A fledgling group of special education parents recently received official endorsement from the all-Island school committee.
The vote to ratify the Island Parents Advisory Council at a meeting last Thursday opened the door for the group to take a more active role in school matters.
Dormant for many years, the council reorganized its leadership this year and is currently conducting surveys of parents of students in the special education programs. Members are also collaborating with special education director Philip Campbell to evaluate the life skills program at the regional high school.
“In these situations, parents of kids with severe special needs are really an incredibly good source of knowledge,” said Kate DeVane, co-chairman of the council. “I think the programs we have here are really very strong, but any program can benefit from a good evaluation.”
Under Massachusetts state law, school districts are required to establish a parent advisory council on special education for the purpose of advising the schools on best practices for educating children with disabilities.
According to the present bylaws, membership is open to all special needs parents and legal guardians, and one parent from each public school district will sit on the executive committee. The director of student support services is a nonvoting member of the executive committee.
School committee members said they will be interested to learn what turns up in parent surveys.
“I want to hear the unfiltered and unedited versions of these things so I want to encourage you to get on our agendas, on each of our agendas, and give us the unfiltered stuff that you want to give us,” said Michael Marcus, a member of the up-Island regional school committee.
They also asked the group to participate in the budget process. This year, special education costs drove the shared services budget to a 21 per cent increase. When approving the budget, school committee members called on the new special education director to examine sources of savings in the budget going forward.
“As you guys are well aware, [our children] are expensive, but there is a reason why they are expensive so we feel it would be good if you had our input,” Ms. DeVane said.
There are 450 students who receive special education services in the Island public schools.
The meeting was Priscilla Sylvia’s last meeting as a committee member. She has served the Island schools for 49 years, starting as a classroom teacher in the Oak Bluffs School. Following retirement, she began serving on the Oak Bluffs school committee. She will not seek another term.
Superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said the school community would miss her steadfast opinions and leadership. “A hearty thanks for all your years of service,” he said.
“You have been a wonderful mentor and an incredible member,” said chairman Susan Mercier.