A SpecialEducation Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG) is a vehicle for the collaborationbetween the parents of students with special needs and professionals who areresponsible for the education of students with special needs. Their goal is tofocus on the needs of students with special needs as a whole, not on anindividual student basis.
Since parents are responsible for the care of theirchild outside of the school system, they have a unique perspective of what maybe beneficial for their child at school. The ideas parents have with regard tothe needs of their own child have the potential to benefit other students withspecial needs. Together, professionals and parents involved in the SpecialEducation Parent Advisory Group are able to create school-based activities andprograms that have the potential to create positive changes throughout theschool. District 1 is a choice middle andhigh school that serves students from across the entire county. It has apartnership with local elementary schools, which run their SEPAG meetings inconjunction with the middle and high school. Initial information about specialeducation services and SEPAG meetings is given to the families as soon as thestudent enters the district. In the interview conducted with the Director ofSpecial Services, I was informed that she sets the meeting dates at thebeginning of the summer and disseminates the information through flyers, thegroup’s Facebook page, and on their SEPAG website.
She also sends reminders about the meetingboth one month and one week before the meeting so that parents have ample timeto make arrangements to attend. SPAN NJis also used as a resource to help deliver information. Although SEPAG is intended to be parent-drivenand parent-led, the Director of Special Services has had been unable to convinceparents to take the initiative to lead the meetings. To determine what parents are interested inlearning more about, she sends out surveys via E-mail.
In the past, informationhas been provided to parents on a variety of topics including: PARCCaccommodations for students with disabilities, mindfulness, effective IEP meetings,and how to start a successful SEPAG. Through interviews with parents, it wasdiscovered they found these meetings to be very informative and helpful.Overall, the parents wish they could be more involved but various obstaclesprevent them from doing so. These obstacles include: working at night, havingchildren who are involved in evening activities, or being single parents. In any district, the extent towhich a Special Education Parent Advisory Group functions is based on thewillingness for parents to become actively involved. In comparison to otherSEPAGs, District 1 lies toward the center.
Some districts either do not have aSEPAG or the information about their group is not available on the Internet. SinceDistrict 1 holds regular meetings, has an online presence that disseminatesimportant information to parents, and lists its information on SPAN NJ’swebsite, it would rate higher than schools that do not provide theseopportunities for parent involvement. Other districts that have a higher-rateof parent involvement at the SEPAG meetings are able to host a wide-range ofprograms for both their students and their families. District 2 provides all ofthe information discussed during their meetings on the district’s website alongwith the presentation that was provided to parents by both the SEPAG leadersand the school professionals. They also provide a list of opportunities thatare available to students with special needs that will allow them to becomemore involved in the school community. Some of these programs include: a buddyprogram, a social skills club, a friendship garden, and a peer outreachprogram. District 3 lists the agenda and minutes for each meeting throughoutthe school year.
The district also provides their parents with a list ofresources and events that will help them care for their child. Together,parents and education professionals provide the students with activities suchas: Club Unify, Activity Night, and the Special Olympics. District 4 hosts anannual Special Education Community Fair which allows the families of studentswith disabilities to interact with one another, meet with representatives fromboth state and local organizations, and receive information about the school’stransition program, activities in which their child can partake, and servicesthat are available to their child. In comparison to these districts, District 1would rank lower.
Since District can be rated above some districts and belowothers, it can be ranked toward the center.