Parents and Teachers

The Importance of Having a School District PTA Special Education Group

For over a century, Parent Teacher Associations have connected parents, families, and teachers to better the education system for all. What started as a group to give women a voice over their children’s education became a national benefit for educational advancement and improvement.

However, a traditional Parent Teacher Association (PTA) isn’t always well-equipped to handle the unique elements of special education. Therefore, many school districts carve out a spot for a PTA group targeting the specific needs of special education students, families, and teachers.

As a parent or teacher, you might be considering introducing a special education PTA into your school district. Learn more about this type of PTA’s mission and how it can assist everyone involved in this guide.

Understanding the Special Education PTA Group

A PTA group for special education, also known as a Special Education PTA (SEPTA), can be an excellent option for a district that serves students with special needs. Here’s what this guide will uncover about SEPTAs:

  • Special Education PTA vs. Special Education Parent Advisory Council
  • The Purpose of a Special Education PTA
  • Who’s Involved with the Special Education PTA
  • How a Special Education PTA Can Help Students with Special Needs 
  • How to Create a Successful Special Education PTA
  • The Importance of Having a School District PTA Special Education Group

Special Education PTA Group vs. Special Education Parent Advisory Council

First, let’s point out the differences between a Special Education PTA and a Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC). These two types of organizations tend to get confused, although both comprise volunteers and are equally crucial to special education.

A SEPAC is a membership council tasked with advising a school board and school district officials about the best interests of students with disabilities. In doing so, it may communicate with a SEPTA to consider the opinions and concerns of students, families, and teachers in the school system. However, the separate entity is more of a liaison between the school district and children with disabilities.

On the other hand, a SEPTA blends student families from within the district, teachers, and specialists who want to work together to advocate for students and support them, their families, and their teachers. People outside of the special education system may also join a SEPTA simply to support and advocate for students with disabilities.

The Purpose of a Special Education PTA

The primary goal of a SEPTA is advocacy for students with disabilities within the school district. The SEPTA meets regularly to discuss student, parent, and teacher concerns and devise ways to meet evolving needs. 

The SEPTA also creates and organizes activities and events for special education students, teachers, and families or suggests ways for district activities to be inclusive for those with special needs. SEPTA members also foster partnerships within their communities to assist learners with special needs or bring awareness to specific conditions or educational needs.

SEPTAs are self-funded, meaning that they raise their own funds that go toward special events and activities or teacher and family support. For instance, money from a fundraiser may go toward classroom supplies for special education teachers within the district.

Who’s Involved with the Special Education PTA

Like traditional PTA groups, SEPTA members are volunteers. These volunteers can be parents of students in the district, school specialists, and teachers. Most SEPTAs have an annual membership fee that goes toward funding the group and its activities. 

Sometimes, people outside of the special education system decide to join a SEPTA to support those involved in the system. In doing so, they can assist the association with its advocacy efforts within the district and the community.

How a Special Education PTA Can Help Students with Special Needs

SEPTAs benefit students, parents, families, and educators in special education. The following are a few ways SEPTAs can promote positive changes in the school district, its schools, and the community.

Ensuring Inclusive Activities

Some events that schools typically host may not be suitable for all children with disabilities or special needs. SEPTAs can work to make school events and activities more inclusive for all students by creating more events or working with a PTA to add accommodations and modifications to a current event.

Quiet spaces and headphones might help students with sensory processing difficulties manage the noise at an assembly or field trip. Or, the SEPTA can ensure that areas where students move around at events are accessible for wheelchairs.

Parental Support

One priority for PTAs is offering parents the support they need to help their children succeed inside and outside of school. SEPTAs do this, too, while catering to the specific needs of parents of children with special needs.

SEPTAs can offer guidance to parents regarding advocacy for their students, share important communication from the school, and connect them to one another. Essentially, the SEPTA creates a strong, close-knit community of like-minded parents sharing many of the same challenges.

Teacher Support

SEPTAs support special education teachers and service providers by making their voices heard and advocating for them and their needs. As a group, SEPTAs organize teacher appreciation days and events, support communication between teachers and families, and suggest and push through educational policy to assist teachers in their classrooms.

Creating Awareness Day Events

While traditional PTAs typically create fun days and events for students and families, like Red Ribbon Week for drug awareness and school spirit days, a SEPTA can prioritize awareness days and events for specific disabilities or special needs.

For instance, a SEPTA might organize an event during April for National Autism Awareness Month. Or, they can pass out resources for parents that might help them spot early warning signs of learning disabilities in children, like dyslexia or dyspraxia.

Advocacy

Advocacy is a critical component of PTAs in general, but SEPTAs specifically advocate for the needs of special education students, teachers, and their families. With this focus, those in special education can potentially get more of their needs addressed.

SEPTAs can also make parents and teachers feel more empowered when advocating for their students. Resources, meetings, and a sense of community help those involved in special education feel more comfortable addressing their concerns.

Professional Development

Because of their self-funding model, SEPTAs rely on membership fees and fundraisers to fund their operation, activities, and other means of assisting the special education system. They then use these funds for things that help the school, like assemblies for students or professional development for teachers.

SEPTAs may use their funds to help teachers pay for special education workshops, seminars, and other professional development events covering advocacy, teaching strategies, and other relevant topics.

Fun Family Events

PTAs are well-known for their focus on organizing events for families to attend at schools. These events usually incorporate learning and games for students to connect with their families and teachers in a fun environment outside of traditional school hours.

Special education PTAs can do the same while ensuring that events are inclusive for all students and families who attend. Depending on the needs of the district’s learners, the SEPTA might offer accommodations to students with special needs by creating Braille games or inviting a sign language interpreter to the event.

How to Create a Successful Special Education PTA

Successful SEPTAs comprise a healthy mix of parents, teachers, and specialists within and outside the special education system. The first step toward creating a SEPTA that makes positive changes in a school district is to ensure that membership starts strong and continues to grow.

To do that, SEPTAs must market themselves similarly as a business would. At the beginning of the school year, consider sending home letters to families and passing letters out to teachers to explain the purpose of the SEPTA and invite them to join. SEPTAs can get the word out throughout the year through their hosted events and word-of-mouth referrals from members.

Successful SEPTAs also have lots of member engagement. Rather than simply attend meetings, members share their concerns and opinions, offer new ideas, and get excited to participate in upcoming activities. 

Keeping the lines of communication open is vital. Invite everyone to speak at meetings and make a list of phone numbers or emails for all members. A Facebook group for your SEPTA can be a quick and convenient way for everyone to communicate with one another.

Finally, a SEPTA should have a strong presence within the school district and the community. Hosting events that bring the school and community together spreads the word about the association, its efforts, and its importance.

The Importance of Having a School District PTA Special Education Group

If you’re not sure if your school district already has a SEPTA and you’re interested in starting one, contact the district office or your state PTA office for information. I wish you the best of luck on your venture if you do open a SEPTA for your district. It takes a lot of time and patience, but your heart and dedication will get you through.

I’m interested to hear from others who may have already started a SEPTA or are heavily involved in one: Do you have any pointers for those considering starting or joining a SEPTA? Leave a comment below or email me with your tips!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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