be  different from what another child receives. It’s all about individualization.


Special education may provide students with accommodations, specialized instruction and/or related services that they require to make effective progress in school. 

In Massachusetts, the special education system is based on the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), in combination with the state's special education law (MGL c. 71B). These laws protect students with disabilities who are eligible for special education and guarantee them an Individualized Education Program (IEP) designed to meet their unique needs.

To Read More about What Special Education is, click the following link:​​

What Is Special Education

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Who qualifies for Special Education under IDEA?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that defines and regulates special education. The law requires public schools to provide special education services to children ages 3 to 21 who meet certain criteria. (Children younger than 3 can get help through IDEA’s early intervention services).

Students determined eligible for special education services must meet all three of the following criteria:

1) The student has a documented  (dis)ability* that is covered by IDEA

2) The student is not making effective progress

3) The student requires specifically designed instruction, or related services, to make effective progress​

* Disabilities covered by IDEA

  • Autism

  • Developmental Delay

  • Intellectual Impairment

  • Sensory Impairment – including:

    • Hearing Impairment or Deaf

    • Vision Impairment or Blind

    • Deafblind

  • Neurological Impairment

  • Emotional Impairment

  • Communication Impairment

  • Physical Impairment

  • Health Impairment

  • Specific Learning Disability

For state definition, please check out State definitions

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Eligibility Under Section 504


Children with (dis)abilities may be eligible for special education and related services under Section 504. That’s because Section 504’s definition of disability is broader than the IDEA’s definition.

To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:

have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or have a record of such an impairment; or be regarded as having such an impairment.

See below for more information regarding a 504 plan.

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504 Plan
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504 Plan

A Section 504 (commonly referred to as a 504 Plan) is a plan designed to accommodate the unique needs of an individual with a (dis)ability, as required by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).  


Children who have (dis)abilities, but whose (dis)abilities do not interfere with their ability to progress in general education are not eligible for special education services and may be entitled to a Section 504 Accommodation Plan.

Depending upon the student’s individual needs, a school district may be required to provide the following:

  • specialized instruction, modifications to the curriculum

  • accommodations in non-academic and extracurricular activities

  • adaptive equipment or assistive technology devices

  • an aide, assistance with health-related needs,

  • school transportation

  • other related services and accommodations.


To learn more please click this link 504 Plan

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An Individualized Education Program (IEP) describes the educational program that has been designed to meet that child’s unique needs. 

Each child who receives special education and related services must have an IEP. 

Each IEP must be designed for one student and must be a truly individualized document.  The IEP creates an opportunity for:

  • teachers,

  • parents,

  • school administrators,

  • related services personnel,

  • students (when age appropriate)

to work together to improve educational results for children with disabilities. The IEP is the cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability.

The Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) provides a process guide for the IEP.

Please click link to learn more about what customarily is included in an IEP.

To read up to date guidance about the implementation of IEP in the setting of COVID‑19 pandemic: 


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Requesting Evaluation

How do I request a school evaluate for special education services?

Submit a formal request in writing to your special education liaison. Recommendation: also also submit copies to your child's teacher and principal.


State law requires school districts to conduct a special education evaluation within 30 days after a parent requests testing. School districts do not have the option to refuse or delay testing for any reason.

The timelines for evaluations suggest:

  • Referral - Parent or professional identifies a child as possibly needing special education and related services.

  • Consent - Within 5 school days of the receipt of a referral, the school district notifies the parent and asks for written consent to evaluate.

  • Evaluation - Within 30 school days of written parent consent, credentialed trained specialist complete the evaluation.


The Team Meeting should occur within 10 school days from receipt of evaluation.  If you do not receive the evaluation, you have a right to receive copies of the evaluation reports at least 2 days prior to the team meeting by submitting a written request.

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Happy Teenager

Transition (ages 14 - 22)

Transition planning services begin at age 14 and the student is invited to IEP meetings.  The student needs to understand their role in developing their vision.


Transition starts with a student’s vision (ie Postsecondary Goals) determining what they want to do after they leave high school.  Their future should be based on [IDEA § 300.43]:

  • what they need

  • what they are good at

  • what they like

  • what they want to do

Each IEP meeting should include:

  1. Transition Planning Form (TPF) that includes Postsecondary Goals.

  2. Team members should talk about what a student is interested in doing after high school and what supports they will need to get there.

  3. Incorporate transition plan to the IEP Form to develop Annual IEP Goals & Transition Services.


Postsecondary Goals will likely change year to year as a student has different experiences and gains new skills.

To read more, please check the following links:


Transition timeline


Important Transition Information

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What are your rights as a student or a parent?


Please click on the following links to help you understand your basic rights under special education law and to learn about the special education process so you can collaborate with your school.  

SPED Rights

Basic Rights

BSEA dispute resolution process

*BSEA: Bureau of Special Education Appeals (due process hearing, mediation, facilitated Team meetings)

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