GUARDIANSHIP OF AN ADULT IN MASSACHUSETTS

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CUT AND PASTED From a MHLAC so need to update/change

A guardianship is a relationship where one person (the guardian) is appointed by the court to make decisions for another person. A guardian may be appointed for a minor when the parents are deceased or incapacitated, or for an incapacitated adult. The types of decisions a guardian can make depend on the guardianship order. If the guardianship is plenary (also called full or general), the Incapacitated Person no longer has the authority to make decisions about his or her own healthcare, support, education and welfare. A limited guardianship, however, may allow the Incapacitated Person to participate in decision making to the extent they are able. A limited guardianship can be limited to certain decisions, such as medical decisions, or decisions about where the person will live, and the incapacitated person retains decision making power in all other areas not included in the guardianship. Under Massachusetts law, all guardianship should be limited to the extent possible.1 The court and physician completing the paperwork for a guardianship must consider limits on the guardianship based on the specific strengths and deficits of the Incapacitated Person to preserve the rights of the Incapacitated Person in specific areas.2 A guardian must take into account the preferences of the incapacitated person by following the incapacitated person’s express values and desires.3 A guardian must consider the best interests of the incapacitated person when making such decisions because they are a fiduciary.4 In making the guardianship order the court shall encourage the self-reliance and independence of the incapacitated person while taking into account the person’s limitations.5 If the guardianship is ultimately granted, the guardian reports to the court annually about the incapacitated person The authority of a guardian differs from a conservator in that a conservator makes legal decisions about a person’s property and financial matters. .

TRANSPORTATION IN MASSACHUSETTS

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Your child is on an IEP but have you thought about any transportation needs?

If your child doe NOT require any special transportation accommodations due to their disability, they will be transported like any other child in the district.  

If your child does require special transportation de to their disability, it needs to be identified and explained in their I.E.P.  Sometimes the child can still receive the “regular transportation” as other students but might have an attendant or their bus might be equipped with a wheelchair lift.

School cancelled due to weather:

Be mindful of snow/weather days. In Massachusetts in the past years, school days have been cancelled due to temperature, snow and wind. Sometimes one district will be open and another may not. If the district that is responsible for transporting your child is closed and the receiving district is open; the transporting district does not have to make arrangements to transport the child to the open district.

But isn’t there a time limit on how long a student can be on a bus?

There is a lot misunderstanding about this time limit. In Massachusetts, the applicable law requires that transportation to a special education placement may not take longer than one hour each way, except with the approval of the team. 

Here is what the law (603 CMR 28.06(8)(a) says as of the writing of this post:

(8) Transportation Services. The term transportation providers shall include the driver of the vehicle and any attendants or aides identified by the Team. The school district shall provide a qualified attendant on each vehicle that transports one or more students in need of special education, when such attendant is recommended by the Team in accordance with 603 CMR 28.05(5)(b).

(a) The district shall not permit any eligible student to be transported in a manner that requires the student to remain in the vehicle for more than one hour each way except with the approval of the Team. The Team shall document such determination on the IEP.

(b) The school district shall give transportation providers clear, written information on the nature of any need or problem that may cause difficulties for a student receiving special transportation along with information on appropriate emergency measures that may be necessary.

(c) The district shall provide an in-service training program for transportation providers. Such training program shall acquaint transportation providers with the needs of the students they are transporting and shall be designed to enable the transportation providers to meet those needs. All transportation providers shall be required to complete such in-service training prior to providing transportation services to eligible students.

(d) The district shall make sufficient inspections of equipment and unannounced spot checks throughout the year to ensure compliance with these requirements, and with all applicable state and federal safety and equipment laws, including M.G.L. c. 90.

This law applies to both in-district and out-of-district placements where the student is placed through their IEP.  If the parents of the student insist on a private placement/school that is located more than one hour away or requires travel on roads/highways that are known for heavy and/or unpredictable traffic times – they cannot later argue that this is in violation of the one-hour.

 Be sure you review the Education Laws and Regulations regarding transportation before your child’s next IEP meeting. Here is the link.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

 

Special Education Surrogate Parents (SESPs)

There are many ways that you can support children identified as being “DCF” (Department of Children and Families) involved that is a child who receives supports and/or services from DCF. If you are unsure of who or what DCF is or what they do their website identifies them as a Department that “works in partnership with families and communities to keep children safe from abuse and neglect. In most cases, DCF is able to provide supports and services to keep children safe with parents or family members. When necessary, DCF provides foster care or finds new permanent families for children through kinship, guardianship or adoption.”

There are many ways DCF can become involved in a child’s life.

Here is a quick overview of some of the common types of DCF cases:

Voluntary services and supports – the family is intact and is working with DCF to either manage or correct identified issues/concerns.

Care and Protection (“C&P”) – in these cases DCF has removed the child(ren) from the parent and/or guardian’s care and is now the custodian of the child(ren). This removal could be temporary or could be permanent.

Child Requiring Assistance (“CRA”) – in these cases DCF focuses on the family and provides services to help the child remain with the family and in the community.

Sometimes when a child becomes DCF involved, their parent(s) lose the right to make decisions on their behalf related to education. That’s when a SESP steps in and helps…

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What is the SESP Program?

The SESP Program fulfills “the mandates of federal special education laws which require that procedures be in place to protect the special educational rights of all children who may require special education services, including those who are in the care or custody of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or whose parents are unknown or unavailable, and ensure that the rights of these children to benefit from a free and appropriate public education are protected.”

What is the mission of the SESP program?

The mission of the Special Education Surrogate Parent Program is to promote positive educational outcomes for children and youth in state custody by providing volunteers to represent their best interests in the special education process.

Who is a SESP?

Special Education Surrogate Parents are volunteers who act on behalf of an assigned student who receives Special Education services or needs to be evaluated in order to receive Special Education services.  You do NOT need any special training to be a SESP. You will receive training and support to do this very important work that has a life long affect on a child.

As a SESP you have the same rights and authority of a parent. You ‘step into’ the shoes of the parent to make all education related decisions on behalf of your assigned student until either the parent regains the decision making authority, the child is placed in foster care and the foster parent wants to make the education decisions, the child is no longer in DCF custody or the child turns eighteen.

What are some tasks you may be do for your student?

  • Meet with and observe the student at school.

  • Review all school records and receive progress reports.

  • Sign evaluation consent forms.

  • Attend education related meetings for the student and be involved in the planning and discussions regarding their special educational needs.

  • Approve an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the student.

  • Monitor student's services, progress and educational placement.

If you want to become involved and help make a difference in the lives of these children, consider applying to be a SESP yourself by clicking here.

Attorney Curran has served as a Special Education Surrogate Parent for many students since 2017.

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

FIVE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A HEALTH CARE PROXY?

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A Health Care Proxy is a simple legal document that allows you to name anyone eighteen and older who you TRUST to be your Health Care Agent. This person will make health care decisions for you if, and only if, you are unable to make or communicate those decisions for yourself.

You may revoke your Health Care Proxy at any time simply by informing your Agent or your health care provider that you want to do so. However, it is always to put this in writing so there is proof that your named Health Care Agent no longer has the authority. You can also cancel your existing Health Care Proxy by executing a new Proxy.

Here are five reasons why you should have a valid Health Care Proxy:

 First Reason….

For some reason, there is a misconception that Health Care Proxies are for the elderly. This is not true. Every adult needs a health care proxy. Anybody can be in a situation where they’re temporarily unable to speak for themselves.

Your Health Care Agent’s authority to make health care decisions begins only after a determination is made that you lack the capacity to make or communicate your health care decisions.  For example, if you are temporarily unconscious, in a coma, or have some other condition so that you cannot make or communicate health care decisions.  This determination must be made in writing by your attending physician. You must be notified, it at all possible, of this determination. No decision of your Agent can go into effect if you object.

Second Reason…

Unfortunately if you do not have a health care proxy, your family may have an argument over who should make decisions and what those decisions should be. Sometimes families are unable to come to an agreement. When an agreement cannot be reached, the family will be forced to go to the Courts for guidance. The Court will most likely appoint either a third party or a member of your family to be your guardian. This guardian will ultimately have the authority to make all medical decisions on your behalf. The person the court picks to be your guardian may not be the person who you want to make your decisions.  

Third Reason…

Pick someone you trust. Pick someone you know will not be swayed by other people’s emotions and wishes but will instead stay true and honor YOUR desires and wishes. Pick a person that you have had an open and direct conversation with about your wishes and desires in various “worst-case” scenarios.

Your Health Care Agent will make decisions for you only after talking with your doctor or health care provider, and after fully considering all the options regarding diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of your illness or condition.  It is important that you have an open and honest conversation with your Agent regarding your potential wishes and any moral or religious beliefs that may influence any medical decisions that may need to be made. If your Agent does not know what your wishes would be, your Agent would make decisions on what they believe would be in your best interest.

Fourth Reason…

You can state restrictions on what should be done on your behalf. For example you can establish “Do Not Resuscitate” orders (also called DNR orders). DNR orders are written instructions stating you do not want CPR performed on you in the event of an emergency.

A person might want a DNR order for several reasons including they have a terminal illness, after they were resuscitated their quality of life would be greatly impacted and regardless of the efforts made their death is anticipated in the near future due to other medical conditions.

You might also have Religious and/or Moral beliefs that influence your medical decisions and how you live your life. You can state these beliefs and/or restrictions in your health care proxy to provide guidance to both the person making your health care decisions and the medical staff treating you.

Fifth Reason…

Mostly importantly, you are providing yourself and your family members with peace of mind. If you become incapacitated, there is a plan already in place. Knowing this has been taken care of in advance is of great comfort to families.

Have questions or concerns about your Estate Plan? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

Social and Emotional Learning Guidelines for Massachusetts Schools

Did you know that he Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (or more commonly called DESE) has Guidelines on implementing Social and Emotional Learning in schools in the Commonwealth? Now be cautioned that DESE only has guidelines and they are not frameworks/curriculum which makes them best practices but not mandatory in anyway to implement.

DESE’s goal is to “Promote systems and strategies that foster safe, positive, healthy, culturally-responsive, and inclusive learning environments that address students’ varied needs and improve educational outcomes for all.” This goal is represented in the graphic above, taken directly from DESE’s website.

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DESE has developed, using CASEL as a foundation, five core competencies to Social Emotional Learning. They are as follows:

Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one's emotions and thoughts and their influence on behavior. This includes accurately assessing one's strengths and limitations and possessing a well-grounded sense of confidence and optimism.

Self-management: The ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward achieving personal and academic goals.

Social awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Relationship skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. This includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, resisting inappropriate social pressure, negotiating conflict constructively, and seeking and offering help when needed.

Responsible decision making: The ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and the well-being of self and others.

But how does this help you and your student who struggles with

social and emotional difficulties?

You could print out the guidelines and use them to help you ask for services and/or supports to help your student.

You could use the guidelines as a guide to writing effective IEP goals and benchmarks.

You can educate your student’s teacher/aides/etc on some other ways they could support your student in accordance with DESE approved strategies.

You could review the guidelines and see if there are strategies you can incorporate into your child’s daily/home schedule.

You can refer to the guidelines to help you if there is a dispute with the school/district about what they can and cannot do (again remember the guidelines are just that and are not mandatory items a district must implement.)

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

SUMMER SUGGESTIONS

Aww the first few days of summer vacation are great! Then you start hearing the repetitive complaints of being bored. Here are some summer suggestions….

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Local Zoos and Aquariums

Many local zoos and aquariums have long and short term summer programs/camps.

Zoo New England offers a camp about of their locations (Franklin Park in Boston and Stone Zoo in Stoneham). At both camps. Zoo educators will lead campers through an adventurous week of animal explorations, hands-on activities, animal-related games, and crafts. 

New England Aquarium offers camps for older students. For example, their Harbor Discoveries is an interactive marine and environmental science program that incorporates traditional camp activities. Through exploration of local marine habitats and the Aquarium, and an excitement for ocean conservation, Harbor Discoveries enhances the passion and potential impact that young people can have in and for the ocean.

Local Libraries

Many folks overlook the hidden gems that are their local libraries. Many libraries offer teen hours, story time, STEM activities, activities geared to siblings and/or parent bonding. Some libraries also offer opportunities for older students to work with either younger students or students with special needs.

Check out your local library’s website and/or stop in and ask some questions. IF you don’t see something that is appropriate for your child, ask if they know of an appropriate offering or would they be willing to coordinate something. You will be surprised by how much knowledge these librarians have and are willing to share with those that ask.

Local Recreation Departments

Almost every town/city has a recreation department that offers a wide variety of short-long term offerings. Many towns/cities are also willing to help financially, just ask what your town’s policy is about scholarships. Again if you do not see something that is a ‘right’ fit for your individual child, call and ask if they can accommodate. If they cannot accommodate, don’t be upset. Instead ask them if they know any more appropriate options. Again these folks have a plethora of information and are always willing to share it with interested parties.

ANOTHER SCHOOL YEAR IS COMING TO A CLOSE ... THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

As the school year wraps up, there are still things you can do to help your student end on a positive note. Here are some suggestions:

Say "Thank You" to those who helped.

Many people contributed to your student’s progress. Some of their contributions were obvious such as the bus driver, the aide, and the classroom teacher. But do not forget about the many others that were there as a support such as the school nurse, the lunchroom staff, and the recess staff. You should ask your student who they think helped and supported them – you might hear a name you were not aware of.

Review your child’s IEP and progress.

Did your child make progress this school year? Did the school properly implement the IEP? Does the IEP adequately address your child’s needs? Do your child’s Goals prepare your child for further education, employment, and independent living?

Visit the new school or classroom.

Will your student be changing schools? Going from elementary to middle or middle to high school? Schedule a visit to the school before the first day of school. If necessary get your student’s schedule and practice how they will get from class to class; to the lunchroom and the bus/drop-off area.

Are you leaving the district?

Whether you move to another town in the same state or a whole new state, your child's new school has a responsibility to obtain your child's school records promptly. Some school districts allow you to pick up your child's records and bring them to the new school yourself - this is not allowed in every district. When you request that the documents be sent to the new school, ask how long this process usually takes and then schedule a call to the new school to confirm their receipt. 

 The new school should review the child's current Individualized Education Plan (i.e. the IEP) to understand the child's diagnosis, special education services, related services etc. that your child currently has in place to provide him or her with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). The new school needs to provide your child with services, placement, aides, etc. that are similar or comparable to what is stated in the child's existing IEP.  The new school cannot tell you that they "do not do that in their district." 

Summer plans.

Is your student going to see and/or communicate with their friends during the break? If not try and set up some play dates before school ends so that your student has some reassurance of continued contact.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

FIVE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE A LIVING WILL

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A health care proxy and a living will are both directives used by individuals to control the medical treatment they receive in the event that they become incapable of making or communicating health care decisions in the future. Even though a Living Will is NOT legally enforceable in Massachusetts it is still a good document to have in your estate plan.

Here are five reasons why you should have a valid living will:

First Reason….

Massachusetts gives explicit recognition and protections only to health care proxies. So why should you have a Living Will in Massachusetts?  Your Health Care Agent has the ultimate authority regarding end of life care, but a living will is a good source of guidance for your family, doctors and your Health Care Agent.

 Second Reason…

A living will sets for the specific written instructions that you have regarding your treatment preferences in various hypothetical medical situations.  Living wills tend to focus on end-of-life situations and decisions about pursuing or terminating treatment, including life-sustaining measures.

Third Reason…

If a disagreement occurs among your family members while you are incapacitated over what the right medical decisions are for you, the person who has the authority to make your health care decisions can use the Living Will as evidence to support their decisions.

Fourth Reason…

The Living Will is your own expression of your attitudes and wishes about your health care that was executed while you were competent. It  is sometime called a Personal Wishes Statement.

Fifth Reason…

Even though there is no legal significance to the Living Will, most physicians will follow the directions you state in the document. This is especially true if you have taken the time to discuss your wishes and desires with your primary care physician before an emergency situation arises.

Have questions or concerns about your estate planning? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com 

EXTENDED SCHOOL YEAR (ESY)

Extended School Year (ESY) programs are described under state and federal special education requirements and have been further interpreted through case law. Many find this topic confusing and challenging. Here are the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) we hear on this topic…

 What is ESY?

ESY is not the same thing as summer school. It is specialized instruction or related services that are a part of your child’s IEP. It is offered most typically during the summer school vacation period.

The services are individualized to help each child maintain his skills and not lose the progress he’s made toward his goals. For some kids, this may mean one-on-one tutoring. For others it may be a few sessions of occupational therapy or speech therapy each week. What ESY looks like for your child is a decision made by his IEP team.

Who is ESY meant for?

Not every child with an IEP requires an extended school year.

 All children "regress"--lose progress, forget, revert to previous behavior--to some extent between school years. It must be determined whether a child's regression would likely be substantial, and whether the child would require a greater than usual time to "recoup"--to get back to the level the child had achieved before a break in service.

 Decisions about ESY programs must be made on an individual basis, taking into consideration the unique needs of the child.

 What is the cost to me if my student needs ESY?

If ESY is included in your student’s IEP as a required service, it is at no cost to the parents/guardians.

When does the school need to decide if the student needs ESY?

At least once annually the child's Team must consider the need for an extended school year program and record its determination in the child’s IEP. A Team's determination regarding the need for an ESY program must be made on an individual basis.

 How do I figure out what my school district looks for in deciding if a student needs ESY?

Every school district must have a written policy and procedures regarding the provision of extended school year programs. The policy and procedures must detail the criteria used by a Team for individually determining the need for ESY programming. In order to ensure consistent staff implementation of its ESY policy, each school district must train all staff involved in Team evaluations to implement the ESY policy and procedures.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EDUCATIONAL DETERMINATION AND MEDICAL DIAGNOSIS OF AUTISM?

Parents are often surprised to learn that a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not automatically entitle a student to special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).  It is important for parents to understand the differences between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of eligibility for special education services so that they can appropriately advocate for their children.

Autism ASD

Medical diagnosis of ASD:

People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items. Again, the symptoms of people with ASD will fall on a continuum, with some individuals showing mild symptoms and others having much more severe symptoms. This spectrum will allow clinicians to account for the variations in symptoms and behaviors from person to person.

A medical diagnosis of ASD is made by a doctor or other specially trained clinician by using symptom criteria set in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 eliminated the subcategories established in the DSM-IV and grouped all the conditions under the name of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Under the DSM-5 criteria, individuals with ASD must show symptoms from early childhood, even if those symptoms are not recognized until later. This criteria change encourages earlier diagnosis of ASD but also allows people whose symptoms may not be fully recognized until social demands exceed their capacity to receive the diagnosis. It is an important change from DSM-IV criteria, which was geared toward identifying school-aged children with autism-related disorders, but not as useful in diagnosing younger children. Under DSM-5 the doctor/clinician is looking for symptoms that limit and impair everyday functioning, but this should be interpreted broadly.

Educational determination of eligibility:

By contrast, educational eligibility is decided by a team comprised of the student’s parents and various school professionals. The team must find that he student qualifies for services under IDEA. The purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.” See 20 USC section 1400(d)(1)(A)

Eligibility for special education services is based, rather, on an educational determination of a disability. The Team will consider the following questions to determine if a student is eligible :

  1. Is there a disability?  IDEA requires that the student have at least one of the fourteen specified disabilities and need special services.

  2. Is the student not making effective progress due to the disability? It is possible for a student to have a medical ASD diagnosis but not qualify for special education services. If this is true of your child, consider a 504 Plan where they could qualify for other services, such as accommodations.

  3. Does the student need specialized instruction to make effective progress?

  4. What related services does the student need to access the general curriculum?

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

PROPER LANGUAGE HELPS EASE THE STIGMA OF HAVING A MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS

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Mental illness is common but it is often misunderstood. Many people make generalities about mental illness. They tend to think that all mental illnesses are the same. A particular mental illness may tend to show a certain range of symptoms, not everyone will experience the same symptoms - for example many people with schizophrenia may hear voices, while others may not.  Mental illnesses are not purely 'psychological' and can have many physical features. While a mental illness may affect a person's thinking and emotions, it can also have strong physical effects such as insomnia, weight loss or gain, increase or loss of energy, chest pain and nausea.

When you are told for the first time that you have a mental health diagnosis, it’s hard to understand what that means. Many people instantly think of how mental health issues are portrayed in movies and on television.  Many are scared of how others will now treat them. They struggle with comprehending what this diagnosis means for their day to day life. Will they get better or will it get worse? Is there a way to cure and/or mitigate the diagnosis? Are they now considered “crazy”?

Sometimes it is harder for the individual to share with their family and friends their diagnosis than being told about the diagnosis.  Words matter.  When a loved one tell you about their diagnosis, be mindful of your response and what words you use to respond. It was not easy for them to share this information with you and how you respond is going to set the tone for any future relationship you may have with them.  It is important to remember that your loved one is the same person – they are just dealing with a diagnosis. Do not make the mistake of thinking that this individual is now their diagnosis.  

Always think of the individual first. This will help you minimize making stereotypes and assumptions. Your loved one needs support but sometimes they don’t know what type of support or how much they need. Be understanding while they work out their needs. They need to figure out how to deal with their symptoms and what their goals are in regards to their diagnosis.  

Try and remind them of their strengths and the positives in their life. “You are a sister. You are a teacher. You are a person living with Bipolar Disorder. You are a support for the community via all of your volunteer work.” 

Negative language reinforces discrimination and isolation in society. Try avoid making negative comments even as a joke. Try and be mindful of not using derogatory adjectives such as “crazy,” “bonkers,” and “wacko.” Don’t make the individual a victim of the disease “suffers from mental illness” or “is a victim of mental illness.”

People who live with mental health issues are strong. Their strength may not be overt but it takes strength to get and make it through the day each day when you have to put in extra effort that no one else is aware of. Be supportive in your words and in your actions.

Have questions or concerns about your loved one? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

SUPPORT FOR STUDENTS WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES

MENTAL HEALTH

It is normal for children and youth to experience various types of emotional distress as they develop and mature. Let’s be honest, today’s youth are dealing with a wide assortment of topics and stressors that many of us did not experience when we were there age. There is widespread cyberbullying, drug exposure, immigration issues, unstable home lives, body shaming, community violence and abuse just to name a few.

Some students are not equipped with the “tools” to effectively handle their emotions in situations. Sometimes these students will act out in school, not to get attention but to get help and guidance.  As a society we need to look more closely at these “difficult” students to figure out if there is an underlying issue or if it is typical ‘kid’ behavior. When symptoms persist, it may be time to seek professional assistance.

Here are some suggestions for Parents:

It’s okay to make mistakes.  Unfortunately, when you child is born the hospital does not send you home with a manual on how to raise them and address issues that might pop-up. Remember that you are human and you will make mistakes and its okay. Seek out parent support groups so that you can interact with other parents who are dealing with similar struggles. Keep trying until you find the thing(s) that work best for you and your child.

Conversation Matters. Let your child know that they can speak to you about anything they are thinking about without judgment. Let them know that you are there to help them with their thoughts, feelings and/or situations they are dealing with. Be sure you do not get angry or pass judgment. Really listen to what they have to say – you do not have to agree with them but they need to know you hear them. Depending on what they express to you, it may be wise to seek professional support for them.

Parental Presentation. Create a safe haven for them when they are struggling and/or in crisis. Let them know that you will give them some time and space to settle down. When you do talk to them, use a low and soft tone of voice and short statements.  Do your best to remain calm and stable during this period so that your stress does not exacerbate their feelings. Help them process by asking them questions that help them critically think about what they went through “What can you do the next time you are in a situation like this?” or “What made you feel better the last time you felt this way?”

Here are some suggestions for Teachers:

Start Fresh. Do not allow other colleagues opinions of a student cloud your judgment before you get to know the student yourself. Develop your own relationship with the student and ask them what works well for them when they are struggling.

Use your experience to guide you not to limit you. As a former teacher, I can still remember the names of the most “difficult” students that I worked with. I had to constantly remind myself that each student is different and just because Billy and Johnny have the same behaviors, it does not mean the same techniques and approaches that worked for Billy will work for Johnny.

Be Patient. Most of my “difficult” students wanted to do well in school and wanted a positive relationship with me and their peers. I disagreed with colleagues who called these students “slackers” and/or “trouble makers.” I sometimes had to remind myself that turning in a worksheet might not be high up on the student’s to do list especially if they are dealing with abuse and/or neglect at home.  I would find the good in what the student did and praised it so that they knew I was paying attention and their had work was not being overlooked.

Be supportive. Review your student’s IEP to see what suggestions are stated therein. Reach out to the school’s guidance counselor and see if there are any evidence-based programs that you could easily implement into your classroom routines. It would not only support your “difficult” child but the entire class as a whole. 

When should you seek additional support? 

  • If it's an emergency in which you or someone you know is suicidal, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.

  • If you can wait a few days, make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider or pediatrician if you think your child's condition is mild to moderate.

  • If your child's symptoms are moderate to severe, make an appointment with a specialized doctor such as a psychiatrist. You may need to contact your community mental health center or primary health care provider for a referral.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

SUSPENSIONS IN MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOLS

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What rights do you have if your student is being disciplined?

  • The school must contact you in your preferred language.

  • The school must offer to meet with you to discuss the situation and the consequence.

  • The school must allow your student to make up missed work if they are suspended.

  • The school is supposed to use discretion in deciding a consequence/resolution of the issue.

In-school suspension (removal from classroom) no more than 10 school days each year.

  • The school must notify you – in you in English and your preferred language – that it is suspending your student. The school must offer to meet with you on the day of the in-school suspension.

  • Before suspending, the school must tell your student the reason it thinks they broke the rules. Your student has the right to tell their side of the story. IF the school decides your student broke the rules and suspends them, the school must offer to meet with you to discuss your student’s academics, behavior and the best ways to get them back on track.

  • There is no right to appeal this suspension

  • Your student must be allowed to take any quizzes/tests missed during the suspension.

Short-term suspension (removal from the school) no more than 10 school days each year.

  • BEFORE the school can suspend your student, the school must notify you – in English and your preferred language – and invite you to a hearing.

  • At the hearing, the school must tell you why it plans to suspend your student and for how long. Your student has the right to tell their side of the story. If the school decides that your student broke the rules, you can suggest consequences other than suspension that better address the situation. For example, if your student allegedly vandalized a classroom; you could suggest that the student spend twenty-hours cleaning the school and/or school grounds.

  • There is no right to appeal this suspension

  • Your student must be allowed to take any quizzes/tests missed during the suspension.

IF your student was suspended once or several times over a school year for more than 10 total days, it counts as a long-term suspension and you have more rights see below.

Long-term suspension (IN or OUT of school)  more than 10 school days per year, served either consecutively or cumulatively. 

  • BEFORE the school can suspend your student, the school must notify you – in English and your preferred language – and invite you to a hearing.

  • At the hearing, the school must tell you why it plans to suspend your student and for how long. Your student has the right to tell their side of the story. You have the right to bring an attorney or an advocate to the hearing. You have the right to present your own evidence, question the school’s witnesses and bring your own witnesses.

  • If the school decides that your student broke the rules, the school must show that it tired an alternative to suspension before it can suspend. For example: mediation, conflict resolution, positive interventions/supports and restorative justice.

  • If you disagree with the school’s decision, you can appeal it. The school must put in writing their reasons for suspending your student and explain how you appeal. You have five (5) days to appeal unless the school agrees, in writing, to a longer time period.

  • Your student has the right to be educated during the suspension. If your student is being suspend for more than 10 days in a row, the school must provide other academic options to your student.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com 

COMMON REASONS TO UPDATE YOUR WILL

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A valid will can fulfill several purposes. A will directs the distribution of the signer's probate estate after the signer's death. It nominates fiduciaries, provides the fiduciary with the authority they need to act and it disposes of probate assets. The will nominates a Personal Representative who will guide the estate through the probate process.  

Drafting a Last Will and Testament is not an enjoyable task for many of us. Once we draft a will, we tuck it away some where safe and forget about it. That’s not advisable. There are many reasons for you to pull out that Will and review it every three to five years.

Here are just a few reasons for you to make updates to what you once thought was ‘perfect.’

  • You had children and they are not listed in the existing will.

  • You need to name a guardian for your minor children or maybe you want to change the person you selected.

  • You got married.

  • You had minor children when you drafted the existing will and now they are grown with their own children.

  • Your assets greatly decreased.

  • The people you named in the will as beneficiaries are deceased.

  • You got divorced.

  • If you moved to a new state you need to make sure your will confirms with the requirements of your new state. Each state has its own legal requirements for drafting and executing a Last Will and Testament.

  • Your assets greatly increased.

  • Your spouse predeceases you.

  • You want different people to fulfill the roles necessary… personal representative, guardian, etc.

 Never try to change a will by writing in the margins, crossing out words, lines, or sections of the original will. This only invites confusion, and is likely to lead to drawn-out conflicts over your will. Always seek out the advice of a local attorney. Sometimes you can just add a codicil to your Last Will and Testament. A codicil is a separate document that adds to or replaces one or more provisions in an existing will while leaving the rest of the will untouched and valid.

Have questions or concerns about your estate planning? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549

EDUCATION ADVOCATES EMPOWER PARENTS ...

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A good advocate takes time to know your child …

It is important for your education advocate/attorney to meet the student. Most of the time this can be done at home or at the advocate/attorney’s office. In order to advocate zealously for the student, we need want to have a sense of who the student is as an individual so that we can better understand their educational strengths and difficulties. This will help us understand whether or not their current IEP goals and benchmarks are both unique and complimentary to the student.

Another reason it is important for your advocate/attorney to get to know the student is so that the student’s voice is heard. Maybe they don’t like math and their struggles are not the result of an unidentified learning disability but instead their disinterest. Maybe they are experiencing bullying and are too embarrassed to tell their parents/guardians. The student’s relationship with the advocate is just as important as the advocate’s relationship with their parents/guardians. Sometimes what is in the best interest of the student is not what the parents/guardians want so it will be vital to have some insight to what the student wants to help resolve any real or perceived conflicts.

We empower parents/guardians by...

Education Advocates/Attorneys are great to help the student and their parents/guardians through a tough situation. We can help you carefully read your student’s school records, testing, and IEP. We can help you draft letters to the appropriate school personnel. We can help you prepare for an IEP meeting ~ in some instances we may even attend the meeting with you. We can often see solutions not immediately obvious to other people. We can be neutral parties to help break the tension and distrust that may exist between the interested parties. We can provide information about special education options, requirements and programs.

However, our goal is to educate the parent/guardian so that they understand the special education process. This way the parent/guardian can become a better advocate for their own student.

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

Transition Planning... dos and don'ts

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What does “Transition” mean?

Transition plans for a student’s post high school life. Transition planning should focuses on the student’s academic and non- academic courses and learning experiences, employment and related training opportunities, as well as their community living, and leisure activities.

In Massachusetts Transition Planning starts at age 14 and should include:

  • Includes experiences both in school and in the community

  • Helps define direction/vision

  • Seeks opportunities for skill development

  • Focuses on the youth’s strengths, preferences, and interests

Experts and advocates say that high schools can do more to help improve the situation, though. Good transition planning and services can help special education students flourish after high school. The best transition planning requires several things, according to experts:

  1. An accurate and thoughtful assessment of a student’s abilities and interests.

  2. Clear, measurable goals related to his or her post-secondary aspirations.

  3. Appropriate support and services to help them achieve their goals.

Putting the plan into action 

Federal law says schools are supposed to make sure students follow the steps in their plans, but there is no one watching to make sure they do. “One of the most frustrating things is there’s not services to back up the goals, even if the goals aren’t bad,” Blaeuer said. “It’s very perfunctory.”

Parents often have to take on the burden of making sure their children are getting the support they need to meet their transition goals because schools simply don’t devote enough resources to this part of special education. Some schools have a full-time coordinator focused on transition services. More commonly, special education teachers — who already have a full teaching load — are in charge of overseeing transition plans.

Some good resources related to transition planning:

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Special Education: Transition from School to Adult Life.

Federation for Children with Special Needs - the Link Center

Have questions or concerns about your student? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

NEXT-GENERATION MCAS...IS YOUR STUDENT READY?

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Whether we like it or not, MCAS is here to stay; at least for the foreseeable future. Beginning in Spring 2019 the new version of MCAS called “Next-Generation MCAS” will be given to all grades and it will be administered exclusively on computer (with paper versions as accommodations).  Next-Gen MCAS is the first major revision of the MCAS test since it was first administered. The next-generation MCAS is designed to assess whether a student is prepared for academic work at the next level and is therefore forward-looking. The current MCAS remains a requirement through the class of 2019.

Why is there a new version of MCAS?

The new version combines the ‘best’ features from PARCC and the almost twenty-year-old MCAS assessment. The new version is meant to align with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, introduces new types of questions/items to more “deeply assess the standards”; focuses on students’ critical thinking abilities, application of knowledge and ability to make connections between reading and writing. Next-Gen MCAS still focuses on English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Science and Technology/Engineering. The tests results are meant to provide reliable feedback on whether students are on track for success after high school.

Who takes MCAS?

Every student receiving a publicly funded education in Massachusetts, regardless of the setting, must participate in MCAS testing. For students with an IEP or 504 Plan, the Team decides how the student will participate: without accommodations, with accommodations or MCAS-Alt. 

New Accessibility features and accommodations:

Universal Accessibility Features (UF):  These modifications to the test environment are available to ALL students and include the use of highlighters, scratch paper, untimed test and repeating or clarifying instructions.

Designated Accessibility Features (DF): These modifications include things such as small group testing, different testing room/setting; 1:1 testing; and allowing student to have frequent breaks. These flexible test administration procedures may be used with ANY student, at the discretion of the principal.  You may specifically ask for DF items on your child’s IEP – put it on the ‘additional page’ of the IEP.

Accommodations (A): Accommodations have not been changed. Students with disabilities are still able to incorporate accommodations that they need and use routinely in the classroom. The Team should list these accommodations on the child’s IEP/504 Plan.

For more information about accessibility features and accommodations click here

Next Gen MCAS "Achievement Levels"

The new standards for Meeting Expectations are more demanding than the standards for the old-MCAS. What does that mean? DESE predicts that more students will struggle to pass Next-Generation MCAS. Their reasoning for keeping it this way is “The next-generation MCAS is designed to assess whether a student is prepared for academic work at the next level and is therefore forward-looking. This is a different expectation for students, because the older MCAS looked at a student's level of preparation for the grade level in which they were tested.”

Please visit the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's website to learn more about the Next-Generation MCAS' scoring by clicking here.

What can you do to help your child?

Reach out to your child’s teacher and find out where your child needs to focus/practice; ask about MCAS prep classes and/or other opportunities being offered by the school/district to help support students who are not succeeding according to the test’s results.

Review your student’s IEP/504 Plan to make sure that it identifies individualized, specialized instruction or support that allows them to both access and learn the general curriculum as well as any skills required to make progress with the general curriculum.

Sometimes we try to shield our children from ‘undue stress.’ We highly recommend that you do not pull your student from lower grade MCAS testing. Allow them to participate and see what it is like to sit for the test. By the time they get to high school, where the test results have the most impact and consequences, you do not want them trying it for the first time. Remember students with disabilities must pass MCAS and fulfill all other graduation requirements in order to receive a diploma.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com

School Resource Officers ("SROs") in Massachusetts Schools

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A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education (Department), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) , warns schools of the risks of using School Resource Officers (SROs) in educational situations. In this case Lynn used an SRO as a “support person” in dealing with a student whose behavior had quickly declined. 

Brief summary of the facts in the complaint:

During the 2014-2015 school year, the Student who was at the center of the complaint was on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for an emotional disability.  The Student was known to perseverate on problems and had focus issues. The IEP indicated she needed guidance to learn how to successfully regulate her emotions and would need to meet with the school adjustment counselor.

The first half of the school year, until about January, passed without incident or concerns.  Beginning in January 2015 and more noticeably in February, the Student began to decompensate. She struggled with her academics; she had an increase in absences, tardies and dismissals; and  was suspended at least 12 times during March and April for violations such as refusal to go to class, disruptive and disrespectful behavior, swearing, and wandering the halls. By comparison, the Student had no suspensions at the start of the school year.

At a Team meeting held at the start of May, it was determined that the behaviors resulting in the Student’s suspensions were related to her disability. It was also decided that the District should conduct a FBA and a 45-day assessment, but the team could not agree on a place for the assessment. The District wanted to place the Student at their in-district school for “educationally at risk Students who have not been successful in a traditional high school setting.” The Student and her representatives requested an out-of-district assessment and placement.  Since an agreement could not be reached, the team agreed to reconvene a week later to determine an appropriate placement.

Prior to the second meeting, the Student once again had difficulty attending class.  The Student went to the vice principal’s office and the SRO was called to assist. The social worker and vice principal explained to OCR that the SRO was often called as an additional support member for the Student to talk to. The SRO’s report from the incident stated that the Student’s refusal to attend class had been an ongoing issue in the school year, indicating he had some awareness of the Student’s challenges. The SRO brought the Student down to his office, where the school social worker stopped by. According to records and interviews, the Student became loud and squirted hand sanitizer on the social worker. The social worker left to go get the principal. The principal asked the Student to clean up the hand sanitizer and when he handed her paper towels, the Student smacked his hand away. The SRO then arrested the Student and removed her from the building. Following this incident, the Student did not return to the school.

So what is the role of the SRO in the District?

To better understand the role of SROs in the District, OCR requested any policies and documentation related to SRO involvement in the school. In response, the District provided OCR with a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the District, the Lynn Police Department, and the Essex County District Attorney’s Office to “coordinate their response to violent, delinquent or criminal acts by Students, including weapons reporting and alcohol and other drug use, that occur on school premises, school buses, or at school-related events.” The MOU does not address the presence of SROs in the District. The MOU did not address nor did the District have any other internal policies related to District staff engaging an SRO with routine discipline matters. The District also stated that it did not maintain any records related to SRO involvement with Students in the school.

The Student’s informal supports included check-ins with the SRO, whom District witnesses explained was “often” called upon as a “support member” for the Student. The District continued to involve the SRO to provide support services to the Student after concluding that the behavioral issues (including combative behavior) were a manifestation of the Student’s disability – and prior to conducting further evaluation or changing the Student’s services to address her needs. While the SRO was a support person for the Student, the District should realize that involving an SRO in non-criminal matters comes with an added risk to the Student because the SRO’s primary responsibility is law enforcement and not ensuring a Student with a disability is provided with a FAPE. Here, the SRO arrested the Student for behavior that was similar to the behavior that only days before was found to be a manifestation of the Student’s disability – but which remained unaddressed by the District at this time. While a Student with a disability can be referred to the police for criminal behavior, it appears everyone noted that the Student was struggling and nothing had been done yet to assess how to address her needs when she was arrested. The District also lacked any policies on the involvement of SROs with Students with disabilities, and in this case, it does not appear that the SRO was made aware of the team’s manifestation determination.

Conclusion:

“Without clear policies, procedures, and record keeping with regard to SRO involvement with Students, the District cannot ensure that its use of SROs does not discriminate against Students with disabilities by, e.g., resulting in further exclusion for disability-related behavior.”   Although this does not create clear guidelines that should be implemented in Districts across the Commonwealth, it does clearly put districts on notice of the risk of involving SROs in school matters that do not include criminal behavior.

To helpful further clarify the role of SROs, the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act amends Chapter 69 of the Massachusetts General Laws, and has implications in our schools. The Act requires that schools enter into written agreements with local police departments regarding the role of the School Resource Officer, and that the agreement “shall state that SROs shall not serve as school disciplinarians, as enforcers of school regulations or in place of licensed school psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors and that SROs shall not use police powers to address traditional school discipline issues, including non-violent disruptive behavior.”

This is an area that will need to be monitored across the Commonwealth.

Have questions or concerns about your child's education? Contact us to discuss further:

E.M. Curran & Associates LLC

10 Tower Office Park
Suite 406
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-933-1542
Fax: 781-933-1549
ellen@emcurranlegal.com