Tag Archive for: Massachusetts Advocates for Children

State finds Boston Public Schools transportation issues violated students’ right to special education services

In a March 1 article, The Boston Herald reported on an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that determined Boston Public Schools had violated students’ rights to special education services. Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children filed a joint complaint about the issue on behalf of several families last year. An excerpt of the article is below.

In a letter sent to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper on Friday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said an investigation found the district’s transportation issues violated students’ rights to special education services.

“The findings in the preceding sections of this letter indicate that the District did comply with some of its obligations under federal and state requirements,” DESE officials wrote in the letter.

Several families issued a joint complaint with Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children in October, outlining incidents in which the district failed to provide students with one-on-one and specially trained bus monitors, families notification of transportation issues, or just any transportation at all — in effect denying the students their right to a free appropriate public education.

In many of these incidents, “students’ families are required to (provide transportation), causing financial and other burdens,” the letter states, and systemic failures have “deprived many students of their education due to ongoing absences and late arrivals resulting from lack of or delayed transportation.”

The state reviewed parent reports of bus issues in the last year, finding 3,469 coded “Missed Stop,” 775 “Late Bus,” 736 “Stranded Student,” 721 “Bus Monitor,” 597 “Other,” and 236 “Blown Route” or “Uncovered Route.”

In the fall of the 2022-23 school year, an average of 16.4% of buses were still dropping off students late or not at all, the letter states.

These wide-scale issues had an especial impact on students with disabilities, the investigation found, including the “key deficiency” of bus monitors.

“The District reported that approximately 35–40% of monitor-required routes have not had a designated monitor assigned to the route during the 2022-2023 school year,” the letter reads.

Read more in The Boston Herald.

State launches investigation into Boston Public Schools transportation, special education (Various outlets)

The state of Massachusetts has launched an investigation into whether Boston Public Schools is violating the educational rights of students with disabilities, following a complaint filed on Oct. 14 by Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Greater Boston Legal Services, and several other organizations on behalf of the families of six students. The complaint called on BPS to address the impact of its transportation problems on students with disabilities, students of color and those who speak other languages.

Below are excerpts from the news coverage.

The Boston Globe (Oct. 25):

Jakira Rogers, who leads the racial equity and access program at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said she and other group representatives met Monday with Skipper and district administrators from BPS’s special education and transportation office.

“The complaint was a follow-up, really after the long systemic issue has really blown up and families are struggling with transportation,” Rogers said, emphasizing the unreliability creates barriers to special education support and services and hinders parents’ ability to maintain employment.“Transportation is just not about school buses, it’s about access to education, and access to a free and appropriate education. That’s what all students deserve, and that’s what we will continue to fight for until we get there.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

WCVB (Oct. 25):

Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children wrote in their complaint that the transportation system is continuing to fail students and their families.

“The long-standing non-compliance with DESE’s monitoring and failure to improve the transportation system continues to have widespread negative impacts on Boston students and families,” advocates wrote in the complaint. “This school year, students are not receiving appropriate or consistent transportation services. Parents are being forced to pick up and drop off their children, experiencing weeks without consistent transportation for their children. Students with disabilities, who may require door-to-door transportation, bus monitors, or other accommodations, are not receiving these special education services to address their specific needs. Buses are failing to pick students up on time, to drop them off at school on time, and to get them home on time. Parents are not receiving prompt, accurate notifications of issues with transportation services. Some families are receiving last-minute notice of changes to transportation services, not receiving notifications at all, or are not receiving any communications in the language of the home.”

Read more from WCVB.

Boston.com (Nov. 10):

Special education students, and especially those who are not white, are disproportionately impacted by the transportation system’s failures, said Jakira Rogers, a program lead at Massachusetts Advocates for Children. The organization, along with Greater Boston Legal Services, filed the aforementioned complaint with state officials. 

“Those in power… must address the exclusion of Black and Latinx students within Boston Public Schools. When I say ‘exclusion,’ I’m referring to the multiple ways in which Black and Latinx students with disabilities are pushed out of schools and away from their education,” Rogers said. “It’s not a secret who inadequate transportation disproportionately impacts.”

The problems are larger than just buses being late, Rogers said. When students miss school time because of transportation issues, they are being denied their legal right to a free public education, and some special education students are missing hours of learning time on a regular basis, she added. 

Read more from Boston.com.

First-of-its-kind law improves college access for students with autism, intellectual disabilities

Julia Landau, director of the Disability Education Justice Initiative at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, was quoted in an Aug. 7 Boston Globe article.

Massachusetts students with autism and significant intellectual disabilities will gain unprecedented access to postsecondary education at state colleges and universities under a law signed late last month by Governor Charlie Baker, lauded by disability rights advocates as the first of its kind in the nation.

More than a decade in the making, the breakthrough legislation will require all of the state’s public college campuses to offer accommodations to young people whose severe disabilities prevent them from earning a standard high school diploma, allowing them to take classes as nondegree-seeking students and join extracurricular activities alongside their peers — experiences that can transform their lives for the better, according to experts.

“It’s truly a joyous and historic milestone, for the state and for the country, because it really will allow people with disabilities to reap the same benefits of higher education,” said Landau. “They have shown that they can exceed societal expectations when they’re given the same opportunities to learn.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Tragedies fuel child welfare bill, pitched as attempt to improve system

Child welfare advocates, including Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Staff Attorney Susan Elsen and Retired Juvenile Court Judge Jay Blitzman, interim director of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, scrutinized portions of an omnibus reform bill that in part seeks to rework the advising structure for the state’s Office of the Child Advocate while granting the office more power to intervene in some court cases — proposed legislative language one former judge said creates legal questions. The bill is pinned to high profile cases of child neglect in Massachusetts.

Some child welfare advocacy groups pushed back on the idea, saying the Office of the Child Advocate needs to have access to a wide range of expertise. Elsen said the office cannot oversee the welfare and safety of children in the state all by itself.

“Even if we agree that the composition should be adjusted so it doesn’t have as many executive branch members so as to ensure that the OCA has independence from the executive branch, the OCA does need an advisory committee to consult with, report to, and be accountable to,” Elsen told lawmakers.

Blitzman said Massachusetts has a “history of reacting to tragic cases with sometimes ineffective policy changes.” Blitzman said he and the legislative committee share the same concerns about improving the child welfare system. But he raised questions in his testimony about “how the bill might or might not achieve its goals.” 

Read more in the June 7 articles at MassLive, CommonWealth, and The Eagle Tribune.

Letter: Fight to lift kids that Hubie Jones started 50 years ago goes on

Kevin Murray, executive director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, penned a letter in The Boston Globe highlighting how Boston education activist and social worker Hubie Jones helped shape MAC:

Fight to lift kids that Hubie Jones started 50 years ago goes on

Thanks for your Feb. 22 Metro article, “Hubie Jones spent his career improving schools for students,” highlighting Jones’s central role in shining light on the exclusion of children from the Boston Public Schools more than 50 years ago. Jones has been at the center of social change efforts in Boston for more than a half century and, as he says, he’s still at it.

What’s more, Jones has always understood the importance of organization to long-term change. The task force mentioned in the article became the Massachusetts Advocacy Center, and it was instrumental in the passage of both the bilingual education law and Chapter 766, the special education law. A few years later, that center became Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which today continues to use Jones’s model, combining systemic advocacy with working to change the lives of children, one-by-one. Every family that the organization supports owes a huge debt of gratitude to Hubie Jones.

Kevin Murray
Executive director
Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Kevin Murray to join MAC as new executive director

Kevin Murray has been selected as Massachusetts Advocates for Children’s new Executive Director, a role he will assume on September 30, 2019. He has spent his career in social change advocacy, with broad experience in both domestic and international nonprofit leadership.

Most recently, Murray has led a nonprofit consulting practice. Previously, he served as the executive director of two organizations, the Program on Human Rights in the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law and Grassroots International, a Boston-based organization providing financial and advocacy support to social movements in 10 countries. Murray has also held senior roles at Oxfam America, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and the Center for Global Education, among other advocacy and education organizations. A long-time Boston Public Schools parent, Murray is a founding member of Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST) and a board member of Citizens for Public Schools. Both promote educational equity, the former working primarily in the Boston Public Schools and the latter at the statewide level.

“I’m honored to be joining MAC as its next executive director,” Murray said. “This unique opportunity will allow me to work with the MAC community as it builds on its mission of a half-century of uncompromising support for the rights and interests of Massachusetts children and families.” Fluent in English and Spanish, Kevin holds a B.S. in Economics and a B.A. in Political Economy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Jerry Mogul, who will be leaving MAC after 16 years as executive director, said, “I’m thrilled with the choice of Kevin Murray and confident that MAC’s critical impact on behalf of the Commonwealth’s children and families will continue to increase under Kevin’s leadership.”

Boston focuses on nurturing female minority teachers

Our Kids in Mass. Are Alright, But We Can Do Better

By Lonnie Powers

Here in Massachusetts, we have more than 200,000 children living in poverty, and more than one-third of them live in families extremely vulnerable to homelessness. Despite this, our state leads the nation in rankings for overall child well-being, according to the 2014 KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual report from The Annie E. Casey Foundation that tracks the economic, educational, health and family/community well-being of America’s children.

One of the primary reasons Massachusetts does so well, relatively speaking, can be attributed to the state’s robust network of nonprofits that advocate on behalf of low income children and families. While legal services may not immediately come to mind as a significant factor when it comes to fighting poverty, hunger and homelessness, the state’s civil legal aid organizations are a vital part of this safety net.

To give one example: legal aid organizations routinely secure vital educational services for children. Take the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (CLCM), which provided full litigation representation involving education issues to 208 students and their families in FY13. In most of these cases, CLCM won appropriate school services, including placements and reinstatements. CLCM also provided advice and brief services to another 796 students. Among their clients are youth excluded from school or segregated in inadequate alternative school settings, children who are homeless, and children who are in foster care.

The state’s federal reimbursement for the cost of intensive behavioral services provided by Massachusetts to low-income children with autism increased thanks to advocacy by Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC). Beginning in FY08, MAC’s advocacy for the Children’s Autism Medicaid Waiver resulted in the Commonwealth receiving 50 percent federal reimbursement. The waiver was originally capped at $2.5 million but expanded to $3 million in FY11 with MAC’s advocacy. In FY13 MAC again advocated for expansion, resulting in the cap being raised to $4 million. This will result in the state receiving an additional $500,000 in federal reimbursement each year. The program, which served 182 students in December 2013, now has the capacity to serve 220 children. Not only are these children receiving the intensive services they need and deserve, resulting in a higher quality of life, but over the long term, many can be expected to avoid costly institutionalization, saving as much as $195,000 per year per child.

Additionally, the Center for Law and Education combines statewide advocacy with technical support and collaborative policy work to identify the systemic patterns underlying student exclusion from effective education and to advocate for changes in school policies and practices to improve student outcomes. Their work benefits all low-income students, including those with disabilities.

This is the kind of work it takes to keep children, especially those facing exceptional obstacles, in school. As Noah Berger, president of MassBudget, the Massachusetts KIDS Count group, noted in announcing the report earlier this summer, “Dismantling the barriers to success that are holding back too many of our children will not be easy. It requires improving our schools and the array of supports our kids need to be ready to thrive in school.”

Our children need more stability if they’re to succeed as adults. All of our safety net organizations need support to continue their vital work. And civil legal aid must continue to be a part of that safety net to ensure that all of the Commonwealth’s children reach their full potential as students and productive members of our communities.

While we may hold the top spot in the country for child well-being, it’s clearly not good enough. Our kids may be doing better than most, but we want them to be excellent.

Lonnie A. Powers is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. He has more than 40 years of policy and legal experience at the state and national levels, having devoted the majority of his career to establishing, building, sustaining and revitalizing legal aid organizations. Lonnie began his legal career in his native Arkansas, first with the Attorney General’s Office and later with Legal Services of Arkansas, where he served as Executive Director.