As lawmakers look to overhaul how we fund special education, a new bill from State Sen. John Braun (R- Centralia) and State Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) would strengthen family engagement with the formation of local advisory committees in every school district in Washington. Through local Special Education Advisory Committees (“local SEACs”) parents and family members would have a consistent and predictable way to share feedback and engage in dialogue directly with their school district. Local SEACs would ensure families a permanent voice and guaranteed seat at the table when it comes to decision-making in their school district around educating students with disabilities.
How it works
Modeled after similar programs in other states, the local SEAC would provide families a forum to share ideas about how to improve the education of students with disabilities in their school district. The creation of local SEACs strengthens existing federal law, which requires a parent committee at the state level. By extending this model into each district, the bill recognizes Washington’s system of local control by supporting parents as equal partners in the education of students with disabilities at the local level.
Sarah Butcher, a parent, has served for the past three years on the Washington State Special Education Advisory Committee. “Our work at the state level has helped inform policy and elevate best practices from Olympia,” said Butcher. “But our 295 school districts present both unique challenges as well as opportunities for innovative local solutions. Schools and families must listen to each other and work together collaboratively if we want our systems of education to meet the needs of students with disabilities by design and ensure every student in every school has the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Under the proposed law, a majority of committee members must be parents of children with disabilities or individuals with disabilities, along with a teacher. Additional school or school district personnel would serve as consultants to the committee, not as members.
The committee’s work would include:
- Participating in the development of priorities and strategies for meeting the identified needs of children with disabilities;
- Facilitating partnerships with community employers to provide appropriate transition services;
- Facilitating trainings by experienced outside consultants not employed by the school district to teach families how to advocate for their child and to teach students with disabilities how to self-advocate;
- Helping the school district in interpreting plans to the community for meeting the special needs of children with disabilities for educational and transition services; and
- Reviewing the school district proposed policies and procedures for the provision of special education and related services
What parents are saying about local SEACs
We asked parents in Arlington, Virginia about their experience serving on a local SEAC. Under Virginia state law, every school division is required to have a SEAC.
From Heather Alderman, member of the Arlington (Virginia) School District local SEAC:
“I really cannot say enough about the empowerment and camaraderie and support I got out of the Arlington SEAC and how many skills and insights I gained that have helped me navigate special education and advocate for my child.”
From Nick Walkosak, Arlington (Virginia) School District local SEAC:
“Membership has allowed me to get to know parents from different schools and all levels of school. I am able to access their knowledge and experience with respect to IEP accommodations and meetings. I am also able to learn which schools are having problems and which ones are doing it right. Additionally, I am able to help other parents, especially new parents, as they learn about the disability their child has and navigating the supports and meetings.
Currently, I am chairing a subcommittee that is reviewing all school board policies for appropriate language to take care of our special ed students. Many policies do not even mention special ed and in most cases, there are different considerations our kids need, especially when discipline or atypical scenarios could cause behavioral issues.”
In addition to providing advocates for families, the bill also includes provisions to:
- improve professional development for general education teachers to support best practices in special education;
- provide access to an advocate at no cost to help families navigate the IEP process;
- improve transition planning for students as they prepare to exit high school to better support job training and further education, and
- adjust funding formulas to better align with actual costs
Read Sen. Braun’s accompanying statement to the bill here.