Arlington SEPTA’s board regularly gets asked by parents outside of Arlington how they start a SEPTA in their own community. Here is some information about SEPTAs and how to start one.
In July 2016, we presented at the VAPTA Leadership Training and Annual Conference. The powerpoint can be found here.
You will find a lot of basic information at the National PTA . Check with your state PTA and your County Council PTA as well.
Why start a Special Education PTA?
A Special Education PTA can provide a structure for parents to be heard by administrative staff.
Families with children who have special needs often seek out opportunities to meet other parents in similar circumstances. Special Education PTAs (SEPTAs) provide this opportunity and often bring together families of students who attend different schools in a district under one PTA umbrella. Becoming a SEPTA provides families with an organizational structure, resources and the opportunity to be a collective voice for their child and for all children.
Let parents hear from senior administrative staff.
Do I need to form a SEPTA?
When a parent organization already exists in a school, parents of children with special needs may want to see if they can form a committee within that organization for families with special needs children. This encourages inclusion and helps keep the lines of communication open to all parent groups. Families can then be a part of all school activities, ensure the inclusion of their children and still have their own format for the special supports and opportunities that they may seek.
My child attends a school that is all children with special needs. Should we form a SEPTA just for our school?
If there is no parent organization in your school, in consultation with your school principal, you will want to determine if you should be a PTA or a SEPTA. Consulting with your state PTA office will also provide you with options. If there is a SEPTA serving schools in your district, you may want to affiliate with them and form a PTA that focuses on your school. If there are no SEPTAs in your community, you may want to form one that would also welcome families from other schools in your community. If there is a PTA Council for your area, that Council will also be a great source of information and guidance.
How do I determine if there is a SEPTA in my community?
Contact your state PTA office.
What steps should I take if there is no SEPTA and I want to form one?
Start with like minded people, e.g. other parents, guardians, grandparents, etc. with children with special/exceptional needs, school staff (teachers, therapists, special education directors and so on).
Schedule a meeting with these people and call the state PTA office (see above for contact information) and ask for someone from the state PTA to come and answer questions on the benefits of SEPTAs.
A representative from the Board of Education and the school district’s Special Education Director should be encouraged to participate in the formation and operation of your SEPTA.
What can a SEPTA offer to families?
One major benefit of a SEPTA is to offer support to other parents who have similar circumstances. Some SEPTA units have a business meeting then adjourn and offer a parent support time off the record. Sometimes parents like to speak on issues that concern their children and just listening to them can help other caretakers. Other things can happen during the support time, for instance, caretakers can learn about doctors and services that are a positive experience for their child such as a place to take your child for a haircut that is not stressful and a place of business that is understanding and patient.
Other benefits are that SEPTAs sponsor workshops and speakers on topics that can help better advocate for exceptional children and topics that can help parents better understand aspects of special needs and many diagnoses. Many SEPTAs start out with a general topic like understanding your child’s IEP or 504plan, the rights of your special needs child, and the parent’s rights under IDEA.
Many units offer family fun days for the whole family, such as a bowling day, a picnic and so on. This is a comfortable place for the whole family to go and be together.
Contact National PTA at (800)307-4782, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check in with your state PTA as well as your County Council of PTAs.
- a URL – a simple website where people can leave name and contact
- an email address
- Google group for a list serve
This can be set up even before you get your charter and it will help you organize like minded people.
Solicit board members from the district administration, they can be ex-officio.
- Does your district have a Parent Resource Center?
- Special Education Program Director or staff?
Consider having one or more Special Education Parent Liaisons for each school and program.
- Consider foreign language liaisons to help reach as diverse a group as possible.
How to reach out to other parents:
- Back pack mail
- School list serves
- PTA lists
How to reach teachers and support staff:
- Ask for help from Special Education Coordinator from the Superintendent’s staff
- Special Education Advisory Committee
- Ask if you can set up a table at one of the teacher prep days.
Starter event ideas:
- Superintendent’s Chat (call the clerk and request a public meeting)
Getting your charter:
Your SEPTA will be a local charter PTA under your state PTA
- template available from the state PTA
Officers and terms
- Bylaw committee – publish on website, vote on them at a charter meeting
- Recommend start fiscal year on July 1 to coordinate with the PTA membership
- Non-profit status- optional but allows you to do your own fundraising
- Bank account – letters from state PTA recognizing this chapter will help you set up a new account
- State PTA training for board members
- Modest start – one or two events
- Try to obtain some private funding to get started
- Grants from State PTA for programs
- Dues need to be paid to National and State PTA. This will help you set your membership fee. All memberships expire June 30.
- You will have dues to the state PTA. Factor this into the amount your expect from your members.
- Dues will expire each school year.
- You will probably need a Paypal account for online payment
- Your state PTA will offer training for treasurers (usually during the summer)
- Membership in a PTA comes with some nice benefits. Check with the state PTA
- Consider a members only page for the web page. This can be password protected. It could feature a member directory, videos of past events. This may encourage membership.
Bilingual and minority considerations
- Consider having translators at meetings and events.
- Consider events in a second language, simultaneous translation in English if needed.
- build google group
- build web site
- consider web cast for meetings
- in larger districts, consider pyramid structure within the larger structure