A Brief Overview
- Parents and schools can learn step-by-step how to create and manage a SEPAC through the downloadable Advocacy in Action guidebook.
- An informal webinar about SEPACs is freely available through Facebook.
- Parents and schools who want to learn more about special education process, rights and responsibilities can reach out to PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff for guidance and training. From PAVE’s home page, click Get Help!
- This article contains information about a special-education bill proposed in 2019 that would have required SEPACs throughout the state. Currently the option to develop a SEPAC is available voluntarily.
Parents, school staff and invested community members can collaborate to improve outcomes for students in special education by building together a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC).
Any school district can establish a SEPAC, and anyone within the local district—including a parent—might start the work to get the group going. No legislation is required. Although a few states require districts to develop SEPACs, Washington State does not. SB 5532, which failed to pass in the 2019 legislative session, would have required Washington school districts to establish SEPACs.
Note: Conversations continue statewide about which aspects of the special-education bill may be revived in 2020. In addition to the SEPAC requirement, SB 5532 included provisions for safety-net funding for special education; requirements for teacher-preparation programs; service district advocacy; and requirements for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) to participate in transition meetings for students older than 16 with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). A complete summary of the bill and information about its sponsorship and movement through the legislative process is available on the Washington State Legislature Website.
Once established, a local SEPAC is part of the local school district, not a private or independent group. It is not a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO); nor is it a parent support group. A local SEPAC addresses system-level challenges affecting students with disabilities and their families. A local SEPAC is parent-driven, and often parent-led, but there is an important role for school district staff and leaders. Ideally, membership is diverse and inclusive.
A parent center in New Jersey, in collaboration with the national Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR), provides a guidebook to help families and schools work together to build SEPACs. The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (New Jersey SPAN), created the 67-page, downloadable Advocacy in Action guidebook with grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Debra Jennings, who serves as co-executive director of SPAN in addition to being director of CPIR, speaks informally about the guidebook and SEPAC development in a webinar available through Facebook.
According to Advocacy in Action, “Participation in a SEPAC offers the opportunity to raise questions, voice concerns, and provide direct input to school leadership and influence policy and program decisions. The great benefit of participating in a local SEPAC is that the individual needs of a child become part of ‘the big picture’ and can reach a broader community of children.”
A SEPAC is parent-driven, meaning that:
- Parents determine priorities and activities.
- Parents strategize to seek solutions on issues that matter to them, helping schools overcome challenges and make decisions related to special education programs and services.
The guidebook emphasizes that parent-driven does not mean that parents do all the work: “District leaders participate, provide information, background, data, and support.”
Washington has a statewide Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC), and PAVE participates on that council. Staff from PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) program are available to consult with parents and can provide information and resources to assist anyone who may wish to build a SEPAC. For example, PTI staff may provide a training in special education process, parent rights and responsibilities to families wanting to get more involved with their local school districts. PTI staff can help by providing tips for collaboration and developing a partnership with the district. Ideally, a SEPAC creates a sense of shared investment toward successful outcomes for students with disabilities.
From PAVE’s home page, click Get Help! to request assistance from PTI staff. Or call: 800-572-7368.