To secure the educational rights of all Massachusetts schoolchildren with disabilities.
What We Do
SPEDWatch identifies, confronts and publicizes noncompliance with special education laws in Massachusetts public schools. We expose the failure of Massachusetts governmental agencies to act to protect students’ special education rights. We ensure that families have access to accurate, easy-to-understand information about special education law, process, and policy, to aid them in advocating for their children.
SPEDWatch is organizing parents and guardians into a grassroots, family-driven, civil rights movement utilizing the strategy of nonviolent direct action to secure the educational rights of all Massachusetts schoolchildren (aged 3-21) with special needs. Nonviolent direct action is a social change strategy that works by manipulating the balance of power between an oppressed group (in our case,
families of schoolchildren with disabilities) and their oppressors (in our case the federal, state and local authorities that control the provision of educational services to our children). This strategy has proven successful in civil rights struggles throughout history. SPEDWatch views this as the critical missing variable in the fight for special education rights in Massachusetts.
SPEDWatch is working to reshape the public’s perception of special education and students with disabilities by investigating, exposing and confronting the many violations of students’ special education rights occurring in our schools. Our members are families, attorneys, advocates, clinicians, and educational professionals. We equip our members with straightforward, understandable information on how to directly combat those systemic violations of special education law. SPEDWatch runs the only listserv in Massachusetts specifically designed to allow members to share their experiences with, and advice about, the many roadblocks that stand between our children and a free, appropriate, public education. We support parent communities that want to organize and present their grievances to local and state governmental officials.
We recognize and applaud the many other Massachusetts organizations doing advocacy work on behalf of students’ special education rights. These organizations pursue their missions through a number of means: providing information, technical assistance, and referrals; conducting workshops, trainings, and conferences; providing legal representation to individuals; and pursuing litigation and policy work to address systemic issues. Some of these organizations work on behalf of all children (some of whom have disabilities); some work on behalf of all disabled Massachusetts citizens (some of whom are children); and some work exclusively for individuals with specific disabilities (like autism, intellectual disability, or mental illness).
SPEDWatch augments these efforts by being the only Massachusetts organization that is laser-focused, to the exclusion of all else, on the educational rights of all Massachusetts students with disabilities, aged 3-21, and by being the only organization utilizing nonviolent direct action techniques to pursue and secure those rights.
SPEDWatch pursues its mission utilizing a strategy called nonviolent direct action. Nonviolent direct action is a social change strategy that works by manipulating the balance of power between an oppressed group (in our case, families of schoolchildren with disabilities) and their oppressors (in our case the federal, state, and local government authorities that control the provision of educational services to our children).
There are many methods of nonviolent direct action including: protest demonstrations, public assemblies, media campaigns, actions that make a statement, noncooperation with social events and customs, strikes, economic boycotts, and many more.
Readers will be most familiar with nonviolent direct action as it was used during struggles such as the American Revolution, the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and the women’s right to vote movement. The Boston Tea Party and the women’s suffrage marches were acts of nonviolent protest. Labor strikes and the Montgomery bus boycott used nonviolent direct action in the form of economic pressure to force change. In each case, the struggle was long and often dangerous. In each case, success came only as a result of the oppressed group refusing to cease their efforts until their demands were met.
SPEDWatch has chosen nonviolent direct action because of its effectiveness and because it is a strategy that has not yet been deployed by any other group in the fight for special education rights. We see our work as augmenting other advocacy efforts already underway in the Commonwealth.
We are early on in the process of building a civil rights, social change movement to secure the educational rights of all Massachusetts schoolchildren with disabilities, but we have already laid some important groundwork. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recognizes SPEDWatch as a viable (if unwelcome) player in the fight for special education rights. Districts are leery of our presence, especially those that we’ve already directly targeted (Danvers, Somerset, Medford, Ipswich, Reading, Wachusett Regional to name just a few). We’ve grown from 39 to over 800 members. Individuals are using our listserv and publications every day to get the information they need to advocate effectively for students.
Most importantly, SPEDWatch is bringing together the people who are most affected by the current state of special education in Massachusetts…families of schoolchildren with disabilities.
SPEDWatch intervention reverses an unlawful practice used in school districts across Massachusetts.
Districts were requiring parents to waive their legal rights under special education law as a condition of attending virtual IEP team meetings.
SPEDWatch intervention overturns Methuen, MA Public Schools’ noncompliant Extended School Year eligibility policy.
SPEDWatch complaint against Georgetown, MA Public Schools results in correction of their noncompliant Evaluation Guidelines.
SPEDWatch publishes statewide MCAS Results showing a continued widening of the academic achievement gap between students with and without disabilities. MDESE does not publish this direct comparison, only SPEDWatch does.
SPEDWatch complaint against Pembroke, MA Public Schools results in a cessation of their noncompliant practice of denial of transportation to Extended School Year services for some students.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education agrees to SPEDWatch’s request that it revise its Consent to Evaluate Form by adding a check box with the language “I request access to all evaluation reports at least two days prior to team discussion.”
SPEDWatch complaint against Brookline, MA Public Schools results in removal of noncompliant practices from their Home
Based Services Parent Guidelines.
SPEDWatch publishes its Advocacy Brief on CRAs, summarizing a decision from the MA Supreme Judicial Court which ended the improper practice of districts referring schoolchildren to the juvenile court system for absences due to symptoms of disabilities.
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE) agrees to revise its regulatory audit report (CPR) for Marshfield, MA Public Schools after SPEDWatch identifies noncompliance missed by MDESE.
SPEDWatch appears on Stoughton Cable Access program Community Forum
SPEDWatch first fundraising “Walk for Special Education Rights” brings in $23K.
SPEDWatch meets with Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick, to brief him on widespread noncompliance with special education laws in the Commonwealth. He extends the original 30 minute appointment to 60 minutes
Ellen Chambers, SPEDWatch founder, receives the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Diane Lipton Award for Outstanding Educational Advocacy on Behalf of Students with Disabilities for SPEDWatch’s work in Massachusetts.
Ellen Chambers, SPEDWatch founder, receives a Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Women of Justice Award for SPEDWatch’s social justice impact.
Arc of Massachusetts publishes SPEDWatch article: Confronting the silent crisis in special education.
SPEDWatch presents workshop: Special Education: Rights & Realities at Massachusetts General Hospital conference, causing one special education director in attendance to walk out in protest.
Veteran Boston Channel 5 reporter, Pam Cross, interviews SPEDWatch founder Ellen Chambers about parents’ reaction to comments made by Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention.
Cape Cod Voice magazine, at SPEDWatch’s urging, devotes its entire final issue to special education issues: Fighting for their future: When special education becomes anything but special.
Third SPEDWatch protest demonstration outside MDESE headquarters coincides with Mitchell Chester’s first day as MDESE Commissioner.
SPEDWatch organizes parents in the Wachusett Regional School District resulting in significant reforms to special education practice there.
SPEDWatch protest demonstration outside the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MDESE) headquarters draws over 50 participants, including Sandee W. Winkelman of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Winkelman v Parma City School District. Featured on front page of the Boston Globe’s Metro City section.
Bowing to pressure from SPEDWatch members, Boston’s Channel 5 television station gives parents of students with special needs equal airtime, devoting an entire Chronicle broadcast to a show it titled "Inside Special Education." The program is so popular it is rebroadcast in March 2008.
First SPEDWatch protest demonstration takes place at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
SPEDWatch receives its federal designation as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
SPEDWatch releases its seminal report, Broken Promises: Special Education in Massachusetts.
SPEDWatch appears on AbleVision, an award-winning Medford, MA local access television program produced entirely by people with disabilities.
SPEDWatch appears on The Medford Pundit.
SPEDWatch launches a series of Community Meetings to inform parents of the organization’s work, including in Bellingham and Mendon.
SPEDWatch convenes a meeting in Medford, MA, where over 80 parents and school administrators discuss issues with the district’s special education department. This sparks weeks of debate in the local press, eventually resulting in a reorganization of the district’s SEPAC and the retirement of the district’s special education director.
SPEDWatch organizes parents in Reading, MA, to present their grievances about special education matters to administration. The special education director resigns, and an officer of the Reading Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) states “SPEDWatch was the catalyst for change. Without their involvement we definitely would not have gotten as far as we have.”
First mainstream media story about SPEDWatch, Group monitors special ed system, appears in the Boston Globe.
SPEDWatch intercedes on behalf of Somerset, MA parents of special needs students, prompting one to declare “I believe you’ve helped us create enough of a stir to scare Somerset onto the road to compliance!”
SPEDWatch is formally incorporated in the state of Massachusetts.
First SPEDWatch Board of Directors Meeting is held.
SPEDWatch is funded entirely by membership fees and donations. We do not accept funding from any source that would compromise our ability to act independently in the best interests of our members.
Board of Directors
Since 1997, Ellen Chambers has devoted her career to helping Massachusetts families, educators, and clinicians obtain appropriate special education services for schoolchildren with special needs. In 2006, she founded SPEDWatch, Inc., to act as a non-profit special education watchdog group working to secure the educational rights of all Massachusetts schoolchildren with disabilities. She has worked in the public and private sector including positions at the Boston law firm of Margolis & Bloom, Boston’s Disability Law Center, the Arc, and the neuropsychological testing firm Psychological Testing Consultants of Fitchburg. She is a consultant to Bay State Community Services of Plymouth, and is an Educational Guardian Ad Litem for the Massachusetts Juvenile Courts. Ms. Chambers is a recipient of the National Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates’ Diane Lipton Award for Outstanding Educational
Advocacy on Behalf of Children with Disabilities, and the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Women of Justice Award. She received her B.A. in English from the University of Lowell, and graduated with honors from Bentley College’s M.B.A. Program. She resides in Pepperell, Massachusetts with her husband and their daughter.
Michael DiPronio is an engineer who has been working in the field of valve design since 1988. He has a daughter with a speech/language learning disability and has been a resident of Natick since 1999. Mike holds an M.B.A. degree from Bentley University, and a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University.
Patricia Hasper is an Army veteran and an independently licensed clinical social worker, an independently licensed attorney, and a certified mediator. She works as an Educational Guardian Ad Litem for children in state custody in four counties in Western Massachusetts and is contracted with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to conduct various assessments of foster children and the appropriateness of their placements. She has an independent social work practice in Hampshire County. Ms. Hasper credits SPEDWatch for her four successful pre-hearing settlements after filing with the BSEA on behalf of both private clients and those in state custody. She received her B.S. from the University of Florida, her M.Ed. from Auburn University, her M.S.W. from Columbia University, and her J.D. from Western New England University School of Law.
Marion King has been a SPEDWatch member since 2006. She earned degrees in Paralegal Studies and Sociology as an adult while raising her two children. She lives and works in Greater Boston. Marion prevailed pro se at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals when her older child was in first grade, crediting her success to the support she received from the SPEDWatch community. Marion has been a longtime, frequent contributor to the SPEDWatch listserv and is committed to the SPEDWatch mission of securing the educational rights of schoolchildren with disabilities.
Katherine Martin has a solo law practice, Exceptional Kids Advocacy, where she represents parents and students in special education disputes, primarily in Western Massachusetts. She is a single, adoptive parent of a young adult son with multiple severe disabilities including autism, mental health issues, and rare GI conditions. She also served for over 20 years as a Compliance Officer for a state civil rights agency investigating complaints of discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation and education. Attorney Martin received her J.D. degree from Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, and holds a
B.A. in Political Science from Keene State College. She completed a Graduate Certificate Program for Women in Politics and Government at Boston College, and received their 25th Anniversary Public Service Award Outstanding Alumna. She served for eight years as the President of the Chicopee Special Education Parent Advisory Council. She is Vice President for the Chicopee Light It Up Blue for Autism campaign and is a Coach and Volunteer for Special Olympics Massachusetts.