A View from the States
Whether or not your state currently has or requires local SEPACs, there is a lot that Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) can do, both directly and indirectly, to help support SEPACs at the local level. In fact, the very mission of the Parent Centers is to help parents participate effectively, and to partner with professionals and policymakers to improve outcomes for children with disabilities.
Only a handful of states currently require local or regional school districts to have parental involvement through a SEPAC. In some states districts have established a local SEPAC, even though they are not required to do so. In those states, SEPACs are not operating on a statewide basis.
While some states and districts are just now adopting the practice, others have been using parent advisors through a SEPAC model for decades. In states where local SEPACs are required, the enabling language varies greatly: it may be a single sentence of state law or regulation—or pages of it—that sets the tone for the local SEPAC function in that state.
Part II: A Resource Guide for Supporting Local SEPACs | Chapter 1: A View from the States
Here are a few of states in which local or regional SEPACs are active:
California has required that parents be part of local planning since 1977. Through their Special Education Local Planning Area (SELPA) regions of California develop a local plan to describe how it will provide special education services. The local advisory groups, Community Advisory Committees (CACs), meet regularly focusing on training and advisory. While the CAC functions at the regional level, not the local district level, they are parent-driven advisory groups.
Colorado does not require local SEPACs but the Colorado State SEAC, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Education (CODOE), encourages districts to establish them. Together, the SEAC and CODOE issued a resource guide to help local districts establish and run SEPACs. The 14-page guide offers a road map and resources, along with a checklist to consider when organizing the local SEPAC. Local SEPACs are invited to report work to the statewide SEAC to help create an impact on statewide level.
Indiana school districts have SEPACs dating back to 1988. Their mission is multifaceted: support and increased recognition; understanding of children, youth and adults with disabilities, and also to meet with local school administrators to collaborate on a school and community partnership.
“Parent Advisory Committees are made up of parents from the district who want to work with the LEA. They share concerns about hot topics, discuss vital resources and help support families.”
– Lesa Paddack, IN*SOURCE, Indiana
Kansas school districts have established local Special Education Advisory Councils. In general, they consist of a parent representative from each of the district’s schools, special education staff, Board of Education members, building administration and local special education leadership. Some plan events such as a mini-conference, resource fair, and parent support groups.
Massachusetts state law (Chapter 71B, Section 3) requires each school district to establish a Special Education Parent Advisory Council. That state law is highly prescriptive, mapping out duties and responsibilities. In addition, state regulations (603 CMR 28:07(4)) reiterate the statute and provide further guidance. The Massachusetts Department of Education developed a 17-page guide—offered in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole –to help place the requirements in context and offer plain language guidance to school districts and parents. Massachusetts encourages districts to develop a welcome packet with resources for new parents, and to help orient them to the SEPAC process. Every district in Massachusetts is required to work with the SEPAC to offer at least one workshop a year on the rights to parents and guardians under special education law. http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/pac/
“Some districts have very active special education parent advisory councils that are well supported with information, resources, training and the ability to have input by LEAs.”
– Ruth Diaz, Federation for Children with Special Needs, Massachusetts
Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE 340.1838) requires that each of the state’s 56 intermediate school districts have a Parent Advisory Committee for special education planning. The rules also describe the membership and responsibilities of the committee. While this is not a local district effort, it is a regional parent advisory group for special education. Michigan has required PACs for at least 20 years.
Minnesota law (125A.24) requires each school district to have a Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC). This statute defines the purpose, structure, membership, and minimum meeting requirements. In Minnesota, the PACER Center has developed a comprehensive training program to help local SEACs be effective tools for change.
New Jersey administrative code (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-1.2h) requires each of the state’s 613 local school districts to “ensure that a special education parent advisory group is in place in the district to provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities.” There are no further rules, regulations or official guidance, so it is up to each district to develop a process and procedure. The NJDOE funded the Parent Information Center to develop a guide in both English and Spanish, and posted the guide to their official website.
Pennsylvania has more than 600 local school districts that make up 29 Intermediate Units (IU) each of which is required to have a task force. The task forces are required not by state law, but under a 1972 Court ordered consent decree in the matter of PARC v. Commonwealth of PA, 343 F. Supp. 279 which mandated the development of a comprehensive plan. That plan established a state task force and 20 local task forces, one for each IU, whose primary purpose is to ensure the rights of children with disabilities. The IU has funds to support logistics including meals, mailings, website, and administrative resources. They meet at least five times a year. Pennsylvania has produced an 18-page guide, now in its 7th edition, to help families take an active role in these regional task forces.
In Rhode Island, a Local Advisory Committee (LAC) is mandated by the Rhode Island Department of Education (300.900) The rules, adopted in 2013, are comprehensive and address issues including committee make-up, membership, functions and responsibilities, duties and responsibilities of the local or regional education agency, conduct at meetings, meeting frequency, minutes, and meeting notification. The rules specifically allow members to be reimbursed for “reasonable and necessary expenses for attending meetings and performing duties.” In addition, the rules specifically require that the LEA contract with the Parent Training and Technical Assistance Agency or another community based agency for support and technical assistance.
“(d) …The local or regional educational agency shall provide support to the committee by contracting for technical assistance services with the Rhode Island designated Parent Training and Technical Assistance Agency or other community-based non-profit parent organization. Such technical assistance shall include the role of advisory committees in advocating for children, state and federal regulations, community resources, strategic planning and development of an annual report to the school committee…”
– Rhode Island Board of Education, Regulations Governing the Education of Children with Disabilities, 2013, Subpart I, 300.900 (d)
South Dakota school districts have established local SEPACs but they are not required to do so.
“They have learned that to engage families from reservation communities, they need to have an initial contact with the community to develop trust. The concept of family engagement means different things for different parents. There is no consensus. Technology hinders engagement because people are not meeting face to face. South Dakota has one of the highest rates of working parents with children in daycare settings, so it is really hard for parents to attend meetings.”
– Carla Miller, South Dakota Parent Connection, South Dakota
In Virginia, local SEAC function is established in Virginia Board of Education Regulations for Special Education (8VAC20-81-230 D). The prescriptive rules are further delineated in a 48-page guide, A Guide for Local Special Education Advisory Committees in Virginia, which details the state’s requirements for membership, function of the committee, requirement for public notice, meeting frequency and performance indicators. The majority of participants must be parents, and school district staff serves as consultants to the local SEPACs. There are 130 school districts in the state.
Washington school districts have established Special Education Parent Advisory Committees comprised of parent representatives who meet with special education district leadership and other district staff monthly. They seek to identify common needs and goals among the parents of students receiving special education services and facilitate strategies to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their respective school programs. The groups serve as an advisory, not a decision-making body. School district leadership serve as ex officio members.