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Special Education

Administrative Advisory SPED 2015-2R:
Special Education Parent Advisory Councils, Acceptable Alternatives, and Use of Social Media

To:
Superintendents, Administrators of Special Education, and Other Interested Parties
From:
Marcia Mittnacht
State Director of Special Education
Date:
March 18, 2015 (Section on Social Media revised 5/26/2015, 9/11/2015)

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The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) issues this advisory relative to Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (PACs or SEPACs) and alternatives. The advisory also comments on the use of social media.

Background: The Massachusetts special education law, Chapter 71B1 of the Massachusetts General Laws, requires a school district to establish a Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and assigns both an advisory and participatory function to the PAC. A school district is required to demonstrate that it has established a PAC upon request of the Department. When the Program Quality Assurance (PQA)2 unit conducts a Coordinated Program Review (CPR)3 to monitor and review a school district's compliance with special education regulations, it checks to confirm that a PAC is operating. If no PAC is established, the Department will require the district to establish a PAC.

As outlined in the Guidance for Special Education Parent Advisory Councils4, the PAC must offer membership to all parents of students found eligible for special education in the district, as well as other interested parties. The PAC is authorized to provide advice to the district regarding special education programs and policies. Additionally, the PAC is authorized to meet with designated school officials and to engage in activities which enable the PAC to participate in the planning, development and evaluation of the district's special education programs.

Acceptable alternatives to a district level Special Education Parent Advisory Council: School districts have presented the Department with evidence of strong efforts to create a PAC but with parent response suggesting that there is not an interest or poor participation in the PAC. In such cases, the following alternatives will be accepted as compliance with the spirit of the requirement.

  1. Regional PACs: Districts may work with other districts or through an Educational Collaborative to establish a regional PAC. Each regional PAC must have, at a minimum, a representative from each participating district. The participating districts must comply with the Massachusetts special education laws and regulations pertaining to PACs, their role and responsibilities.
  2. Collaboration with MassPAC and the Federation for Children with Special Needs: Districts may choose to work with the Massachusetts Association of Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (MassPAC)5 to develop and/or increase membership. The MassPAC at the Federation provides information, training, and networking opportunities to Massachusetts Special Education Parent Advisory Councils (SEPACs) and the professionals who collaborate with them. The Federation of Children with Special Needs provides leadership training for SEPACs and Administrators of Special Education through the Advancing Parent-Professional Leadership in Education (A.P.P.L.E.)6 project. This leadership program has been designed to assist participants to develop collaborative leadership skills and team action plans for increasing parent involvement in the district.
  3. A Series of District Level Parent Training and Participation Events: The Conditions for School Effectiveness (CSE) articulates what schools need to have in place in order to educate their students well; including Family Engagement. The Conditions for School Effectiveness Self-Assessment7 has been designed as a tool that can be used as a benchmark in which districts can gauge their practice in key areas. In an effort to implement Conditions for School Effectiveness in the area of Family Engagement, districts may annually provide opportunities for parents of students with disabilities to participate in at least three district level activities and trainings specifically designed for parents of students with disabilities. Districts should document these opportunities and develop a process for monitoring the effectiveness of the activity. The monitoring process should include a method for collecting feedback from participating parents. This feedback should be used to develop meaningful activities for parents in an effort to increase interest and membership in a SEPAC.

Regardless of the alternative method identified, districts must seek approval from PQA through PQA's Alternative Compliance Waiver8 pursuant to 603 CMR 28.03(5). The Department has discussed the alternatives outlined in this advisory and district applications will only need to reference the type of acceptable alternative that will be used, how the parent community was consulted, and must identify specific annual steps that will show how they will maintain and monitor the effectiveness of their methodology. The district(s) must seek approval of their waiver request in advance of substituting any of these alternatives for a fully functioning district level PAC. The alternative compliance waiver will be in effect for three years and if renewed, must present evidence of successful alternative compliance.

The Use of Social Media: Section Revision (9/11/2015): Districts have asked if they may use social media as a replacement to a face-to-face meeting in order to increase membership and participation in the district PAC. The PAC is an advisory council to the school committee, and is subject to the state's Open Meeting Law9. This law includes (but is not limited to) the requirement that the meeting is open to its members and to the public.

Section revision (5/26/15): The Attorney General's Regulations, updated March 18, 2015, permit remote participation in certain circumstances. The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law Guide10 Open Meeting Law Guide10 indicates that the public body may allow remote participation by its members if the practice has been properly adopted. The PAC may therefore utilize remote participation if the school committee(s) for the district(s) involved has adopted the practice.

If remote participation is adopted, PAC members are encouraged to review the Open Meeting Law Guide to consider the particulars of use of remote participation. Use of remote participation is allowed for the following reasons: If it is not possible to physically attend the meeting due to personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service or geographic distance. In such cases, the chair may choose to use an acceptable method of remote participation including telephone; internet or satellite-enabled audio or video conferencing, or other technology that allows all members to be clearly audible to one another. Text messaging, email or other technology without audio are not an acceptable means of remote participation. When members are participating remotely, there must be a quorum of the body physically present at the meeting, all members must be clearly audible to one another and all votes must be taken by a roll call vote. It is important to ensure that remote participation is not used in a way that would defeat the purpose of the Open Meeting Law.

The use of social media tools such as Facebook or Websites may be considered to share information. PACs may use this type of social media to post upcoming activities and events sponsored by the advisory council. The PAC must work with their district to ensure that they are aware of and in compliance with district policies and procedures relating to the use of the Internet and Social Media. In closing, we hope this guidance is helpful. If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact the Program Quality Assurance unit at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (781-338-3700).

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Last Updated: September 14, 2015
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