Special Education

Special education is defined by law as “specifically designed instruction that meets the unique needs of a child with a disability.” Depending on your child’s disability, the public school system offers a wide range of services and support, including special educationrelated servicestransition services, supplementary aids, testing accommodationsassistive technology and transitional supportive services. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was created in 1975 to entitle children with disabilities to “free and appropriate” education. In the past, many students with disabilities were placed in separate classes focusing on their needs and generally did not integrate with the general student population. However, IDEA was revised in 1997 to ensure that children with special abilities have access to a general curriculum, and new laws in Massachusetts require the districts to place students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible.

Trying to navigate the admissions process for a normal child is difficult. The process for obtaining the appropriate services for a child with disabilities is much more involved and time consuming. We can help. Good sources of information regarding your public school options include Federation for Children with Special Needs (www.fcsn.org), Massachusetts Association of Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (www.fcsn.org/masspac/), the Disability Law Center (617-723-8455) and Volunteer Lawyers Project (617-338-6790).  To obtain information about these programs, please click on the following link for Boston Special Education Services.

Public Schools

Students with special needs are guaranteed by federal law to a free and appropriate public education regardless of handicap or disability, and state law requires that such students are placed in the “least restrictive environment". For detailed information about Boston’s special education services, please call (617) 635-8599 or visit their website at http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/.

In Boston, the special education services include:

  • Specially designed instruction to meet the needs of students with disabilities
  • Access to the general curriculum and intervention programs designed to provide appropriate opportunities for instruction in the general education setting
  • Continuum of service, including but not limited to inclusion, resource and self-contained settings
  • Related services, including but not limited to speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy
  • Specialized instruction for students with hearing, visual and physical disabilities
  • Boston also has three special schools for students with special needs, including the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Carter Development Center for students with significant cognitive delays, and the McKinley Schools for students with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities.
  • At school, student support teams help students with special needs and typically consist of the following:
    • Nurses address student health issues that may affect children’s performance in class.
    • Psychologists help identify students with special needs and make recommendations to improve their academic performance.
    • Guidance counselors help students with behavioral issues as well as college and career counseling.
    • Student support coordinators plan the student support team meetings as well as ensure the students receive the appropriate services.

Source: Guide to the Boston Public Schools 2009-10

If you are having trouble with the public school system, the Disability Law Center (617-723-8455) and the Volunteer Lawyers Project (617-423-0648) offer free and low cost legal services to low-income families.

Please click on the following link to learn more about how to obtain public special education services in Boston.

Private Schools

The private schools in the Greater Boston Area that offer special education services tend to be small and well structured. The classes typically vary from six to twelve students with various specialists who assist children during class. The classes also tend to serve students of mixed ages, since children with disabilities learn at varying rates that do not necessarily correlate with age. Most importantly, all of the good private schools aim to integrate students with disabilities into regular classes as soon as possible. Finally, the private schools can be very costly. However, the track records of the good schools are undisputable, mainstreaming special education students at very early ages and often sending some to elite colleges.