Special Education Parent Advisory Councils

A local Special Education Parent Advisory Council, or SEPAC (sea-pack) is a district-level, parent-driven group that provides input to the local school district on system-level challenges in special education and related

In different states, these groups may go by different names:

  • SEPAC—Special Education Parent Advisory Committee/Council
  • LAC- Local Advisory Committee/Council
  • CAC—Community Advisory Committee/Council
  • SELPA—Special Education Local Planning Area Consortium
  • SEPAG—Special Education Parent Advisory Group
  • PAC—Parent Advisory Committee/Council
  • PAT—Parent Advisory Team
  • SIT—School Improvement Team
  • SECAC—Special Education Community Advisory Council

In this guide, we will use the term SEPAC—Special Education Parent Advisory Council to refer to these local advisory groups. We chose this term because it includes ‘P’ for parents*, and because the term ‘council’ refers to a group that comes together to bring different perspectives in order to make decisions, consult, or deliberate on a common objective.

* Our inclusive view of the term ‘parents’ reflects biological, adoptive, and foster parents, guardian, grandparents, and extended family caregivers.


  • What a local SEPAC is — and what it is not.
  • The purpose, function, and importance of a local SEPAC.
  • SEPAC membership.
  • SEPAC responsibilities.
  • Benefits of an effective local SEPAC.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 1: Special Education Parent Advisory Councils

What is the purpose and function of a local SEPAC?

A local SEPAC provides direct input to school district leaders about policies, programs, practices, and services that have an impact on students with disabilities and their families. Its purpose is to advise, advocate, and offer guidance, not to decide policy. An effective SEPAC can increase the proactive, productive involvement of families by inviting their input in ways that can be used to shape local special education policy.

An effective SEPAC that uses parental input can:

  • Help improve educational outcomes and well-being for all students, including those with disabilities.
  • Help identify unmet needs.
  • Help shape the development of programs, services, and policies; as well as improve district culture.

These groups are advisory. SEPACs do not have formal authority to issue directives or set policy. Rather, they make recommendations and provide guidance that can be used by decision makers and local leaders.

Who can be a member of a SEPAC?

Parents are the core members of a SEPAC.

Members might include:

  • Parents of children with disabilities who may have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan
  • School leaders, including District or County Supervisors of Special Services and/or members of the Board of Education
  • Teachers, Child Study Team members, related services professionals, and other school staff
  • Students and former students
  • Adults with disabilities
  • School staff with disabilities
  • Representatives from charter schools
  • Advocates for children who are homeless or in foster care
  • Advocates for children who are in correctional facilities, nursing homes, or hospitals
  • Advocates for immigrant and migrant children
  • Any parent or community member committed to improving education in the district

SEPAC membership and procedures should be as inclusive as possible. Parents do not need special training or background knowledge to be a member of a SEPAC. In states that require local SEPACs, the make-up of the group may be described in statute or regulations.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 1: Special Education Parent Advisory Councils

Are local SEPACs required by IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires that each state establish and maintain a statewide advisory council (SEAC) for the purpose of advising the state’s special education staff regarding the education of all eligible children with disabilities. This is NOT the same as a local SEPAC.

Local SEPACs are not required under IDEA, but a growing number of states have required them. Even in states where they are not required, progressive school leaders have established them as a way to improve programs and services, and respond to input from parent leaders.

How is a SEPAC different from a PTO, an advocacy group, or parent support group?

Parents come together for many reasons—support, friendship, event planning, advocacy, information, and active response. While each of these purposes is important, a SEPAC is NOT:

  • an advocacy group, which focuses on upholding rights for children and advocating for change from outside the system;
  • a limited effort focused on a single issue or immediate concern; or
  • a Special Education PTO or PTA, which might plan carnivals, classroom activities, fundraisers, or other events.

Why should parents get involved?

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.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 1: Special Education Parent Advisory Councils

What are some of the benefits of a SEPAC?

  • Outreach—Outreach can engage families of students with disabilities so that they are involved in helping to shape local special education programs and policies.
  • Positive relationships—Effective SEPACs engage parents and school leaders to establish shared goals and priorities that benefit students with disabilities. They connect with teachers, Child Study Teams, and community resources as sources of support for helping improve programs and services.
  • Collaborative problem solving—SEPACs thrive on team spirit and team action. While members bring varied, sometimes divergent perspectives, everyone shares a common mission: to improve outcomes for all students receiving special education services and support.
  • System change based on input—A SEPAC can communicate the needs of parents whose children receive special education and related services, and can advise school leaders on unmet needs identified through parental input.
  • A trusted source of information—SEPACs can strengthen the bridge between the school district and families. SEPAC members who educate themselves about school policies and channels of communication can be an information source for parents who may need information, support, and resources from their school, and can steer them in the appropriate direction.
  • Information sharing—SEPACs can provide an opportunity for districts to share information with parents about instructional programs, professional development opportunities, and other matters related to special education.
  • Improved services and programs—Changes that come about as a result of input from SEPACs are responsive to the identified needs of the school community.
  • Deepened trusts—Over time, as school leaders react and respond to input from the SEPAC, trust builds and grows.



  • Any school district can establish a local SEPAC. No legislation is required.
  • A local SEPAC is part of the local school district, not a private or independent group. It is not a PTO, and it is not 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.
  • SEPAC membership should be as diverse and inclusive as possible.