The Weston Town Crier
Mike Champa: SJC rules against Weston
By Mike Champa
Posted Dec 1, 2015 at 3:33 PM
On Oct. 23, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled against the Weston Public Schools and affirmed a lower court decision in a public records access case that could dramatically change the way school districts deal with the parents of special needs children.
The court ruled that the Weston Public Schools must allow public review of private settlement agreements they entered into with the parents of special needs children. The SJC decision brought an end to a three-year legal battle and ordered Weston to produce the documents for public review.
A Weston resident at the time, I was refused access to these records and brought the case. It was my contention that private settlement agreements have become the primary method used by Weston to transfer the cost of special education directly to parents, thereby avoiding the statutory requirement to provide what the special education laws refer to as “free appropriate public education.”
In addition, it was my position that these agreements obligated the town to the expenditure of millions of public tax dollars and the public had a right to review the terms of the agreements under the provisions of the Public Records Law.
Finally, it was my belief that if the agreements were reviewed it would confirm that all special needs children in Weston were not being treated equally, and that parents were required to pay a large percentage of the cost associated with the education of their special needs children, putting parents without the resources to hire attorneys and advocates at a distinct disadvantage.
At no time was there a request to identify specific children, and all information was to be in a redacted form that eliminated all personally identifiable information.
In amicus briefs filed with the SJC, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Massachusetts Attorney General and the Massachusetts Department of Education all supported the notion of the public’s right to review redacted copies of settlement agreements. Weston had argued that the release of redacted documents violated student confidentiality laws; the high court disagreed.
On Nov. 10, Weston released 23 agreements executed between 2006 and 2013; the most recent documents have also been requested. A review of the released documents paints Weston school administrators as unfair and inconsistent in their administration of Weston’s settlement process and in the administration of their special education program.
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