Turning Ideas into Action

The success of a SEPAC hinges on its ability to shape the input it collects from parents into concrete issues and solutions, and to direct that information to district decision makers in ways that lead to positive changes in services, policies, and programs.

Not all input will require action. It is important that a SEPAC has a structured process that can help members review each issue and decide whether SEPAC action is needed.

A problem-solving worksheet can be found in the back of this guide.


  • Possible areas for input.
  • Strategies for transforming input into action.
  • Developing priorities.
  • Assessing the impact of the SEPAC’s work.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 6: Turning Ideas into Action


Topics for input will likely come from the community organically, as parents share ideas, concerns, and experiences. Sometimes a SEPAC can prompt input around certain topics by hosting an information forum.

SEPACs have addressed such areas as:

  • Accessibility and location of programs
  • After-school sports and clubs
  • Before care and after care
  • Bullying/School Climate
  • Bus driver/Bus aide education
  • Community-based learning
  • Curriculum
  • District policies and procedures
  • District vision and future goals
  • ESSA—Parent engagement as an indicator
  • Extended school year services
  • Funding issues and resource allocation
  • Graduation
  • IEPs, rights and responsibilities
  • Inclusive education
  • Out-of-district programs and services
  • Professional development
  • Reading programs
  • Related services
  • Scholarship opportunities
  • Section 504
  • Staffing
  • Testing
  • Transition from school to adult life
  • Transportation
  • Unified athletics

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 6: Turning Ideas into Action


Establishing annual priorities is important for any group or organization. Doing so helps a SEPAC direct its efforts and avoid taking on too many projects that could potentially overwhelm its membership, the local district, or the school board. Identifying one to three critical issues on which to focus during the year provides the opportunity to consider and make informed recommendations. It also leaves time to address other issues that arise during the ordinary course of doing business.

SEPAC’s can set priorities as a facilitated activity with a discussion leader and a recorder who lists participants’ responses on newsprint that is hung on the wall.

SEPAC members are asked to:

  • Identify needs related to the education of children with disabilities;
  • Group identified needs by major categories, discussing whether any of the needs are the same or similar enough to be collapsed into one statement;
  • Use markers to place checks next to their top five needs on the newsprint; and
  • Discuss the five needs receiving the most checks to reach consensus on the top two to three needs on which the SEPAC will focus during the operating year.

The process of coming to agreement on priorities is not simple. It requires the facilitator to continually check for agreement, and when a stalemate is reached on an issue, to move the group to the next issue or need that all members can support.

Once priorities are determined, they should be the focus of periodic reports to the school board. Remember that incremental change is still change, and some recommendations may not be fully implemented in a given timeframe. Subcommittees can be used to allow the SEPAC to study an issue more closely.

It is important to work with school leaders to develop priorities and recommendations that include specific strategies and steps with reasonable timelines for completion.

An outline of dates on which progress will be reviewed and procedures for making needed changes to the plan should be included. This will provide a more valuable product for the school board than a long list of needs that have not been prioritized.

*This section is adapted from A Guide to Local Special Education Advisory Committees in Virginia, produced by the Virginia Department of Education and the Center for Family Involvement at the Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University, © 2011.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 6: Turning Ideas into Action

How can a SEPAC assess the impact of its work?

A critical best practice is to follow up on the input and solutions a SEPAC shares during meetings with school leaders.

Here are a few tips:

  • When an advisory meeting closes, minutes should indicate who raised what issue within the meeting, who is responsible for actions, and a timeline for activities and deliverables. If an action remains outstanding, carry it onto the agenda for the next meeting, and in the interim, explore any obstacles to action and ways to resolve them.
  • Define what evidence will show that input has been considered and whether it has had an impact. Indicators of success might include high attendance at a topic-focused speaker meeting, encouraging input from surveys, and positive feedback from parents and stakeholders about changes to new or existing services.
  • Publish meeting minutes that protect anonymity and focus on positive movement forward. Keep in mind that some of the issues and ideas a SEPAC presents may not receive immediate support. Making change happen takes time and is a learning process. Celebrate victories—large and small—with parents and community.
  • Evaluate areas that are problematic and compare them with successful outcomes.

Indictors of a Quality Local SEPAC

  • SEPAC structure is based on need of the community and students, not just what is easiest.
  • SEPAC membership represents the diversity of the community.
  • SEPAC goals and priorities are based on community input.
  • SEPAC addresses meaningful issues.
  • SEPAC minutes document the actions/growth of the group.
  • SEPAC minutes are disseminated to interested individuals and/or groups.
  • SEPAC parent facilitators act in an authentic leadership role.
  • Council members’ advice and input is used to direct and establish policy.
  • SEPAC meeting frequency is based on needs to be addressed.
  • SEPAC parent leaders are trained and supported.
  • SEPAC advice and recommendations are considered by the Board of Education or local governing board.
  • SEPAC meets as necessary to address goals and priorities.
  • A feedback loop exists regarding recommendations submitted.

From “A Guide for Minnesota Local Special Education Advisory Councils”, module 1 (2009) produced by PACER Center.

Part I: A Guide for Local Action | Chapter 6: Turning Ideas into Action

How can a SEPAC make its case for change?

SEPACs use different strategies to make the case for system change based on the issue.

These include:

  • Providing copies of minutes to school leaders to keep them apprised of developments.
  • Sending letters or reports to school leaders summarizing issues and concerns and that identify the action needed.
  • Sending letters of thanks and praise when services and supports are working well.
  • Preparing an annual report and providing it to the local Board of Education.
  • Offering to speak or present to the local Board of Education.



  • Not all parent input requires SEPAC action.
  • SEPACs should seek input on a wide range of issues and topics.
  • The first solution is not the only solution.
  • SEPACs need a structure to review input and then transform it into action.
  • SEPACs should use a variety of strategies to communicate with school leaders, including the Board of Education, about the changes they are seeking.
  • Follow-up is vital for success.
  • Incremental change is good change. Celebrate every victory, large or small