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New SEPAC Helps Improve Communication

The Livingston Public Schools Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, known as SEPAC, has gotten off to a successful start and is working to improve communication between Livingston Public Schools and the parents of special needs students, according to Lawrence W. Russell Jr., Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and Instruction for Livingston Public Schools.

“I think the parents were looking for an avenue to have open dialogue with the school administration and I think we met that goal,” Russell said. “We hope to continue to serve as a communication and information forum for all parents of special needs children in the School District.”

The committee meets monthly and has met five times since its formation. “We are really trying to increase the level of communication between parents and school staff,” Russell said. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday Sept. 28th in the media center at Heritage Middle School.

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SEPAC, which works with the Parents & Professionals for Exceptional Children, formed in January and has gotten off to a strong start, he said. “SEPAC fulfills the State Department of Education requirement to facilitate communication between New Jersey School Districts and parents of special education students in the districts.

“Our biggest responsibility is to give parents information on how to navigate the special education system in the School District and the State,” Russell said. “This helps parents who have students placed out-of-district keep in touch with their home school. We help to educate parents about which services are available from the District.”

SEPAC acts as a resource for parents and as a liaison between parents and the schools and the parents and the District. “We try to come up with ideas to make the District more inclusive,” he said. “We put programs and services in place and also try to bring some students back into the District who were placed in out-of-district special education private schools.”

Livingston Public Schools now offers a special program for autism students at Mount Pleasant Elementary School, he noted as an example.

SEPAC is also working on developing a special education parent handbook. Russell said he also plans to start a twice yearly or bi-annual newsletter to keep parents better informed about the committee’s actions. He plans to issue the first one later this summer.

SEPAC consists of 21 parent voting members with two representatives chosen from each school, one chosen by the principal and another by the PTA/HSA. Livingston places 128 special needs students out-of-district and educates 800 special needs students in the District overall. Its mission is to foster increased communication of services and information for families of children with special education needs, facilitate and foster parent involvement in parent education resources and foster and promote inclusionary special education settings for all students. It is also seeks to provide advisory information to the Livingston Board of Education.

Russell said he also plans to start a twice yearly or bi-annual newsletter to keep parents better informed about the committee’s actions.

Parent Wendy Slavitt said she is pleased to be a member of SEPAC.  “Knowing that Larry Russell and the District are behind the SEPAC and what it stands for is very important. I really feel that we as a community have come a long way in a relatively short time period.”

Since SEPAC is so new, many parents are not aware of it and do not know what its’ goals are, Slavitt noted.  “I believe that it would be a great benefit to spread the word and let people know more about the group including who each school’s contacts are and that each principal has an interest in supporting the group.”

Slavitt said she is also pleased with the way Heritage Middle School Principal Pat Boland holds periodic meetings with parents of special needs students to keep them informed. “It has been a great dialogue and allows parents to voice concerns and ask questions,” she said.  “I think that more of these types of events held with SEPAC could make a positive impact on families at each school as well as the District as a whole.”

Heritage Middle School Principal Pat Boland, a committee member, said she thinks that SEPAC benefits everyone involved. “Being able to hear the concerns as well as being able to share what works well within the schools will help all of us address the needs of our special education students throughout the District,”  Boland said. “SEPAC has given us the forum to have a continuous dialogue.”

Harrison Elementary Principal Cynthia Healy, who sits on the committee, said she is very pleased to be a part of the new group. “I think it is a great start to have everybody come together and discuss issues that are important to all of the stake holders,” she said. “I think it is great to have a lot of people sitting down and talking about what is best for kids.”

For more information on SEPAC, visit the Livingston Public Schools website at www.Livingston.org.

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