Dear Readers:


At the core of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, lawmakers and advocates established a team approach in which parents and educators working together review challenges, explore options, and make decisions in the best interest of each child.

The very teamwork and collaboration that are at the core of IDEA are also at the core of a best practice in special education: Local Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (SEPACs).

An effective SEPAC takes the teamwork of the IEP process one step further, putting parents in the role of advisors who use their family’s experiences, unique perspectives and expertise to influence decisions and help shape programs and policies at the local level.

An effective SEPAC is more than a meeting – it is an approach and a mindset that truly values the advice of parents. When parent advisors are valued and engaged through a local SEPACs, they can work together with school district staff and community leaders to improve education, not only for those with disabilities, but for all children.

Debra A. Jennings
Director | Center for Parent Information & Resources
Executive Co-Director | SPAN Parent Advocacy Network

This guide was produced under U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs No. H328R130014. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Department of Education. No official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned on this website is intended or should be inferred. This product is public domain. Authorization to reproduce it in whole or in part is granted.

Permission to reprint this material is not necessary, however, the citation should be: Center for Parent Information and Resources (retrieval date). Advocacy in Action: A Guide to Local Special Education Parent Advisory Councils, Newark, NJ, Center for Parent Information & Resources, 2019.

Project Team:

Debra Jennings, Director | Center for Parent Information & Resources
Executive Co-Director | SPAN Parent Advocacy Network

Myriam Alizo, Project Assistant | Center for Parent Information & Resources

Karen Antone, Project Consultant

Writing, Design, Production, Website Development |
Considine Communication Strategies



The Center for Parent Information and Resources offers this guide as a road map to help bring stakeholders together, suggests strategies to help them engage in dialogue, and discusses best practices to help them work together to benefit the local community. It draws on experience and practice from states in which local SEPACs have been in operation for decades.

Some states now require school districts to establish local SEPACs; most do not. But even in states where they are not required, progressive families and education leaders have established local SEPACs that have become an asset to the school community.

Because each state and each school district is different, many choices are left up to each community, presenting both challenges and opportunities. The challenges are for each school community to develop and run a SEPAC that is aligned with the unique needs of the school district, bringing in diverse perspectives, and setting the tone for productive discussion, collaboration, and responsive change. The opportunities to improve the school community, climate, and education for all students are boundless.

Navigating this Website

SEPAC Guide Table of Contents link image example. Try clicking me now. ← Look for this menu link at the top right of every page of this website. Click it to open a slide out table of contents for the Guide on the right side of the page. Try this one now to see it work.

Part I of this guide is designed for parents, state agencies, local education agencies (LEAs), and school leaders who are interested in establishing and running an effective SEPAC in their local school district. It can be used to start a new group, or to strengthen existing collaboration as a means to improving special education services and outcomes for students with disabilities.

Part II of this guide is designed for staff at Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) and National Parent Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs), as well as statewide leaders and advocates, who are interested in supporting existing local SEPACs, and/or helping to build support to establish local SEPACs.

Part III of this guide contains resources and tools that have proven useful in the establishment, development and ongoing operation of local SEPACs.

Color designations in this Guide: Parts I, II, and III of this Guide and its associated PDF document utilize different color schemes in footer areas, title bars, and page sidebars to help the reader in navigating and using the guide, as follows:






In developing this guide, our project team and consultants turned to state and local leaders who are working to support local SEPACs. We would like to thank the countless families whose interviews and stories helped to inform Part I of this guide, and to the school leaders whose advice and expertise helped shape its content. We also thank the scores of Parent Center leaders who responded to our survey and who took part in phone interviews to help us bring a national perspective for Part II of this guide.

Part I of this guide has been adapted for national use from Special Education Parent Advisory Groups in New Jersey, A Guide to Developing and Conducting an Effective Group, produced in 2017. That manual, developed as part of the START Project in partnership with New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), Office of Special Education Professional Development and Office of Special Education Policy and Procedure, and the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc. (SPAN), was funded 100% by New Jersey’s federal Special Education—Grants to States.

Part II of this guide was developed using a three-pronged approach to gather qualitative information from Parent Center leaders about activity in their state and their efforts to support local SEPACs.

We surveyed more than 400 Parent Center leaders and staff to learn more about interests and priorities for this guide and ways in which Parent Centers interface with and support parents as advisors, whether on SEPAC or other groups. Their candid responses gave us a starting point for this guide. Scores of respondents indicated a willingness to take part in a phone interview, allowing our team to drill down and get more details about state activities.

Based on the survey results, the project team carried out detailed interviews with leaders at Parent Centers across the country in those states where SEPACs are present at the local or intermediate unit level. 19 leaders from 14 states responded to our requests, and shared their views, experiences and perspectives.

With guidance from state-level leaders, the team looked at enabling state legislation, as well as rules and regulations to implement that legislation (where it exists) to find common threads and look for trends, themes and best practice. We asked parent leaders to send us copies of guides, videos, power point and other training and informational materials so we could review the content and learn more about what is happening on the ground.

Thank you to the following Parent Center leaders whose interviews and/or state-level research helped shape this work:


Jane Floethe-Ford, Parents Helping Parents, California
Marlena Garcia, ParentsCAN
Irene Martinez, Fiesta Educativa, Inc., California
Cid Van Koersel, WarmLine Family Resource Center


Jennifer Lussier, Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center


Karen Thompson, ASK Resource Center, Inc.


Lesa Paddack, IN*SOURCE


Lesli Girard, Families Together, Inc.


Laura Nata, Louisiana, Families Helping Families of Greater New Orleans, Parent Training and Information Center


Carrie Woodcock, Maine Parent Federation


Ruth Diaz, Federation for Children with Special Needs
Leslie Leslie, Federation for Children with Special Needs


Nicole Miller, Michigan Alliance for Families

New Jersey

Myriam Alizo, SPAN
Karen Antone, SPAN

New York

Susan Barlow, Parent Network of Western NY, New York


Marbella Caceres, Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities


Jeannine H. Brinkley, PEAL Center

South Dakota

Carla Miller, South Dakota Parent Connection


Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute
Kristin Kane, PEATC


Ginger Kwan, Open Doors for Multicultural Families