The Value of Parents as Advisors

Learning, Listening, and Leading

SEPACs are a win-win. When parental input is valued and there is a vehicle for meaningful communication, parents are empowered to facilitate change that matters. And when school leaders are able to work with a cohesive, well-organized parent community that provides useful, coordinated input, they are able to move good ideas into action.

What does ‘parent-driven‘ mean?

Parent-driven means that…

Parents determine priorities and activities. They can offer strategic solutions on issues that matter to them, helping schools overcome challenges and make decisions related to special education programs and services.

Parent-driven does not mean that…

Parents do everything. District leaders participate, provide information, background, data, and support. (See Suggested Roles and Responsibilities in Part 1; Chapter 4.)


  • The vital need for parent engagement and input.
  • The difference between an individual issue and a systemic issue.
  • How can school leaders commit to the value of parent input?

The key to an effective SEPAC
is mutual respect.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 2: The Value of Parents as Advisors

When parents see themselves as—and are viewed as—trusted and valued as advisors, they are empowered to advocate for changes that can result in positive outcomes for all stakeholders, and are less likely to feel like isolated outsiders trying to ‘fight the system.’

The school community can ask:

  • How does the district bring a spirit of collaboration to the table?
  • How does the district respond to and follow up on parent input?
  • How do staff and parents show respect for the perspectives and opinions of others?
  • How does the structure and process of the SEPAC allow all stakeholders, especially parents, to obtain and share information with school district leaders?

Parents might ask themselves:

  • How might I look beyond the experiences of my own child and family?
  • Do I see that, by working to help other children with disabilities, I can help my own child?
  • Can I see that my participation, large or small, can contribute to a larger vision and shared goals?

School leaders might ask themselves:

  • How can I support families as they offer advice and guidance to improve local policy and practices?
  • What information can I provide to parents to help them look beyond their own family’s experiences to see the ‘bigger picture?’
  • How does our district demonstrate that it values parents’ perspectives?
  • How can I encourage and support input from families, even when they feel frustrated, angry, or disgruntled?
  • Does the district foster a culture in which parents feel supported and comfortable enough to speak freely?
  • How can the district provide support and structure to the group, while preserving parent leadership?
  • How can the district demonstrate that it is responsive to the feedback provided by the SEPAC?

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 2: The Value of Parents as Advisors

What is the difference between an ‘individual issue’ and a ‘systemic issue?’

Often, parents bring a perspective to an issue that is based on personal experiences with their own child or a child they know. Taking action on behalf of a single child is ‘individual advocacy.’

While this is vital, the goal of the SEPAC is to look at systemic issues—that is, challenges and opportunities that affect more than one student or family.

An effective SEPAC invites, collects, and coordinates individual stories and perspectives from parents. Then, it looks at this input to see patterns or trends that can be addressed through policies, programs, and services that have the potential to affect many students with disabilities. That is how SEPACs move from an individual issue to systemic change.



  • Local SEPACs should be parent-driven, but this does not mean that parents do everything.
  • District staff and leaders need to fully support SEPACs.
  • The goal of the SEPAC is to look at ‘system issues.’
  • Conversations and brainstorming can help the SEPAC find a creative solution that can benefit children, parents, schools, and community.
  • Effective local SEPACs require mutual respect between and among participants.
  • Some solutions do not have an impact on the school district budget or require additional district resources.