Starting and Structuring a Local SEPAC

There are more than 13,500 school districts in the United States. Just as each district is unique, each local SEPAC is unique. Some districts have a long and successful track record of seeking and using parental input to improve special education; others are using parental input in this way for the first time. Whatever the history, a well-structured local SEPAC can leverage the positive influence of parental input and be a vehicle for effective communication, building trust, and system change.


  • A process for starting a SEPAC.
  • Resources for assistance and guidance.
  • Structures of SEPACs that can best align with the needs of the district and community.
  • Strategies to build parental engagement.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 3: Starting and Structuring a Local SEPAC


  • District leaders and parents looking to start a local SEPAC can meet to develop a plan.
  • Work with local and regional parent leaders, Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs), Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), and other parent-led organizations.
  • Consider hosting a well-promoted introductory workshop or meeting—inviting all parents –to get the ball rolling.
  • Develop an initial roster of potential SEPAC members. Seek representation from parents within the district who have children with different levels of need, of different ages, in different schools, and in different types of programs, including public, private, and out-of-district programs.

Best Practice: Be certain to consider linguistic, religious, racial, cultural, and economic diversity to be sure the SEPAC reflects it.

  • Develop a short mission statement to guide the SEPAC’s work.

Tools for Change: Sample mission statements from other SEPACs can be found in the Resources section of this guide.

  • Set annual goals and objectives so that the SEPAC can prioritize its work. (For more, see Setting Priorities in Part 1, Chapter 6.)
  • Plan different types of meetings. These may include “parent only” group meetings; informational meetings with a speaker on a special topic; “listening meetings” held specifically to gather input; as well as meetings with school leaders (see Chapter 7 for more on this topic).
  • Develop a meeting schedule for the year. A suggested framework might be: Monthly ‘parent only’ meetings; 4-5 informational outreach meetings, with topics and speakers that bring families and schools together; quarterly meetings with key district leaders to present input and suggestions.
  • Every SEPAC needs a foundation to describe how it will conduct business. Establish basic ground rules, bylaws, a procedures manual, or other operating guidelines to describe the scope of work.
  • Determine roles and responsibilities for SEPAC members and district staff. Tasks include taking minutes, preparing agendas, managing membership and contact information, and managing logistics. (See Chapter 4 for more on this topic.)

Best Practice: Some SEPACs have developed “job descriptions” for members. (For more, see Part III: Resources: Sample Job Description )

Consider the communication strategies the SEPAC will use to reach and engage parents from other groups, such as the PTO and PTA. (See Chapter 5 for more on this topic).

Tip: Create and print a simple print flyer and poster to promote the SEPAC to help establish the SEPAC’s legitimacy and build awareness. Include information about the SEPAC on the district’s website and in digital communication to ALL families.

Consider using the IEP process and annual review process as a way to help inform parents about the SEPAC process and the opportunity to get involved.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 1: Starting and Structuring a Local SEPAC

How can we build and maintain parent engagement?

Even with the best of intentions, it may be a challenge to get—and keep—a core group of parents engaged in the local SEPAC. Smaller districts, geographically large districts, urban districts, very rural districts, and very diverse districts in which there are language and cultural differences each face unique challenges.

Best Practice:

  1. Ensure that communication about the SEPAC is provided in layman’s terms and is translated into languages used by families in the district.
  2. Offer childcare, dinner, and/or assistance with transportation for parents attending SEPAC events and meetings.
  3. Hold meetings at times when families would be at the school for another meeting–for example, before or after a sporting event or school performance.
  4. Use digital conferencing tools and social media so parents can participate from a remote location.
  5. Encourage a multi-generational approach to SEPAC membership—invite parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to attend together.
  6. Reach out to community organizations and ask them to provide support to families who may want to participate.
  7. Develop a one-to-one mentor/buddy approach to help build confidence and support for parents who may be new to the process.
  8. Identify cultural and linguistic liaisons at school who are people with whom parents can relate.
  9. Ask parents to recruit other parents.
  10. Use social media, texting, and automated phone services to reach families.
  11. Hold meetings at various times—daytime, evenings, and weekends—to accommodate a range of work schedules.
  12. Invest in person-to-person parent outreach.
  13. Provide simultaneous translation services during meetings.



  • A mission statement will help SEPAC members to stay focused.
  • Varied meeting formats can be used to engage families in different ways.
  • It is important to define, understand, and observe roles and responsibilities.
  • A plan for outreach and communication is important.
  • A range of strategies and tactics may be needed to engage families.
  • Diversity is vital to a successful SEPAC.