SEPACs need to become experts in networking – building and maintaining relationships within their communities.
Ways to Get the Message Out
The SEPAC will not have access to the list of students receiving special education services in the district as families have the right to confidentiality. Therefore, the group must work hard to get their message out to the community. At each SEPAC meeting there can be an optional sign-in sheet to ask families if they would like to receive information directly from the SEPAC. From this list, the SEPAC can begin to develop its own email list/database.
SEPAC Brochure and Flyers
A brochure is a great way to introduce your SEPAC to the community – it can explain the SEPAC’s purpose, provide contact information for the group’s officers and help spread the word about the group’s accomplishments and activities. If there is a large population of families that speak another language in your district, it is important to have the brochures translated and available in those languages as well.
A brochure can be developed in-house on a low budget. Most SEPACs use an 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper (standard letter size) in landscape format and fold the paper into a trifold to fit inside a business-size envelope. The SEPAC can ask the school district to make copies for distribution. Choose a distinctive color or logo for all of your publications to help identify your SEPAC! The contents of a brochure should have the following:
- SEPAC mission statement or purpose
- List of officers with contact information
- Information on how a SEPAC can help a parent/family of a child with special needs
Place your brochures at visible locations in your community: school offices, libraries, religious buildings, town hall and other community bulletin boards. Ask if your district can send out the SEPAC brochure to accompany notices of IEP meetings. In this way, SEPACs can ensure that every family of a child receiving special education services learns about the SEPAC, while protecting the confidentiality of families. It is important to also ask how the school will help with the cost of photocopying the brochures. Sample brochures can be found on many SEPAC websites.
Flyers about upcoming meetings or events and activities can be made by the SEPAC and shared with the district. Flyers can posted on school websites, on school and community bulletin boards, or sent out by the district through their email lists. Local newspaper, cable TV and online newsletters can help post the flyers and advertise meetings. The SEPAC can prepare a meeting calendar/SEPAC flyer and ask the school district to attach address labels and mail to all special needs families at least once per year or include in the back to school mailing or virtual backpack.
On the Web: District webpage or SEPAC website
Not every SEPAC will be able to develop and maintain a website. Schools can support their SEPAC by having contact information on the district special education page or link to a separate SEPAC page on the district website. If the SEPAC has its own website, some districts provide a link to the SEPAC website from the district page.
In addition to the information in the SEPAC brochure (see above), a SEPAC website can be a resource for parents. Things you can include:
- SEPAC calendar and other local special education events
- Resources and support organizations other than the SEPAC
- Link to Parent’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards (In English and Translated Versions)
- MA special education laws
- Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
- Link to the MA Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)
- State Core Curriculum Standards
- Important town info (links to school website and important local information)
- Informational Pages in languages spoken by families in your district
Additional ideas for a SEPAC website:
- Link to the local district local district special education statistics, by school town and by state
- Include sections on relevant topics: Inclusion, Bullying, Transition (ages 14-22), Early Intervention and Transitioning to Special Education
Check out the original Wrightslaw award-winning Concord SEPAC website to see where it all began!
Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo Group
Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets can help the SEPAC reach a large audience. Find someone in your organization who is comfortable with these tools and ask them to be your administrator. The use of social platforms such as a Yahoo group, can serve as a support group for your members and advise them of events in the local area. While the posting of events and links to resources are beneficial, care must be taken as these forums are not confidential. All SEPAC business must be conducted in a public meeting, not through social media.
Communications – District/Local Media
A SEPAC may be able to take advantage of school district internal communications to advertise its activities. The SEPAC can ask the district to announce SEPAC meetings in school emails and newsletters, on a school’s website or in the Back-to-School packets. Some SEPACs use the district’s telephone announcement system (such as Connect-ED) to notify families of upcoming events and meetings. The SEPAC should collaborate with school parent groups (PTAs, PTOs and other community groups) and have information tables at their events.
SEPAC can use local newspapers or cable TV channels to advertise their events, meetings and activities. Make a list of the deadlines for publication in these local media outlets. Many communities have one or more web news services, such as the Patch.com, which allow events to be posted from a home computer. SEPAC Presentations before the School Committee, Town Selectman or the City Council are also carried by local Cable TV. Take photos of your events (get permission to use, especially with minors!) and send them to local media with a short paragraph.
Many SEPACs host community resource fairs to help families connect to local special education resources. These resource fairs can be local or regional (a collaborative project among several school districts). These can also be fun events with activities for children (face painting, crafts) and an opportunity for parents to meet other parents. MassPAC travels to many communities during the year to staff FCSN information tables at SEPAC Resource Fairs. The Federation table includes information on all of the Federation projects and will be staffed by MassPAC or a staff member from one of the Federation’s projects.
Sample FCSN resource fair handouts could include:
- PTI brochure with information on how to contact our free Call Center
- MA Family Voices – how to access MassHealth
- Family Ties of MA information – how to connect to the Parent-to-Parent program for support
- Information on how to become a Special Education Surrogate Parent
- Post-secondary Transition brochures on a variety of topics; and
- Information on how to select a Parent Advocate.
Several of FCSN’s resource materials are available in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Haitian Creole.
Your SEPAC Resource Fair information can be shared on the MassPAC Listserve or the MassPAC Facebook page. Please let MassPAC know as early as possible in the school year if your SEPAC will be having a Resource Fair so we can find a staff member to attend your event!
Community and Disability Awareness Events
Hosting or co-hosting community events are a fun way to “advertise” the SEPAC and meet new members:
- Partner with the district pre-school program to organize a “coffee” for parents to provide them with information about the SEPAC and the districts’ special education programs.
- Make presentations to school PTOs or PTAs on the role of a SEPAC in the district.
- Back-to-School open houses and Community Fairs are a great venue for informational tables.
- Meet with local religious groups as a venue for meeting new people.
- As a member of MassPAC, SEPAC officers can participate in regional SEPAC networking events to share local information and possibly join together to share costs for speakers – a great way to unite neighboring communities.
Many SEPACs host Disability Awareness Events to help educate the community and build partnerships. SEPACs may want to highlight special disability months and host speakers on those topics.
Recognition or Awards Ceremonies are another way to celebrate diversity and inclusion. A SEPAC can recognize those individuals in the school or community who make the day brighter for a child with special needs. Special teachers can be recognized and serve as models for others. These events not only publicize the SEPAC but bring a sense of good feeling within a community.