Minutes of the March 15, 2018 Business Meeting of Cambridge SEPAC

Present:  Zuleka Queen-Postell, Abraham Cherinet, Mercedes Soto, Karen Dobak, Lovett Holloman

SEPAC Business meetings will be the Third Thursday of every month (except April vacation week) from 6-8pm. Location TBD.

Next SEPAC workshop will be with Dr. Nadine Gaab on Reading Disabilities. Date TBD – late April. Ideas discussed: send flier to Community Engagement Team (CET), promote for 1 month.


  • Chandra Banks is hosting School to Prison Pipeline Meeting March 20th 5:30-8pm The group discussed bringing fliers, having a petition for parents to sign, speaking with ABBOT coordinator.
  • Rocket Days, Cambridge Science Festival – Sennott Park, April 17th, Danehy Park, April 18th
  • The Monthly Sensory Friendly Movie Matinees are generally the 2nd Saturday of the month and they are scheduled to ensure that people can attend Federation Workshops.

The SEPAC met with Superintendent Salim and Interim Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Jean Spearo. A major focus was on screening for Kindergartners and the curriculum that Cambridge is using to teach reading.

A SEPAC member discovered that teachers for the middle school self-contained classroom are not certified in a multi-sensory, structured literacy/reading program for kids with dyslexia. It appears that children in that the reading disabilities classroom at VLUS were getting less reading instruction than children getting reading pull outs.

The CPS response:  It is hard to find certified teachers. OSS had some workshop for Orton Gillingham, but the schools don’t provide the training for teachers. Spera acknowledged that it requires a lot for teachers to teach using this method. They need to know what to do when these methods aren’t working.

SEPAC asked about the new Literacy program for Special Start programs, which was touted in the OSS newsletter and gives the impression that literacy instruction in Special Start is not appropriate for students with reading disabilities because it is described as “balanced literacy.” According to dyslexia experts, balanced literacy refers to a  whole language-based reading instruction with some added phonics. It is not structured literacy.

SEPAC asked about providing dyslexia screening in Kindergarten. Spera stated that CPS would only do this if state law requires it. The SEPAC raised that the an internationally renowned expert in the field, Dr. Nadine Gaab has offered to do free screening for all kindergartners, and teacher training. Members discussed organizing parents on this issue.

It is likely that the law around mandatory screening for dyslexia is going to pass this year. The state has set up a commission to study how to screen all Kindergartners and the State wants to have a standard screening too. Others districts are getting ahead of the issue, but not Cambridge.  

The group discussed whether it has been effective to focus at the individual level, supporting families to prepare for team meetings and sometimes attend meetings with parents. The SEPAC has spoken to school committee but hasn’t seen changes as a result of these efforts. The SEPAC may need to move towards a more direct action model, organizing parents/families around the following issues:

  1. Availability of Structured Multi-Sensory Literacy Instruction
    1. Training for Parents (Dr. Gaab)
    2. Get parents to sign petitions
    3. Get involved in supporting state-level advocacy for existing legislation (work with Decoding Dyslexia)
  2. Universal Design & Inclusion of students with disabilities
  3. Quality Control in the Sub-separate classrooms so that children are not so far behind academically

In the past, when children had cognitive disabilities, they used to put them in institutions and not educate them.  Everyone thought they were intellectually disabled, nonverbal, etc. and that they would never learn.

Members experience these attitudes among teachers even today — the belief that people with intellectual disabilities cannot succeed. Add to that, the issue of racial bias: if you are African American, you are more likely to be misdiagnosed with an intellectual disability.  If you are white, you are more likely to receive an autism diagnosis — which brings with it greater protection and more belief in your ability to learn.

If you look at self-contained classrooms, there are primarily children of color in them. If you have resources, you can move your child to a private school that is more specifically designed to meet your student’s unique needs. If you have information, even if you don’t have resources, you can advocate for your child to placed in a private school if that is what they need.

Members discussed the Federation for Children with Special Needs Visions of Community conference.  Rosalie Rippey wrote an article about the conference.

Karen shared the following info graphic https://dyslexiaida.org/what-is-structured-literacy/

Zuleka shared a graph documenting the required components for reading. [This will be linked shortly]

The members watched TED Talk: Dyslexia and Privilege | Samantha Coppola | TEDxTheMastersSchool which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/6hmwM5G2mCw .

Meeting Adjourned.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s