Under the IDEA and Massachusetts special education law, students who qualify for special education are entitled to receive services until they graduate from high school or until they turn 22. To graduate and receive a diploma, a student must meet the local education agency’s (LEA) graduation requirements, earn the “competency determination” based on MCAS scores, and receive a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) meeting each of their IEP and transition goals.
Beginning when the student turns 14 years old, the Team should discuss and identify transition goals at every IEP Team meeting, including input directly from the student. If the student has NOT met each of his or her IEP or transition goals prior to the anticipated graduation date specified on the IEP, the student or parent may reject the graduation date. Because graduation is considered to be a change in placement, by rejecting the graduation date, the student is evoking his or her right to “stay put.” Stay put provides that while there is a pending dispute, a student has the right to remain in his or her last-accepted placement [read our recent blog post on the subject to learn more].
In a recent BSEA decision, the Hearing Officer wrote, “Numerous BSEA decisions and rulings have established that once a fully accepted and implemented IEP has expired, hearing officers are precluded from re-visiting those IEPs, as long as the parent had an opportunity to participate in the development of the IEP in question and received the notice of parental rights regarding IEP acceptance/rejection and dispute resolution options. The BSEA may only review the appropriateness of IEPs rejected during their term prior to expiration.” See In re: Student v. Blue Hills Regional Technical Schools, BSEA #20-08213, Figueroa, July 6, 2020, citing In Re: Westport Community Schools, BSEA #13-02922 (Oliver, 2013).
For students nearing graduation, this means that in order to protect and utilize due process rights, an IEP must be rejected prior to the graduation date and expiration of the student’s IEP. An IEP rejection should always be submitted to the Team in writing. A formally rejected IEP triggers due process rights to dispute resolution systems, including access to BSEA mediation and/or a hearing at the BSEA.
In summary, if a student has not met each of his or her IEP and transition goals and should continue to receive special education services beyond the anticipated graduation date, it is crucial that the final IEP is rejected in a timely manner prior to graduation.