State Rep. James Arciero testified before the Joint Committee on Education for a bill that would ensure representation of Special Education Parent Advisory Councils on local school committees.
The legislation, House Bill H.537: An Act to Ensure Representation of Special Education Parent Advisory Councils on School Committees, was filled by Arciero so families with students who have special needs, and may need more attention in the classroom, have more of a voice on school committees.
“As someone who was diagnosed, and at times, severely struggled with dyslexia and ADHD at a young age and during early grade school, I understand the important role that SEPACs play in the Commonwealth,” Arciero said. The lawmaker graduated from the Westford Public Schools, and added that he wanted to create a conversation regarding the needs of special education students.
“SEPACs work closely with students in need and their families, and I feel they will bring a valuable resource to school boards,” Arciero said.
“I come from a generation that once suppressed, and now allows children with special needs and suspected disabilities a voice and proper representation regarding their childhood academic career,” Laurie McCarron, a resident of Chelmsford who is a member of the town’s SEPAC, said during her testimony. “We have come very far over the years within public education institutions. We still have work to do. Children who were once excluded, who now rise up, who are successful, and with opportunity from an appropriate education, have since proven what a true ‘role model’ emanates for all students.”
Roughly 20 percent of the commonwealth’s students are considered special needs, ranging from physical to developmental disabilities, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Over 50 percent are considered high needs, according to officials at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Every public school district is required to establish a SEPAC, but currently, SEPACs only serve in an advisory capacity to local school committees, meet regularly with officials to participate in the planning, development and evaluation of the school district’s special education programs.
The bill would allow an ex-officio, non-voting seat on a school committee to be a representative from the local school district’s SEPAC. The member would be subject to all school committee rules.
“This would provide a greater communication link between SEPACs and school committees and a consistent means of communication across the Commonwealth and a more defined role of SEPACs,” Susan Bogosian testified to the committee. Bogosian currently serves as the Chair of Advocacy and Legislation for the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association (MAPTA). “Further, H537 will give a greater voice to SEPAC families and students as they deal with the unique challenges of receiving a quality education while having one or several disabilities,” she added.
“My work with the Westford SEPAC is what eventually led me to run for a seat on our school committee,” Westford School Committee member Alicia Curtin Mallon said during her testimony on the bill to the Joint Committee on Education.
“While I consider our town to be one of the most collaborative in the state for families with children with special needs, the perspective of the Special Education population was often missing in policy discussions,” Curtin Mallon said.
Alongside Curtin Mallon, Bogosian and McCarron, Westford School Committee member Gloria Miller and Kathy Norton testified in favor of the bill.
“With passage, SEPACs will play a greater role in the school district and will have a more impactful role on the local school committees and students who need more attention and care in the classroom,” Arciero added. “I want to thank Alicia Curtin Mallon, Susan Bogosian, Gloria Miller, Kathy Norton and Laurie McCarron for their leadership on this legislation and on SEPAC issues. This is their idea and I give them all the credit, as I am happy to be working with my district in general and SEPAC families to make this important change.”