How you can find support with a SEPTA



Find out how to join or start your own Special Education Parent Teacher Association

Sending your child to school seems like a straightforward task. They get on the bus, your heart breaks a little and off they go. They come home and tell you how their day went, empty their backpacks and ask for a snack.

But what happens when you have a child with a disability? All of a sudden sending your child to school is not so straightforward.

You might be asking questions such as: How do I get the services my child needs? Who do I call if I have a concern about my child’s learning abilities? Am I the only one dealing with these issues?

These are all common questions parents ask themselves. It may seem difficult to find support and the answers that you need. SEPTAs are a great way to gain that support and get access to the answers that you seek.

What is a SEPTA?

SEPTA stands for Special Education Parent Teacher Association. Like traditional PTAs, their goal is to support parents and their children through the education process. They differ in that they specialize in helping families advocate for their children receiving special education services or related services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

SEPTAs offer resources like parent support groups, monthly meetings, workshops on various topics related to special education such as co-teaching, 504 plans, physical therapy and much more. They help parents connect with administrators directly related to the special education process, known as the Committee on Special Education.

Most importantly, they help connect parents of students with a disability to each other.

“It helps me to know that there are other parents out there,” says David Goodwin of Marlboro, who has a son in the Arlington school district. 

Goodwin is a member of the Arlington SEPTA. He has attended SEPTA workshops on IEP diplomas, CSE meetings and BOCES.

“I feel that our SEPTA has helped me be a better advocate for my child,” he says. 

READ MORE: 6 ways to prepare your special needs student for the upcoming school year

How do I find out if my district has a SEPTA?

First you can start with your local PTA. Go to a PTA meeting and ask if there is a SEPTA. If there is not, contact the New York State PTA office to find a local chapter. If all else fails, consider starting your own SEPTA.

Jennifer Brennan of Poughkeepsie did just that in the Arlington Central School District, and she is currently the president of Arlington’s SEPTA. When asked how she became involved in running a SEPTA, she says, “As a mother of a son with a disability, I felt there were no resources in the schools for students with disabilities and their families.”

This motivated her and others to organize the Arlington SEPTA, which officially became a charter in May of 2013.

Being one of a few SEPTAs in the area, the group is open to parents from other districts. Brennan notes that even though they tend to focus on district issues, many of their issues are universal. Arlington SEPTA has their monthly meeting the fourth Thursday of every month. For more information, visit acsdsepta.org.

Heather Cavanaugh of Marlboro felt a lot like Brennan. When asked how she became involved, she says, “As a parent, it was challenging not knowing where to go when I needed information.”

So she helped to start the Marlboro school district’s SEPTA.

“We want to get more information out to parents with children who have any different types of learning needs,” she says.

Positive and caring organizations for families with special needs

Marlboro SEPTA has monthly meetings that include a speaker or a workshop on topics such as 504 plans, IEPs, and more. For more information, visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/MarlboroSepta.

READ MORE: Positive organizations for families with special needs

I’d like to start my own SEPTA. Now what?

Contact your district’s PTA. Talk to the PTA board about possibly starting a SEPTA. Not sure how? Contact others who have started SEPTAs. They’ve been there, done that and can answer many of your questions.

If starting a SEPTA chapter is just not possible, go to another district’s SEPTA meetings. This can be a great way to gain information, connect with other parents going through similar situations and attend workshops on various topics that pertain to you and your family. Talk to your child’s teachers and service providers. They are a wealth of information and may be able to lead you to other groups in your area.

Negotiating special education services, laws and parental rights can be daunting and overwhelming. Special Education PTAs can be critical for families who have a child with a disability or other learning needs. They offer resources, trainings and much needed support.

Kelly Auriemmo is a mom, blogger, and special education teacher who lives in Poughkeepsie.