Special Education is specially designed instruction, services or programs, provided at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities, and to ensure their access to the general curriculum that applies to all students.
A Special Education PTA or SEPTA/SEPTSA is a unit organized for those interested in the issues of educating special needs and/or gifted and talented children.
SEPTAs are designed to build strong partnerships amongst parents, teachers, administrators, existing PTA’s and the community, for the benefit of families and children receiving special education services.
All SEPTA’s conduct regular business meetings during the school year just like any PTA. SEPTAs bring awareness and information about special education services, educational laws and community supports to our members. Our hope is that children receiving special education services will be better understood, integrated, and embraced by schools and their community.
Check out this presentation from the NYS PTA Summer Leadership Conference on Issues in Special Education
Special Education Toolkit from National PTA
National PTA has a Special Education Toolkit!
This toolkit helps make sense of an often confusing system and educates families of newly diagnosed children with special needs on how to get the best special education, services and resources available to them.
Why start a Special Education PTA?
Families with children who have special needs often seek out opportunities to meet other parents in similar circumstances. Special Education PTAs (SEPTAs) provide this opportunity and often bring together families of students who attend different schools in a district under one PTA umbrella.
Becoming a SEPTA provides families with an organizational structure, resources and the opportunity to be a collective voice for their child and for all children.
My child’s school has a PTA (or another parent organization). Do I need to form a SEPTA?
When a parent organization already exists in a school, parents of children with special needs may want to see if they can form a committee within that organization for families with special needs children. This encourages inclusion and helps keep the lines of communication open to all parent groups. Families can then be a part of all school activities, ensure the inclusion of their children and still have their own format for the special supports and opportunities that they may seek.
My child attends a school that is all children with special needs. Should we form a SEPTA just for our school?
If there is no parent organization in your school, in consultation with your school principal, you will want to determine if you should be a PTA or a SEPTA (or BOTH!). If there is a SEPTA serving schools in your district, you may want to affiliate with them and form a PTA that focuses on your school. If there are no SEPTAs in your community, you may want to form one that would also welcome families from other schools in your community. If there is a PTA Council for your area, that Council will also be a great source of information and guidance
What steps should I take to form a SEPTA?
Start with like minded people, e.g. other parents, guardians, grandparents, etc. with children with special/exceptional needs, school staff (teachers, therapists, special education directors and so on).
Schedule a meeting with these people and call the state PTA office (see above for contact information) and ask for someone from the state PTA to come and answer questions on the benefits of SEPTAs.
A representative from the Board of Education and the school’s district’s Special Education Director should be encouraged to participate in the formation and operation of your SEPTA.
What can a SEPTA offer to families?
One major benefit of a SEPTA is to offer support to other parents who have similar circumstances. Some SEPTA units have a business meeting then adjourn and offer a parent support time off the record. Sometimes parents like to speak on issues that concern their children and just listening to them can help other caretakers. Other things can happen during the support time, for instance, caretakers can learn about doctors and services that are a positive experience for their child such as a place to take your child for a haircut that is not stressful and a place of business that is understanding and patient.
Other benefits are that SEPTAs sponsor workshops and speakers on topics that can help better advocate for exceptional children and topics that can help parents better understand aspects of special needs and many diagnoses. Many SEPTAs start out with a general topic like understanding your child’s IEP or 504plan, the rights of your special needs child, and the parent’s rights under IDEA.
Many units offer family fun days for the whole family, such as a bowling day, a picnic and so on. This is a comfortable place for the whole family to go and be together.
Thoughts from Joyce Cattani, NYS PTA Special Education Specialist
When I first became the Special Education Chair (now Specialist) I thought that there would be a lot of SEPTA units throughout the state. Before my kids graduated, I had been involved in my local SEPTA and just assumed that everyone else would be to. Boy was I was surprised to find that it wasn’t the case. But then I stepped back and decided to look at the bigger picture. I was asked so often “Why SEPTA?” that I developed a workshop about it. So why SEPTA? Let me list just a few reasons.
SEPTA is a place for families to seek out opportunities to meet others who are in similar circumstances. SEPTA provides organizational structure, resources and the opportunity to be a collective voice not only for their child but for all children. But the most important reason is that special education families (siblings and extended families as well) have needs that are unique.
They can learn how to work with the special education teachers and other specialist who educate their children. They can understand the system of special education and their rights under the law. They can understand how issues such as standards and lack of a valuable/attainable diploma will impact their children. But most of all, families need to have a safe place where they can linger and talk. They need to connect to a community that understands them and their kids and want to support them fully. Parents and educators need to be able to exchange information and support each other on the many problems our kids face. SEPTAs are special because they allow us to celebrate our diversity. Some of my best friends came from my involvement in SEPTA. In SEPTA, we are all different and come to the table with different needs as well as talents. SEPTA can be a place where students who experience difficulties in the classroom can learn leadership skills by becoming involved. Talk about a win-win situation.
Special Education students are among the most vulnerable and need people to speak up for them. Too often changes occur because nobody spoke up or didn’t know how. Our kids are facing unique challenges that will impact their ability to be successful. There are questions to be asked and our kids need to have a voice at that table. Parents, teachers, administrators and all those concerned about the education of children need to be vigilant and keep updated on the possible changes so that we can advocate for what is important for children’s’ education. It is really easy to do. Seek out your local SEPTA or if there is none in your area consider starting one. Reach out to your region or contact me. Together we can make a difference for all the student of New York. So the next time someone asks “Why SEPTA?” My answer is “Why not SEPTA!”