In Massachusetts, school districts are required by law to have a special education parent advisory council (SEPAC). SEPACs, as advisers to the school committee, play a key role in the planning, development, and evaluation of a district’s special education programs. Families of students with disabilities have unique expertise and perspectives which can inform district decision-makers. Many SEPACs are led by volunteer parents who may be new to leadership, but, working together, SEPACs and districts can improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. The Advancing Parent-Professional Leadership in Education (APPLE) Institute is one way for parents to recognize their strengths and build strategic skills.
APPLE was founded to develop parents’ leadership skills, both individually and within their communities, to build more effective support organizations for parents of children with special needs. This was done in accordance with recommendations from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which encourages parents and educators to work collaboratively to make decisions that improve educational experiences and outcomes for children with disabilities. Participants learn collaborative leadership skills, and then apply them by developing action plans for increasing parent involvement in their districts.