Rep. James Arciero advocates for representation for special education students on school committees – Lowell Sun

WESTFORD — State Representative James Arciero addressed the Joint Committee on Education, testifying for a bill that would support Special Education Parent Advisory Councils by ensuring representation on local school committees. A virtual hearing was held on July 6.

A bill filed by Arciero this year — House Bill 537 — seeks to help families with special education students can have a stronger voice on school committees. Roughly 20% of the Commonwealth’s students are considered special needs, ranging from physical to developmental disabilities, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Rep. Arciero graduated from the Westford Public School system and wanted to create conversation regarding the needs of special education students.

“As someone who was diagnosed, and at times, severely struggled with dyslexia and ADHD at a young age and during early grade school, I understand the important role that SEPACs play in the Commonwealth,” Arciero said. Adding that SEPACs work closely with students in need and their families and they’ll bring a valuable resource to school boards.

“Every public school district is required to establish a SEPAC, but currently, SEPACs only serve in an advisory capacity to local school committees, meet regularly with officials to participate in the planning, development and evaluation of the school district’s special education programs,” according to a press release.

“The bill would allow an ex-officio, non-voting seat on a school committee to be a representative from the local school district’s SEPAC. The member would be subject to all school committee rules.”

Laurie McCarron, a resident of Chelmsford who is a member of the town’s SEPAC, said in a testimony, “We have come very far over the years within public education institutions. We still have work to do. Children who were once excluded, who now rise up, who are successful, and with opportunity from an appropriate education, have since proven what a true ‘role model’ emanates for all students.”

School Committee member Alicia Curtin Mallon’s work with SEPAC was what inspired her to run for the school committee. “While I consider our town to be one of the most collaborative in the state for families with children with special needs, the perspective of the Special Education population was often missing in policy discussions,” she said.

Susan Bogosian, Chair of Advocacy and Legislation for the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association (MAPTA) testified, “This would provide a greater communication link between SEPACs and school committees and a consistent means of communication across the Commonwealth and a more defined role of SEPACs,” adding that the bill would give a greater voice to families and students “as they deal with the unique challenges of receiving a quality education while having one or several disabilities.”

In addition to Curtin Mallon, Bogosian and McCarron, School Committee member Gloria Miller and Kathy Norton also testified in favor of the bill.

“I want to thank Alicia Curtin Mallon, Susan Bogosian, Gloria Miller, Kathy Norton and Laurie McCarron for their leadership on this legislation and on SEPAC issues. This is their idea and I give them all the credit, as I am happy to be working with my district in general and SEPAC families to make this important change,” Arciero said.