10 Simple Steps to Create a Parent Advisory Committee
Quite often, an advocate’s first experience in the world of educational advocacy is through their involvement in a parent advisory committee. Parents of kids with disabilities have the IEP to fall back upon when they have concerns that are specifically related to their own child's education, but their hands are basically tied when it comes to making global changes on their school campus. There are things like school-wide curriculum, safety measures, environmental factors, and staff changes, that an IEP has very little control over, but these are things that a parent advisory group could most certainly impact.
While public schools in the state of Florida have School Advisory Committees (SAC) that require the administration to attempt to find an ESE representative (exceptional student education), far too often that spot is either left empty or filled by a staff member who happens to have a child with a disability. What we’re suggesting here is that schools should have a separate committee, or subcommittee of the SAC, that specifically addresses the needs of students with disabilities who attend their school.
Let us also add that a school, or district, that has a strong parent advisory committee, is typically a school that has a higher level of overall achievement, inclusion, and extracurricular opportunities for all its students!
What Is a Parent Advisory Committee’s (PAC) Responsibilities?
1. Communicating with the school administration
The #1 responsibility of a PAC is to communicate with the school administration. This includes bringing forth concerns from the parent-base, providing input on school policies and curriculum, and collaborating with the administration to improve the school experience for their students.
2. Organizing parent gatherings (in person or online)
This can include monthly advisory meetings with a clear agenda based on input from the committee, volunteer opportunities, and parent education sessions. These types of activities help promote a sense of community within the school and give parents a way to become more involved in their child's education.
3. Advocating for students in a more global fashion
The PAC should advocate for all students, including and especially those with special needs, since they have historically been a marginalized group. PAC members can work with the school administration to ensure that all students are receiving the support they need to succeed academically and socially, while being educated in a safe and welcoming environment.
4. Providing input on policies and procedures
These could include guidance (or even governance) over discipline, safety, inclusion, behavior supports, and curriculum.
5. Promoting an inclusive and welcoming school culture
Members can encourage schools to promote anti-bullying initiatives, and encourage student partnerships, inclusive education, and fitness programs.
What’s in a Name?
In different states, these groups may go by different names:
SEPAC—Special Education Parent Advisory Committee/Council
LAC- Local Advisory Committee/Council
CAC—Community Advisory Committee/Council
SELPA—Special Education Local Planning Area Consortium
SEPAG—Special Education Parent Advisory Group
PAC—Parent Advisory Committee/Council
PAT—Parent Advisory Team
SIT—School Improvement Team
SECAC—Special Education Community Advisory Council
Parents are at the core since it is assumed that they are speaking for their minor children, but at the higher grades, students should most definitely be involved.
Members might include:
Parents of children with disabilities who may have an IEP or 504 Plan
School or District Administration
Students and/or former students
Community members committed to improving education in the district or school
Examples of Topics for Input from a PAC
Accessibility of the school campus
Before care and after care
Bus driver/Bus aide concerns
Extended school year services
Funding issues and resource allocation
Graduation and inclusive opportunities in events
IEP school procedures
Observing your child’s classroom process
Reading growth concerns
Transition from school to adult life
Getting Started Strategies
The idea that this could be a great opportunity for your school is all that it takes to get things rolling. That one person can talk to 2-3 other parents, and BAM, you have a committee!
Gather other parents.
Establish a list of 2-3 priorities.
Schedule and meet with administration to review priorities and desire for a formalized PAC.
Choose a centralized location for communication – This could be something as simple as a closed Facebook group, a Google Drive or Dropbox
Vary meeting formats – in person on campus or off campus (if agreed upon), online, etc
Focus on messaging. Make sure everyone knows and understands the first identified priorities. Once these are accomplished, choose 2-3 others, and so on.
At least one member of this group should attend the main School Advisory Committee meeting. District advisory meetings are also a great way to accumulate information about what’s happening in other schools.
Match incoming parent concerns with appropriate school staff or parent mentor within your school.
Partner with your PTA, which is another great advocacy organization.
Be sure to thank your participants often.
Once your Parent Advisory Committee is established and seeing results, be sure to check and monitor your goals regularly. You might need to increase or decrease the size of the committee or provide an open forum to gain more feedback from the parents of the student body.
If you need more guidance, ASF is here to help. Info@autsimfl.org