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  • Writer's pictureWilliam C Peever, J.D.

COVID-19 DESE Updates


(Revised February 12, 2021)

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (hereafter “Department”) continues to provide new information and updates related to special education and the COVID-19 pandemic. This edition of the COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for Schools and Districts Regarding Special Education (FAQ) includes some new questions and answers, as well as updates to questions released in the August 27, 2020 revised FAQ, originally released May 15, 2020. This FAQ notes if the responses included are unchanged, revised, or new since the August 27th revision.

For all information specific to Special Education and the COVID-19 pandemic, please see the Department’s COVID-19 Information and Resources for Special Educators webpage.

Over the course of the last several months, the Department has released multiple guidance documents intended to help schools and districts support in-person and remote learning and to plan for a safe return to school buildings. The guidance documents below provide additional information on some of the special education topics referenced in this FAQ.

The guidance may be revised as the Department continues to monitor COVID-19 trends and the latest medical research.[1]

Provision of Special Education, Related Services, and Models of Learning

Q: How will schools and districts continue to provide special education and related services to students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) when a school or district is providing instruction through a hybrid or remote model of instruction? (UNCHANGED)

As a result of COVID-19 and the health and safety needs of students and staff, schools and districts may need to alternate between in-person, hybrid, and remote instructional models. If a school or district must implement a hybrid or remote model, educators and administrators must make every effort to the greatest extent feasible to continue to provide full-time in-person instruction for students with disabilities, particularly preschool-aged students with IEPs and students with complex and significant needs as outlined in the Comprehensive Special Education guidance. Despite the shift in how instruction is provided (hybrid or remote), schools and districts must continue to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with IEPs consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Students with IEPs must receive all services documented in their IEPs even if services are being delivered differently (e.g. modified in-person, hybrid or remote).

Q: How often should schools and districts communicate with parents/guardians during the 2020-2021 school year? (UNCHANGED)

The Department strongly recommends that schools and districts cultivate excellent two-way communication with families. Schools and districts should ensure that appropriate staff (e.g., classroom teacher, special education teacher, or other service provider) communicates regularly with parents/guardians. The frequency and type of communication will vary depending on the child’s individual needs, the availability of the Team member, and the mode of communication. Team members must provide all communication and consultation required to implement a student’s IEP.

The Department recommends that school and district personnel document their communication with families. The best way to communicate should be determined with the input of parent/guardians and can include direct conversations, office hours, emails, texts, and webinars for parents/guardians. The communication should be in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate.

Q: How should schools and districts respond when a student with a disability is not attending remote classes? (UNCHANGED)

Schools and districts should actively communicate with students and their families to encourage engagement in remote instruction. However, if the student’s absences continue, the IEP Team should meet to discuss the lack of engagement and determine if the absences are a result of the student’s inability to access remote learning due to their disability, technology related needs, language barriers, or other concerns. Schools and districts should also consider prioritizing the student for in-person instruction. Additionally, the Department has provided districts with a document entitled “Promoting Student Engagement, Learning, Wellbeing and Safety During Remote and Hybrid Learning (Winter 2020).”It compiles excerpts from previously released as well as new Department guidance, resources, and recommendations regarding student engagement that may be helpful to consider.

Q: Are parent observations allowed during this time? (UNCHANGED)

The state law relating to observations remains in effect, see G.L. c. 71B, section 3. DESE encourages districts and schools to continue to work collaboratively with parents so that in-person observations may be conducted while adhering to COVID-19 safety precautions. As a result of COVID-19, parents and schools may agree to virtual visits. When choosing this option, it is important for districts and schools to comply with student privacy requirements (e.g., no recording; no disclosure of confidential or personally identifiable information relating to other students).

Q: What types of services can be provided remotely? (UNCHANGED)

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has stated that the IDEA does not mandate specific methodologies. Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access or where educational materials simply are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing children with IEPs equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students. For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud. The Department encourages parents/guardians, educators, and administrators to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with IEPs. Consider practices such as distance instruction, tele-therapy and tele-intervention, meetings held on digital platforms, online options for data tracking, and documentation.

Q: How can related services be provided remotely? (UNCHANGED)

Related services can be provided remotely to students in accordance with the guidelines of the providers’ respective professional boards. Schools and districts should document the provision of related services in their written notification to parents. This communication should be in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate.

Q: If a school or district chooses a hybrid or remote model, how does this impact special education students who receive services in community-based settings and students who participate in inclusive concurrent enrollment programs at institutions of higher education? (UNCHANGED)

Although in-person participation in community-based programs and inclusive concurrent enrollment programs at institutions of higher educationmay be limited at this time, schools and districts should make best efforts to develop plans collaboratively with community-based providers, colleges, parents/guardians, and students in order to allow students access to as much programming as possible during COVID-19. Current health and safety requirements must remain a priority when making decisions about the extent to which transition services may be provided in the community. However, it is highly recommended that in-person transition services resume as soon as it is safe to do so with the proper health and safety measures in place.

Q: If a school or district chooses to provide in-home special education services, are there additional health and safety considerations for staff, students, and families? (UNCHANGED)

Yes. Schools and districts providing in-home services should follow the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Guidance for Home Visiting Services and the MDPH Guidance for Home Visiting Services Frequently Asked Questions. The FAQ answers specific questions on:

· home visit protocols

· physical distancing and masks

· personal protective equipment

· cleaning and sanitization

· frequency and duration of visits

· equitable access to in-person services

Q: What is the appropriate PPE when providing In-Home services? (UNCHANGED)

DPH’s FAQ includes the following recommendations for in-home services:

· Surgical face masks are recommended

· Even with face masks, physical distancing should be maintained

· Staff wear gloves and a disposable gown when providing hands on services

· Staff should not eat or drink during home visit

· Disposable equipment should be used whenever possible

· Visits should be short as possible

Q: How should the school or district respond if they receive a “Physician’s Affirmation for Temporary Home or Hospital Education for Medically Necessary Reasons”? (UNCHANGED)

Schools and districts should respond to these requests as they would have pre-COVID. Guidance regarding the implementation of home hospital services can be found here.

Q: What must schools and districts do to fulfill their responsibilities under IDEA equitable services? (UNCHANGED)

IDEA equitable services requirements have not changed. Schools and districts remain responsible for all IDEA equitable services requirements, irrespective of whether the school or district is implementing an in-person, remote, or hybrid model of instruction and service delivery. Schools and districts should continue to engage in meaningful consultation with private school representatives and parents/guardians of parentally-placed private school students with disabilities, including parents/guardians of homeschool students, and include as part of consultation what, if any, changes in service delivery may be implemented based on the instructional and service delivery model(s) implemented by the school or district. Consultation with the parents/guardians should be in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate. If changes are made to students’ service delivery, schools and districts must include those changes in the service plans developed in collaboration with students’ parents/guardians. As part of consultation, schools and districts should also discuss whether any unspent funds will be carried over to the following fiscal year.

Q: Are homeschooled students with disabilities eligible to receive special education services from their school or district? (UNCHANGED)

Yes. Homeschool plans must be reviewed and approved in advance by the school or district, including the special education portion of the plan. Schools and districts are responsible for providing special education services to homeschool students pursuant to the IEP. Services may be provided in-person or through remote learning; communication with families is essential for understanding how services will be provided. This communication should be in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate.

Q: Can relevant staff from community-based organizations be invited to Team meetings for students who are participating in remote learning programs through community-based organizations? (NEW)

In cases where a student is participating in a remote learning program at a community-based organization, school and district staff should consult with parents to determine if relevant staff from these organizations should be invited to the IEP meeting. Staff who are supporting students in these settings may have information that could be helpful to the IEP Team during the IEP development process. IDEA also permits parents and schools, at their discretion, to include “other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child” as part of the IEP Team. 34 C.F.R. § 300.321(a)(6). Schools must obtain written authorization or consent forms from parents before inviting staff from community-based organizations to the IEP Team meeting. If parents agree to the participation of staff from a community-based organization, the school must take necessary steps to ensure the confidentiality of the student’s information, including reminding the staff member from the community-based organization about the confidential nature of the student’s information and IEP Team discussion.

Q: Can an electronic or digital signature be accepted to indicate parental consent for an initial evaluation, reevaluation, or the provision of special education and related services? (NEW)

Yes, so long as the school district ensures that there are appropriate safeguards in place to protect the integrity of the process. Due to social distancing and other restrictions during the pandemic, it may not be possible to obtain a parent’s signed, written consent in person. An electronic or digital signature can be used as long as the parent has been fully informed and has received written notice of the activity for which his or her consent is being requested, that is in the parent’s primary language, in language understandable to the general public, the parent agrees in writing to the activity, and the signature authenticates a particular person as the source of the consent. For further explanation, see Q.1 of the United States Department of Education, Q &A on IDEA Part B, Procedural Safeguards (June 30, 2020) available at

Monitoring Student Progress

Q: How can student progress be monitored during hybrid or remote learning? (UNCHANGED)

Educators, service providers, parents/guardians, and students should review a student’s IEP to assess the goals and objectives and identify the types of data that can be collected from the student, the family, and the home environment and develop a plan to collect ongoing data. Using the basic tenets of progress monitoring, school staff can reimagine their roles in a remote context, e.g., by using a tracking sheet to collect data from student videos, by interviewing parents/guardians and students, or by using assessments.

There are many resources to aid in this work, for example:

If parents/guardians are asked to assist with progress monitoring, please consider that some parents/guardians are limited English proficient and may need translations or interpretations to be able to effectively learn how to collect and communicate monitoring data to their school or district liaison.

Q: Should schools continue to issue student Progress Reports? (UNCHANGED)

Yes. Schools, districts, collaborative programs, and approved special education schools must continue to issue student Progress Reports at least as often as report cards or progress reports are provided for students without disabilities in accordance with 603 CMR 28.07(3). Progress Reports can be sent to families in multiple ways, e.g., U.S. mail, email, student information systems, or online communication platforms, and must be translated for families if necessary.

IEP Meetings, Timelines, and Other Related Topics

Q: What should schools and districts do if a family does not respond to outreach or refuses services? (UNCHANGED)

Schools and districts should make repeated and varied attempts to reach out and engage families. In these cases, schools and districts should document all attempts to engage with families. All communication should be in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate.

If a parent/guardian does not accept services for their son/daughter, the school or district should ask that the parent/guardian document this refusal in writing. If the parent/guardian does not submit anything in writing, the school or district should also document a summary of the conversation or issue a letter summarizing the conversation to ensure clear communication.

Q: If the annual review of a student’s IEP is due, or if an IEP Team determines an IEP meeting is needed, how should the district hold the meeting if an in-person meeting is not possible? (UNCHANGED)

IDEA regulations contemplate that IEP meetings may be held via telephone and/or video conference. Districts should continue to convene IEP Team meetings using these alternative means of meeting participation, if necessary. To convene an IEP meeting using telephone or video conferencing, districts must ensure that all IEP Team members, particularly those whose participation is required under IDEA, have access to necessary technology and accommodations to allow remote participation. Rather than using personal telephone lines or cell phones, school and district personnel may choose to use a third-party platform. For limited English proficient parents, districts must also ensure that interpreters are provided for IEP Team meetings and translate documents, when appropriate.

If required members of the IEP Team are unable to attend, IDEA regulations provide that Team members can be excused with agreement from the family, if:

1. The district and the family agree, in writing, that the attendance of the Team member is not necessary because the member’s area of the curriculum or related services is not being modified or discussed; or

2. The district and the family agree, in writing, to excuse a required Team member’s participation and the excused member provides written input into the development of the IEP to the family and the IEP Team prior to the meeting.

Q: How can schools and districts complete the special education initial eligibility process if they cannot complete a face-to-face assessment? (UNCHANGED)

Schools and districts are encouraged to consider any and all evaluation information that is already available, and conduct additional assessments that are needed, as appropriate, for the child under consideration for special education eligibility.

Based on professional judgment, it may be determined that a special education assessment or parts of an assessment may be conducted remotely. Factors involved in professional judgment and supporting a determination as to whether a special education assessment can be conducted remotely include:

· Referring to guidance of the relevant professional organization(s) of the particular evaluator conducting the assessment at the state or national level.

· Consulting the assessment’s publisher regarding technical/interpretive guidelines for remote administration.

· Relying on evaluators as to whether an entire assessment or parts of an assessment may be conducted remotely.

· Taking into consideration current knowledge and circumstances of the student and making individualized decisions.

· Consulting with the special education administrator.

· Considering the use of alternative assessment tools to assess all areas of suspected disability.

· Continuing to monitor for developments in the manner assessments can be conducted remotely and, as developments emerge, revisit earlier decisions not to assess, as appropriate.

It is important to remember that federal special education law requires that initial evaluations and re-evaluations include information provided by the parent as well as a variety of assessment tools and strategies.

Q: Are evaluation timelines still in effect if a student or staff are required to quarantine? (UNCHANGED)

Yes, evaluation timelines remain in effect. Schools and districts are encouraged to communicate openly with families if they foresee a need to extend those timelines. Parents may agree, in writing, to extend evaluation timelines. A copy of this written agreement must be maintained in the student’s special education file.

Q: Should schools continue to submit Chapter 688 referrals for secondary students with severe disabilities? (UNCHANGED)

Yes. Schools must continue to submit Chapter 688 referrals via the Virtual Gateway. These referrals are essential so that adult agencies (Department of Developmental Services, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Department of Mental Health, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Department of Children and Families, and Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard or Hearing) can request the appropriate amount of funding from the legislature to serve students with IEPs who will turn 22 and are eligible for adult agency services. 688 referrals should be completed by the district two years before the student’s anticipated date of exit, but even late referrals are useful.

Districts should submit with the referral form, at a minimum, the student’s most recent IEP and three-year evaluation. Parent consent during this emergency can be in the form of wet signature or e-signature, email, or verbal consent documented in district staff notes. Questions about 688 filing or referral should be sent to: Kathy Stern, Bureau of Transition Planning, 857-352-1741 or

Out-of-District Placements and Approved Special Education Schools and Programs

Q: How can residential programs serving students with IEPs maintain health and safety during the COVID-19 outbreak? (UNCHANGED)

The health and safety of the students and employees in residential schools is of utmost concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) issued guidance, most recently updated on April 14, 2020, addressing the specific procedures and protocols for residential, congregate care, and shelter providers. This guidance includes background on COVID-19, protective measures, ways to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, cases and suspected cases in residents or employees, and information on testing, reporting COVID-19 cases, providing care to residents, personal protective equipment, deep cleaning, and monitoring the emotional health of employees. To protect the health and safety of residential congregate care residents and staff against the spread of COVID-19, all residential congregate care programs should have a surveillance testing procedure implemented as described in the EOHHS Guidance dated November 2, 2020. The EOHHS has released their own FAQ for more information. These programs must also follow all relevant DESE guidance.

Q: How should schools (including out of district placements and approved special education schools) and districts report positive COVID-19 cases to DESE? (UNCHANGED)

As described in the Commissioner’s Weekly Update from September 21, 2020, the Department requires schools to inform DESE when they learn that a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. Schools must call the DESE Rapid Response Help Center at 781-338-3500 to report a positive case of a student or staff. Information reported to DESE will not include personally identifiable information. This information will allow DESE to provide support to school leaders and monitor statewide trends in schools. Data is published weekly and can be found here.

State and Federal Monitoring and Assistance

Q: Are Tiered Focused Monitoring Reviews being conducted this school year? (UNCHANGED)

Yes, Tiered Focused Monitoring Reviews are being conducted during the 2020-2021 school year. The Public School Tiered Focused Monitoring Reviews focusing on special education and civil rights will be conducted January-May 2021. Contact Tim Gallagher at 781-338-3717 or with questions relating to the special education and civil rights Tiered Focused Monitoring Reviews. Contact Sibel Hughes at or 781-338-3569 with questions relating to the English learner education Tiered Focused Monitoring Reviews.

Q: Will data submission timelines be enforced for State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report indicators? (UNCHANGED)

Indicator 7

See section on Early Childhood Special Education Services section for more information.

Indicator 14

Deadlines for Indicator 14 data submission have changed this year. The submission date was November 16, 2020. Schools and districts in Cohort 2 will use an online survey to learn about the further education and employment outcomes of their former students with IEPs. In July 2020, the Department emailed all Cohort 2 special education administrators with detailed instructions for this year’s Indicator 14 data collection. For additional information, please contact Amanda Green at 781-338-3368 or

Q: Given the COVID-19 situation, can the period of availability for IDEA Part B grant funds be extended? (UNCHANGED)

The U.S. Department of Education has approved Massachusetts’ waiver request for the extension to obligate IDEA FY19 funds. This means that FY19 IDEA funds (fund codes 240 & 262) set to expire on September 30, 2020 can now be used until September 30, 2021. If a school or district has any unexpended FY19 fund code 240 & fund code 262 funds, the Department urges the school or district to continue to spend down these funds first. If the district still has unexpended FY19 funds and would like to continue to use the funds until September 30, 2021, the Department’s Grants Management Office will automatically handle the obligation period adjustments for the school or district. Schools and districts do not need to take any extra steps to secure this additional time. Schools and districts may contact the Federal Grant Programs office with any questions at

Q: With the extended period of availability of funds, can the district have a second year (until September 30, 2021) to carry over any unspent FY19 proportionate share funds? (UNCHANGED)

The extended period of availability of FY19 funds does not change the spending requirements and time frame in IDEA regarding the expenditure of a proportionate share of a district’s IDEA Part B funds on equitable services for parentally-placed private school students with disabilities attending a private school located in the district, or eligible homeschool students. The district’s equitable services obligation must be spent in the year in which funds were appropriated or obligated during a carry-over period of one additional year. See 34 C.F.R. § 133(a)(3).

Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) Information

Q: How should schools and districts communicate with and send documents to the BSEA? (UNCHANGED)

During COVID-19, the BSEA is maintaining minimal staff onsite. Therefore, administrative tasks that are not governed by timelines may take longer to fulfill (e.g., processing rejected IEPs). With regard to notice of rejected IEPs, if mailing or faxing documents is not feasible, notice of rejected IEPs can now be sent via email to BSEA at By contrast, hearing requests must still be faxed or sent via U.S. mail.

Consistent with BSEA Standing Order 20-02C, to ensure timely receipt of submissions during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hearing Officers and Mediators may permit the submission of correspondence and documents electronically, in addition to paper filing (via fax or regular mail). Electronic submissions to BSEA must be simultaneously copied to all other parties. All hearing requests must be submitted via mail, fax, or hand delivery.

Q: Can parties obtain an extension of due process hearing timelines? (UNCHANGED)

While the IDEA provides that a final decision on a due process complaint must be issued not later than 45 days after the expiration of the 30-day resolution period, a hearing officer can grant an extension of time beyond the required timelines at the request of either party for good cause. The COVID-19 emergency does not per se constitute good cause; the hearing officer will make a case by case determination on requests for extension including considerations that may be COVID-19 related.

Q: Are BSEA proceedings, including mediations, occurring remotely or in person? (UNCHANGED)

Effective March 15, 2020, and consistent with BSEA Standing Order 20-01C, the BSEA is conducting all proceedings remotely/virtually until further notice. This includes mediations, facilitated IEP meetings, settlement conferences, pre-hearing conferences, and hearings. The BSEA will contact parties as the date of the scheduled proceeding approaches to make necessary arrangements. Any request for change of date, location, or medium for holding due process hearings will continue to be considered on a case by case basis by the hearing officer.

Compensatory Services

Q: Are there resources I can share with families regarding COVID-19 (UNCHANGED)

The Department has published a Family Fact Sheet with information for families about Compensatory Services and Recovery Support for students receiving special education services.

Q: Will all students with IEPs be eligible for compensatory services because of the disruption of in-person instruction and service delivery from March 17 until the end of the 2019-2020 school year? (UNCHANGED)

Whether a student is entitled to receive compensatory services because of the suspension of in-person instruction in the spring due to COVID-19, is a fact-specific and individualized determination to be made by the IEP Team. The Department has issued guidance on this topic. For more information, see Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory 2021-1.

Q: What are the factors that might lead to consideration of new compensatory services for students during the 2020-21 school year? (REVISED)

USED and DESE have stated that all students should be receiving FAPE during the 2020-2021 school year regardless of the instructional model used (remote, hybrid, or modified in-person). DESE’s COVID-19 Compensatory Services Guidance was intended to address any disruption or delay in instruction or service delivery during the spring and summer of 2020. Given the ongoing state of emergency due to COVID-19, if a student’s IEP is not being fully implemented or if other extenuating circumstances arise during this school year that impact the student’s ability to access FAPE, the Team can seek to address any need for compensatory services as necessary and appropriate. A discussion about new compensatory services related to issues stemming from the 2020-2021 school year can occur during the annual Team meeting, during a meeting that has been scheduled to discuss COVID-19 Compensatory Services stemming from the 2019-2020 school year or during any other Team meeting. Parents and guardians also have the procedural rights to pursue a due process hearing at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals or file a complaint with the Department’s Problem Resolution System Office.

Q: Will compensatory services provided to students after the age of 22 be reimbursable under Circuit Breaker? (UNCHANGED)

Because state law reserves Circuit Breaker funds for “eligible” students and students’ eligibility is not extended past their 22nd birthday, these funds may not be used for COVID-19 Compensatory services.

Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)

Q: Do schools and districts need to complete developmental screenings as outlined in 603 CMR 28.03(1)(d)? (UNCHANGED)

Yes. Schools and districts are required to complete preschool screenings for three and four-year-old children and for all children who are of age to enter kindergarten. Such screening shall be designed to review a child's development and to assist in identification of those children who should be referred for an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services.

Q: Is there any specific guidance for submission of Child Outcome Summary (COS)/Indicator 7 data? (UNCHANGED)

Data collection schedules and school or district cohort assignments are unchanged for Indicator 7/Early Childhood COS. Data for the COS will continue to be collected using the data collection schedule and cohort assignments, information here: Schools and districts responsible for submitting COS data received a letter in the fall of 2020 information regarding data collection, timelines, and resources.

ECSE programs can continue to report on each child’s outcomes for the COS. Meetings with team members to discuss progress and outcomes should be included in the planning process.

Additional resources for ECSE:

Below are links to additional resources regarding special education and remote learning that may be helpful.

If you have concerns about the submission, please contact both Martha Daigle at and Carla Corina at to discuss individual circumstances.

Q: Will districts continue to receive referrals to Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)? (UNCHANGED)

Yes, districts should continue to accept referrals from families, caregivers, and Early Intervention (EI) programs, in accordance with Child Find requirements. EI programs will refer all children who are potentially eligible for ECSE and who will be turning 3. EI regulations require the EI program to make referrals at least 90 days before the child’s third birthday.

Q: Do districts need to complete the eligibility process for children referred from EI? (UNCHANGED)

Districts must accept and act on referrals from EI providers. This includes attending the virtual Transition Planning Conference (TPC), reviewing existing and EI assessments, and conducting an evaluation of the child to determine if the child is eligible for special education services within required timelines.

Q: What are the service options for children who are transitioning from EI to ECSE? (UNCHANGED)

After eligibility is determined, there are options for the provision of services.

1. IEP Teams can decide to:

· Continue the IFSP for one year after the child is found eligible for ECSE. Services are considered Part B services and are provided by local schools and districts.

· Contract with EI providers to provide services and to support EC transition.

2. Write an IEP

· District staff can provide services, or

· District and EI staff can collaboratively provide services to support EC transition.

3. Develop a partial IEP and conduct an extended evaluation.

Additional resources are available from the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA), including information about eligibility determinations and transitions.

Q. How can school districts apply for a compliance waiver for preschool inclusionary ratios? (UNCHANGED)

Due to the implementation of various learning models (remote, hybrid, or in-person), the Department recognizes that school districts may face challenges in maintaining the appropriate class ratios of children with and without disabilities required by 603 CMR 28.06(7)(e)(2) in preschool inclusionary programs for children with disabilities, aged 3-5.

School districts can request a limited waiver under 603 CMR 28.03(5) of the requirements in 603 CMR 28.06(7)(e)(2) relating to class ratios of children with and without disabilities. A district’s application for such a waiver does not impact or change the requirements that IEP Teams must make individualized decisions about special education services for eligible children and districts must ensure placement in the least restrictive environment.

Strategies for Engaging Families

Q: In what ways is family engagement important to focus on at this time? (UNCHANGED)

Family engagement is crucial for the healthy growth of children and youth. Quality family engagement has a lasting effect on a child’s social-emotional health as well as school readiness and academic success.

Research shows that families want their children to do well and that they believe school is important. Partnering with families improves students’ grades and motivation, helps student academic achievement. Partnering with families also helps teachers learn more about students' needs, which is information they can apply toward better meeting those needs. Engaging families can be done through phone calls, emails, texts and web-based activities.

Q: How do we build a partnership with families? (UNCHANGED)

· Talk with families using clear language.

· Communicate in the primary language of the home, using interpreters and translating documents, when appropriate.

· Make sure to limit educational jargon and consider the translation needs of the family.

· Be honest in your conversation. If you do not know an answer to a question, you can let the family know that you will get back to them.

o Be sure to follow up with the family.

· Discuss concerns and offer suggestions, supports and resources.

· Plan next steps together.

Q: What are strategies we can use to build relationships with families? (UNCHANGED)

Schools and community organizations play a crucial role in establishing and strengthening shared connections with families. the Department has developed STRENGTHENING PARTNERSHIPS: A Framework for Prenatal through Young Adulthood Family Engagement in Massachusetts. Five Guiding Principles form the basis of this Framework and provide a foundation for creating, within systems and organizations, a culture that values and thrives on family engagement.

· Each family is unique, and all families represent diverse structures.

· Acknowledging and accepting the need to engage all families is essential for successful engagement of diverse families and includes recognizing the strengths that come from their diverse backgrounds.

· Building a respectful, trusting, and reciprocal relationship is a shared responsibility of families, practitioners, organizations, and systems.

· Families are their child’s first and best advocate.

· Family engagement must be equitable.

The Flamboyan Foundation has developed strategies to build relationships and partnerships with families:

· Be authentic

· Center on the student

· Learn and focus on what is important to the family

· Offer frequent and consistent communication

· Reach out to all families

Q: Are there resources available to help build relationships with families?(UNCHANGED)

There are many resources that provide ideas and strategies for building relationships with families. You can also work with your Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) to be part of the process of strengthening Family Engagement. When building relationships with families, please consider that some parents/guardians are limited English proficient and may need translations or interpretations to be able to effectively engage in this collaborative work.

You may find the following resources helpful now and in the future:

· The Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) provides resources and trainings for families and educators.

English Learner Students with Disabilities

Q. Is there guidance for serving English learner students with disabilities during COVID-19? (UNCHANGED)

Yes, the Department has issued a supplemental guidance document: Serving English Learners with Disabilities During In-person, Hybrid and Remote Learning. Key considerations addressed in that guidance document include:

1) Prioritization of EL/SWDs for in-person learning;

2) Special education evaluation process and consideration of the need for primary language and alternative assessments;

3) The IEP Team process;

4) Organizing opportunities for staff collaboration (English learner education, special education and general education) and professional development;

5) Technology use and provision of training and support for parents and caregivers of

ELs with disabilities; and

6) Engaging families and communities.

Masks/Face Coverings

Q: Where can I find more detailed information about masks/face covering requirements in schools? (UNCHANGED)

For more information regarding masks/face coverings, please see:

· The Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance (June 25, 2020) available at

· Comprehensive Special Education Guidance for the 2020-2021 School Year (July 9, 2020), available at

· September 21, 2020 DESE Frequently Asked Questions available at

· November 3, 2020 Memorandum from Commissioner Riley available at

Students with disabilities may need additional supports to learn to wear masks. For sample social stories to support mask wearing, visit: Wearing Masks and National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

For more information on accommodating students with disabilities who are unable to wear masks due to their disability, see United States the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, Questions and Answers for K-12 Public Schools in the Current Covid-19 Environment (Sept. 28, 2020), question 3.

Q: If a student is presenting with behavior that requires them to be physically restrained and a staff member must restrain the student, should the student continue to wear a mask? (UNCHANGED)

Schools and districts are required to implement preventive and proactive behavioral supports and interventions to prevent the need for a physical restraint. The Department maintains a commitment to the reduction of physical restraint in schools and reminds schools and districts that all relevant regulatory procedures, as outlined in 603 CMR 46.00, must be followed prior to, during, and subsequent to any physical restraint. If a student does need to be physically restrained, a mask should not be on the face of the student. If the student was wearing a mask prior to being placed in a physical restraint, the mask should be removed as soon as is practical and safe. Students in physical restraints should not wear masks, regardless of the behaviors they are exhibiting because masks may restrict airflow, preventing staff from effectively monitoring the student’s breathing, and the mask might be inhaled or swallowed by the student.


Q: Where can I find up-to-date information about MCAS and MCAS-Alt administration for the 2020-2021 school year? (UNCHANGED)

Information about MCAS and MCAS-Alt is available on DESE’s MCAS page. Please contact the MCAS office with additional questions at

Q: How do I collect work samples for the MCAS-Alt for students who are learning remotely? (UNCHANGED)

The Department has created guidance on collecting evidence (i.e., work samples) for the MCAS-Alt for students who are receiving remote instruction. This includes strategies and brief instructional videos. Although the emphasis is on collecting tangible printed products, instructions are also provided on compiling evidence digitally.

Q: For the MCAS-Alt, how can I use assignments completed by students at home during remote learning if I don't know how much assistance they've received from a parent or family member? (UNCHANGED)

For families that are able to assist their children working remotely, the teacher can work with the parent to suggest ways to assist their child and to keep track of this using the “Assisting Students with Assignments: A Parent’s Guide,” which is available in five languages. Information provided by the parent on this worksheet will give the teacher information needed to calculate the student's percentage of independence. Parents can send the completed Parent Assistance Guide to the teacher together with the completed assignment in a format that works for both parties.

Q: How can I access training for the MCAS-Alt? (UNCHANGED)

Recordings of fall 2020 educator and administrator trainings are available on the MA DESE website, linked

Contact Information for the Department

For general education questions and questions pertaining to general health and safety requirements, please contact the Department at

For questions pertaining to special education from educators and school or district staff, please contact the Department at

For parents/guardians who have questions regarding circumstances related to their child, please contact the Department at


Reference in this document to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public, and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Our office is not responsible for and does not in any way guarantee the accuracy of information in other sites accessible through links herein. DESE may supplement this list with other services and products that meet the specified criteria. For more information contact:

[1] For all of the Department’s COVID-19 information and resources, go to

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