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By Joyce Cattani, Special Education Specialist

It’s the beginning of another school year and for most of us, there are a lot of things we need to do. It is a return to old routines in anticipation of a new school year. For parents of children with special needs it means all of that and more. So while you prepare for the new year, here are some tips that might help you survive.

Buy a notebook and be prepared to document everything. Keep an account of not just the bad stuff but the good stuff too. It will make you the master of the facts. While we are on the topic of writing. Remember this basic rule. The first time you write something, it is always a draft. Save it and look at it the next day. You will be glad that you did.

Be sure to take some time to begin to organize your IEPs etc. and documentation for the new school year. Also look back at the old IEPs; you might be surprised by what your child has already accomplished. But it will also give you an idea of what goals or areas of weakness that they still need to address.

The fact that there is no valuable diploma for these students should be a major concern for not only the parents of these students but every resident of the state as well. No diploma means that students are not allowed to sit for most civil service exams, pursue post-secondary education or enlist in the military. Research has shown that each group of dropouts can cost NYS as much as $3.5 billion dollars in lost tax revenue. The social costs are not even calculated in that total and include greater state spending on health care and welfare expenditures.

NYS PTA feels very strongly about the importance of securing a New York State Education Department (NYSED) endorsed diploma for all students including those with disabilities. We need to make sure that students with disabilities are guaranteed a diploma that is not only a reflection of their hard work, but will offer them the same opportunities as other students. The Board of Regents has issued a lot of information regarding graduation requirements and diploma options for students. This information can be found at the following links:

General Education & Diploma Requirements

Overview and Update – High School Diploma Requirements

Special education families (siblings and extended families as well) have needs that are unique. Parents often feel overwhelmed, alone with so much to do. Families need opportunities to meet others who are in similar circumstances. They need to understand the system of special education and their rights under the law. 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. SEPTA can provide this and an organizational structure, resources and the opportunity to be a collective voice not only for their child but for all children. Seek out your local SEPTA and become a member. If there is none in your area consider starting one. Reach out to your region or contact me at

And finally, be sure to spend time with your kids and celebrate them for the unique and special people that they are. While you are doing all this be sure to have that extra ice cream cone and jump in one more puddle because they’ll grow up before you know it.