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The Difference Between a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) and a Special Education PTA (SEPTA)

By Amanda Morin

If you have a school-age child who learns and thinks differently, you may have been asked to join a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) or a Special Education PTA (SEPTA). Or your district might not have either and you’d like to start one.

SEPACs and SEPTAs can be a great way to meet others who care about the same issues as you. This includes education policy or sharing information about learning and thinking differences with other families and teachers. Also, both groups help build relationships and understanding between families and school staff.

But the two groups aren’t the same, even though some of their goals can overlap. Read on to learn more about the difference between a SEPAC and a SEPTA.

 Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)Special Education PTA (SEPTA)
What it is

A SEPAC is a parent advisory council that communicates the needs of the special education community to the school board. Some SEPACs are state-mandated, but others are not.

A SEPAC is sometimes called SEAC or SEPAG. (The “g” stands for “group”).

A SEPTA is a group that supports the work of a school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA). PTAs engage families and communities to advocate for children. SEPTAs do the same but with a focus on special education.

SEPTAs are usually district-wide and not tied to a specific school.

Its purpose

To identify the unmet needs of kids in special education to the school board.

SEPACs give input and recommendations on education policy, practices, and programs. Specifically, those that impact services and supports for kids with disabilities.

To bring together, under one PTA umbrella, families of kids who attend different schools in a district. SEPTAs provide an opportunity to be a collective voice for children in special education. SEPTAs may weigh in on education policy by communicating needs to state legislators.

SEPTAs also build partnerships among parents, school staff, existing PTAs, and the community to make things more inclusive.

How the school is involved

In states that have laws that require school districts to have a SEPAC, the group is part of the local school district. (Not all states have such laws. Some school districts may opt to create a SEPAC anyway.)

School officials meet regularly with SEPAC representatives to discuss issues and work together to find solutions. For example, they may talk about things like:

SEPTAs are, by design, a collaborative partnership between families and schools. While parent-led, it’s made up of teachers and other school staff, too.

The goal is child advocacy through parent and teacher collaboration. For example, they may work together on things like:

  • Teacher appreciation activities that recognize collaboration with parents
  • Professional development workshops to better meet the needs of children
Who are members

SEPACs are primarily made up of parents of kids who have special education needs but also include other members of the community. That may include:

  • Parents and caregivers of students without IEPs or disabilities
  • School administrators, maybe even the director of special education
  • Teachers and related service providers
  • Students
  • Interested citizens

SEPTAs are primarily made up of parents and caregivers of students who have IEPs or 504 plans, but they also include other members of the community. That may include:

  • Parents of students without disabilities
  • Students
  • Teachers and related services providers
  • Special education staff
  • Members of the larger PTA
Activities promoted and supported

A SEPAC is not a support group for parents. Since it’s focused on policy and communication, activities include things like:

  • Helping parents get information about special education rights and policies to build relationships with schools
  • Developing periodic or annual reports for the school board about the special education community
  • Holding business meetings to discuss unmet needs of kids in special education
  • Hosting informational workshops by partnering with the district or outside professionals

A SEPTA offers support for parents and may advise on policy. Some of the activities it may focus on include things like:

  • Sponsoring workshops and speakers on topics that can help parents become better advocates
  • Introducing resolutions that become part of the legislative agenda
  • Recruiting and coordinating volunteers
  • Helping to plan teacher appreciation activities and making sure to include all support staff
  • Encouraging families to create informal support groups among themselves

Read more about the importance of partnering with your child’s school . And join the Understood Community to talk to other parents about their experiences with SEPACs and SEPTAs.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom