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


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.


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


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


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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


Many children have difficulty with reading, writing, or other learning-related tasks at some point, but this does not automatically mean they have learning disabilities. A child with a learning disability often has several related signs, and these persist over time. The signs of learning disabilities vary from person to person.

Here is an incomplete list of some of the COMMON signs that a child MAY have learning disabilities:

  • Problems staying organized.

  • Poor coordination.

  • Problems with math skills.

  • Difficulty with reading and/or writing.

  • Problems paying attention (staying focused).

  • Difficulty remembering information and time-related skills/tasks.

  • Trouble following directions.

If your child is having difficulty with reading and has some of the common signs identified above, speak to their teacher about having them evaluated. 

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Reading is considered by many to be the most important literacy skill. When your student is in the elementary grades, most of their school day focuses on skill acquisition in reading. When your student moves on to junior and high school, it is presumed that they have reading skills. Your student receives the majority of their content subject information via reading. 

Reading is often an area of difficulty for students with disabilities. Young students may not learn the basic skills of reading at the expected rate; they may fall behind their classmates in their ability to decode and understand the written word. Older students who struggle may lack the skills needed to use reading as a tool for learning other skills and subjects.

Reading should be an area of major concern in special education assessment.  The Team should be asking “What is the student’s current level of reading achievement?” and “What are the student’s strengths and weaknesses in the various skill areas of reading?” The student’s reading skills should not be assessed solely to determine eligibility for special educations services but also for planning instruction… what does the student need to be successful?


Informal assessments of a student’s ability to read happens daily and across the subject matters in both general and special education classes. For questions about the mastery of specific academic skills, such as reading; the most valuable information sources may be criterion-referenced tests, informal inventories, classroom quizzes and teacher checklists. Please note that informal assessments may not be used to determine if a child is eligible for special education.

There are several informal assessments that can be used to evaluate a student’s reading ability. Speak to your student’s teacher(s) and/or the Team about a more inclusive assessment of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.  For example, the classroom teacher can do an informal reading inventory (IRI).IRIs assess both decoding and comprehension skills. They are made up of graded word lists and reading selections that he student reads orally. The tester notes any decoding errors and records the student’s answers to the comprehension questions accompanying each reading section. The results can be used to identify the student’s current reading skills in comparison to their current grade level.

Another tool that many classroom teachers use are checklists. The checklist can have any mixture of reading skills listed such as decoding, comprehension, silent reading, or oral reading. The results can help the teacher identify the student’s weaknesses and areas of need. The checklists can also be used later to help monitor progress in the development or improvement of these ‘areas of need.’   

Finally, another tool that can be quickly used by a classroom teacher to assess a student’s oral reading fluency, or the rate at which students are able to accurately decode words in oral reading tasks is by the use of CBMs or Curriculum-Based measurements. The classroom teacher can use any material, including the textbook, and ask the student to read a section aloud. While the student reads aloud the teacher will time and note any errors. If CBMs are done regularly the data can be tracked to show any progress being made by the student.


There is a wide array of formal assessments that can be used to assess a student’s reading ability. This article is going to highlight just two of them as it would be impossible to identify and discuss all of them adequately. With any type of measure, the assessment tasks must be compatible with the skills of the student. No student should be asked to attempt tasks clearly above their current functioning level. The tools used should reward the student’s strengths rather than punish their weaknesses.

The Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests, Third Edition (WRMT-III). This test is made up several sub-tests that evaluate skills such as letter identification, word identification, phonological awareness and word comprehension. It helps to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in reading.

The Gray Oral Reading Tests, 5th Edition (GORT-5). This test has to versions, Form A and Form B. Each form contains 16 developmentally sequenced reading passages with five comprehension questions each. It helps assess a student’s ability to read passages aloud quickly and accurately with adequate comprehension.


Make reading fun again for your student. Read with them daily. If they are older, have a time during the day where everyone stops and reads and then after a set time, everyone discusses what they read with the others.  There are many studies that show when children read to animals, they are less self-conscious. So if you have an animal, encourage your student to read to them. Look into programs at your local library that encourage reading and teach children that reading is a fun activity. 

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


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Here are suggestions to making Halloween enjoyable for all your children...

Talk to your child about what they might expect. Sometimes Halloween means your child is exposed to things that might frighten them: Haunted houses, scary costumes or noises. Talk to your child about things they might encounter during trick-or-treating, and practice self-calming skills in case they do get frightened while out that night.

Does your child have strict dietary restrictions?  Pick up some non-food items your child would enjoy and drop them off before hand at the houses you know you’ll be visiting.

If your child is non-verbal, Halloween can be a great opportunity to work on initiating communication! Program your child’s communication device to say “Trick or treat” or ask their teacher to design a picture symbol your child can use as he goes door to door.

Picking out the Right Costume. Kids with sensory issues may not be able to handle wearing costumes. Things like masks and make-up can make them feel very uncomfortable. Check the fabric of your child’s costume and make sure they are comfortable before going out. You can also dress your child in a familiar, cozy outfit and simply add a hat or paint their face.

Practice makes perfect! Before Halloween, put your child’s costume on and take a long walk around the house, or the neighborhood. 

The most important part of Halloween is your child’s experience. So don’t worry about how to make your child fit into "traditional" Halloween traditions.  Start a family tradition that works for your child.


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Over the years, I have tried several different ways to organize a student’s IEP data and other academic related information. The one tool that always works regardless of the amount of paper I’ve accumulated is a 3-ring binder. It may sound like a lot of work but once you have it set up, you can re-use the binder and its set-up year after  year.

What do you to get started: 

  1. 3-ring binder. I usually get a 2 or 3 inch binder but the size depends on how much paperwork you think your student will generate in the year.
  2. Some tabbed section dividers. I buy a set of 6 dividers, as well as two sets of the 8 dividers.
  3. A three hole punch, if you don’t have one.
  4. Some lined post-it notes. I like the medium sized ones but you should use whatever fits your needs best. 

First step:

Put the 6 sections dividers into the binder and label them. These are the labels I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Evaluations
  3. Communication
  4. Report cards/Progress Reports  
  5. Behavior/Discipline  
  6. Sample work
  • I divide Communication, Report cards/Progress reports, Behavior/Discipline and Sample work into the four school quarters using the section dividers from the two sets of 8 dividers I have already bought. 

Second step:

I gather all my paperwork together and sort into each of the sections. I file all documents in reverse chronological order - the most recent document on top. I also hand write in light pencil, bottom right of each document, the date I received/sent the document. 

Current IEP

In this section, I file the most current IEP, any meeting notices and my goal tracker sheet. I update the goal tracker sheet each quarter after I've received the progress report. 


If you are new to the process the first two documents will be your request for evaluation followed by your consent to evaluate. Again I keep this section in chronological order with the most recent report on top.  I sometimes forget what reports say in meetings so I usually create a table of contents for this section and will include a blurb or two of the key points in each report. I do NOT write on these reports. If a blurb is not enough I will put post-it notes with my notes in/on the section that is important.


In the first week or so of the new school year, I’ll reach out to my student’s classroom teacher and discuss what would be the most efficient way to have consistent communication regarding my student’s successes and difficulties. I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters, so whatever is agreed to, I print out copies of all communications and keep them in this section with the most current one on top.

If I find myself calling the school/teacher/etc. frequently; I will create a phone log and keep track of who I spoke with, the date/time and a summary of the discussion. I would file this phone log in this section too. I would also break the log up into the four academic quarters. 

Report cards/Progress Reports  

I have already divided this section into the four academic quarters. I file each report card and progress report accordingly in this file. I sometimes will put  my goal tracker in this section too just because it related to the progress reports. Either section is appropriate and you need to put it in a section that makes the most sense for you. 

I frequently review this section asking myself:  What is the data telling me? What data is missing?  What doesn't make sense that I need to follow up on. 


My student's disabilities often come hand-in-hand with behavior/discipline issues. I keep a log for each academic period. The log tells me how often the student is escorted and/or restrained. How often the student is out of class, for what reason and what the resolution was of the issue. I also use these logs to help me understand if the student is making effective progress and whether or not the placement is appropriate. 

Sample work

I like to either ask the teacher for sample work or I collect papers that are sent home each quarter. I tried to have a couple of pieces of work from each class. I do not collect all bad or all good work. I try to collect work that reflects my student's strengths/weaknesses. This way I can have my own insight into their successes and/or difficulties that I can discuss with their teacher. 

Third Step - Optional Step:

Your binder should be individualized to your student and their needs. Here are some other sections and/or pages you could include in your binder....

Medical Section

If your child has a medical issue you should create another section and label it medical. In this section you could  include names/address/contact info for each doctor, a list of medications (as well as dosage and what it is for), doctors notes if  your child was sick etc

Summary Sheet

This sheet includes the student’s name, dob , grade, teacher’s name and contact info, Aides/Supports/etc. will also be listed here, the Team Chair’s name/contact info

Table of Contents

This sheet is exactly what it sounds like. I create a table of contents that breaks down each section and what documents are in each section. 

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


it's a new school Year!.jpg

What can you do to support your student?

Develop a “partnership” with your student’s teacher.

As a former classroom teacher, I can assure you that the teachers your student interacts with on a day-to-day basis went into education to make a difference in the lives of their students. When a conflict arises remember that everyone has your child’s best interests at heart and will want to do what is best for them. Try to remind yourself of this while working through conflicts.  

Stay involved with your student’s classroom schedule, activities and special events. Offer support to the teacher and follow through.  Ask your student questions about their school days so that you are not surprised when someone tells you there is a ‘big issue.’  

Encourage your older student to self-advocate.

For older students, encourage them speak up and self-advocate appropriately.  Sit down with your student and read over their together so that they know what it says and what it means.  Have them identify their strengths and weaknesses as well as strategies they think work for them. Make a copy of their accommodations from their IEP, laminate it or put it in a clear sheet protector and then put it in their binder/planner. Then talk to your student about when/how they should use this ‘cheat sheet’ to appropriately self-advocate. For example, maybe they have a substitute teacher who is not aware that you student gets time and a half to complete a test.

Acknowledge your student’s achievements and performance.

Have high but realistic expectations of your student’s school performance. Remind your student of your belief in their abilities and encourage them to develop healthy beliefs and attitudes about themselves. Celebrate their strengths and wins and support them when they have “misses” and/or weaknesses.

 Share your concerns about your student’s performance NOT with the student but instead with their teacher.

What can you do you stay organized and on top of your student's academic needs?

A. Get a large three ring binder and some separators 

B. Set up your binder so that it has a few relevant sections. These are the sections I use:

  1. Current IEP
  2. Correspondence. I break this down further into a section for emails, snail mail and phone logs. 
  3. Report Cards - Progress Reports. Again I break this down further into the four quarters
  4. Behavior
  5. Tests, Assessments and Evaluations. I never throw any of these materials out. 
  6. IEP Goal Tracking. I break this section into as many goals as the IEP states and then I track each goal by the quarter. 

C. Do not write on the originals. If you want to make notes, write them on post-its and put the post-its on the document.

D. Keep all documents in strict chronological order. 

I only keep the most current school year and one past year's worth of material in the binder at a time. I also create a table of contents so I can quickly find documents/information.  I bring this binder with me to all Team meetings. 

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


The school year will be ending soon. What will your child be doing with all their free time? It may not be too late to find some great resources.

Start by asking your child’s teacher, other parents and your district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) for their recommendations for summer programs and/or camps.  Also consider reaching out to your local recreation department, community groups, zoos, religious organizations, the YMCA, Girl/Boy scout organizations, local museums and libraries. Many of these organizations have programs designed for and/or suitable for children with special needs.


Here are links to some great programs and resources:

Summer Fun Camp Directory – Complied by the Federation for Children Special Needs. This directory provides links to over 200 camp websites serving children with disabilities.   

All out Adventures – This program offers outdoor recreation for people of all abilities. They have programs including biking, kayaking and camping.  

VSA Arts of Massachusetts - is a statewide organization that aims to make arts accessible to a broader audience.

Access Recreation Boston – Access Recreation Boston is a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to increasing and enhancing recreation opportunities for people with disabilities in the greater Boston area. 

Super Soccer Stars Shine - Super Soccer Stars Shine Program uses soccer as a vehicle to teach life skills to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities including but not limited to, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down Syndrome, ADHD and PDD-NOS.

Disclaimer: None of our comments in this blog should be construed as a testimony or guarantee of any of the programs identified. Individuals retain the services of these programs at their own risk.


If your child is habitually truant due to their special needs, you need to be aware of the February, 2018  Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case "Millis Public Schools v. M.P. & others".

Stressed Truant Student

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently heard a case involving M.P., a 15-year old girl with multiple diagnoses including OCD, PTSD, anxiety disorder, autism and a severe bladder condition; who was referred to the juvenile court as a child requiring assistance (CRA) on the grounds that she was habitually truant by her school district, Millis Public Schools.

M.P. was offered several alternative educational learning opportunities. Some of these alternatives included attending an online high school, a therapeutic program – with a shortened day, private tutoring at home, private tutoring at the library, and finally a special education day school. M.P. failed to consistently attend any of these alternative educational settings. At all times relevant, M.P. expressed her desire to attend school and to do well in school. She often expressed disappointment when she was unable to attend. M.P. and her family fought the CRA referral on the grounds that she was unable to attend school not because of her willfulness but due to her medical issues.

Under the children requiring assistance (CRA) statute, a child “willfully fails to attend school” if the child’s repeated failure to attend school arises from reasons portending delinquent behavior. CRA petitions can be filed where a child who is of compulsory school attendance age is “habitually truant.” The statute allows the juvenile court to change a child’s custody by placing them in the home of relative or an out-of-home placement if the judge determines the child “willfully failed to attend school for more than eight school days in a quarter.” The purpose of the CRA statute is well meaning. It has been established by multiples studies, that children who are not in school are more likely to get caught up in behaviors that may lead to delinquency and ultimately involvement in the court system. Allowing school districts to identify students who are habitually absent, is meant to help these students get support and hopefully help them prevent making negative life choices. 

Unfortunately, the CRA statute is frequently used when students with disabilities cannot attend school due to their emotional, social, medical and/or academic conditions. These students are often referred to the juvenile court system instead of steps being taken to support them and their needs. Many of these students with special needs are removed from their homes as a result of the CRA referral, which further exacerbates their condition instead of helping to alleviate some of their issues.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a juvenile court judge can only find that a child is truant if the child is absent from school “purposefully, such that his or her behavior arises from reasons portending delinquent behavior.” To put it another way, the Supreme Judicial Court found that a child’s absence must be more than “merely voluntary or intentional,” the juvenile court must look “into a student’s purpose in missing school.” The Court emphasized that “a finding of willfulness is a fact-based inquiry that will depend on the circumstances of each case … [E]ach child’s purpose or reasons for missing school should be examined individually in order to determine whether the absences are willful beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Millis Public Schools vs M.P. and others is important because it supports children who cannot attend school because they have a mental or medical illness and helps these children avoid the court system and allows them to focus on their well-being and health care needs.'

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