Have a Plan
SEPACs with a formal calendar find that parents are better able to plan to attend meetings, events and workshops with advance notice. Getting the membership together on a regular basis also helps to create a group identity, provide a forum for ideas and sharing resources, and address member concerns. The SEPAC should consider alternating between day and evening meetings to allow all families the opportunity to participate. All meetings must be held in an accessible location, which is open to the public.
After establishment of the SEPAC, new officers should begin planning (prior to the start of the new school year) to develop an annual calendar of meetings and workshops with speakers. Conducting a formal or informal survey of parent interests help SEPACs plan an annual calendar of events. Many topics are of interest to all parents in the district (homework, stress, anxiety, executive function, bullying, etc.) and SEPACs should look for opportunities to collaborate with other parent organizations (PTA/PTO) to create district-wide events. Financial resources will also have to be addressed.
Your district Administrator of Special Education should get a copy of your meeting calendar and agendas and can help distribute them to all special needs families – through electronic mail, at IEP meetings and/or send with school mailings. SEPACS should use the school’s newsletter and website to promote their activities.
Successful and Productive Meetings
Many SEPACs use speakers to attract members and other families to their meetings. For the most effective turnout, care should be taken to plan ahead – book an appropriate room, advertise in the community, have the necessary AV equipment, refreshments and workshop materials, and plan for any necessary changes due to weather conditions. Speakers are expensive – the SEPAC should look to local resources, such as an attorney, doctor, psychologist or other professionals, who can speak on a topic of interest to the membership. Look for partnerships in planning your meetings to reach a greater audience.
- Successful meetings require:
- Advance Preparation: including room set-up, refreshments, developing agenda,
- Making sure the group establishes a realistic schedule to accomplish its goals,
- Being sensitive to why people are there – people get involved for different reasons; find everyone’s strengths and interests,
- Keeping the meeting moving, keep track of time and keep meeting focused,
- Encouraging everyone to participate, create an atmosphere of mutual support and trust,
- Trying to end the meeting in an organized way that sets the stage for the next meeting.
Find an accessible location (i.e., town building, library or school open to the public) and reserve the space for your meeting. Develop a flyer or press release notifying people of the meeting. Suggested times include 7-9 PM on Monday through Thursday or early in the morning beginning at 9AM (or after school opens). Make sure your meeting does not conflict with any other school events. Meetings should be scheduled on a regular basis as agreed upon by a majority of members.
SEPACs should invite district special education administrators and staff to their meetings, but also make time for the group to meet independently to allow free discussion of issues among parents. Inviting the Administrator of Special Education to speak to families on changes in the staff or programs for the upcoming year is usually a well-attended and informative meeting.
Basic Rights in Special Education Workshop
Under Massachusetts law, the school district shall conduct, in cooperation with the local SEPAC, at least one workshop annually on the rights of students and their parents/guardians under the special education laws of the Commonwealth and the Federal government. The “Basic Rights” workshop is an opportunity for SEPACs to assist the district in helping families understand their rights and responsibilities under the law. The SEPAC should help to advertise this workshop and encourage parents to attend. District/SEPACs joining under the PLUS level of MassPAC membership receive the FCSN Basic Rights workshop for free.
One of the best ways to develop parent outreach while providing a great educational resource is to host workshops on topics of interest to the community. Workshops help empower parents to advocate more effectively for their child and help build a sense of community.
- Some low-cost ideas for Workshops:
- Ask Administrator of Special Education to address the SEPAC on changes to the special education personnel and programs each year and to answer parents’ questions
- Ask local professionals – doctors, lawyers, and advocates to talk about issues and topics effecting children with special needs
- Check local agencies to see if they offer free programs –for example, local health agency
- Show a film (i.e., Raising Kelsey) or read a book and have a group discussion
- Invite a district specialist to talk about their specialty – OT, PT or Speech therapist
- Co-host with another SEPAC or parent group to save costs
- Ask a student or parent to share their success story
- Ask district to identify and demonstrate assistive technology options