By Tim Weiss
An active and effective special education parent advisory council can be a true asset to a school district, by providing parent involvement and input on special education issues.
But why bother with an advisory board when you have a board of education? First, you may be able to recruit members who can offer help and advice, but who were not elected to the school board. Also, such an advisory board can be formed around programs for which the school district needs specific and technical expertise in order to meet the needs of children with disabilities. And finally, a special education advisory board can extend your connections and support into a broader segment of the community, and perhaps, serve as a training ground for future school board members.
President Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind” campaign calls for more parent involvement, Alaska’s Quality Schools Initiative calls for it too. The State Improvement Grant has given PARENTS, Inc. funding to help encourage the formation of local special education parent advisory councils. Parent participation in education, not just between parents and teachers, but also in policy-making, school reform, and other issues has been shown to be highly effective, especially in the area of special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) calls for parent training and information centers, like PARENTS, Inc., to assist parents be involved in participating in school involvement, school reform, and educational decision-making.
Creating a Successful Special Education Parent Advisory Council
Before creating an advisory council, consider the following issues:
1. What is the purpose of the council? What do the parents want it to accomplish?
2. What will the council expect the individual members to do in order to achieve its purpose?
3. To whom will this council report?
4. Who will have the authority to select its members?
5. Who will provide the staff support to orient, educate, and work with the members of the council?
· How much time will this take?
· Whose responsibility is it?
6. How will the council recruit members?
7. How large should the council be in order to carry out its purpose? Will it need subcommittees?
8. What is the nature of the relationship between the school district, the board of education, and the advisory council?
9. What are the financial costs for the council on an annual basis (e.g., travel, meals, materials, staff support)?
10. To what extent are the school district administrators and the local school board in favor of the council?
11. Will the council members need liability insurance?
Common problems with advisory councils:
· Lack of clarity in purpose, role, or scope
· Ignorance about or lack of commitment to the mission of the school district
· Unclear expectations of individual members
· Lack of leadership and support from the school district
· Improper or inappropriate composition
· Weak organization and structure
· Lack of interaction with and feedback from the school district
· Under-utilizing advisory council members
· Overstepping advisory role
· Absence of orientation and/or continuing education programs
· Haphazard selection process
· Formed to “fix” an issue in crisis
PARENTS, Inc. can help parents or schools create parent special education advisory committees through providing workshops, helping to organize it, and/or providing information. A short manual to help start a council is on the PARENTS, Inc. web site in the “parent participation” section (parentsinc.org/parinvle.html).