March 31, 2018

Dear Dr. Salim, Honorable Mayor McGovern,
and Members of the CPS School Committee:

We are writing to request that you address the dramatically inequitable distribution of resources devoted to family engagement via the position of Family Liaison. While we applaud the decision to expand the role of Elementary Family Liaison, we were dismayed to note that the needs of special education families have been overlooked.

Although this is likely an oversight, we ask that you consider this to be a pressing matter of urgent concern, given:

  • The legally-protected and critical role that parents play in the special education process
  • The complexity of special education law and difficulty that many families have, trying to understand their rights and responsibilities in planning for their children’s education while developing their knowledge of their child’s specific learning needs.
  • The particular impact of this complexity on communities of color, bilingual communities, and economically disadvantaged communities.
  • The unnecessarily wide gap between the academic achievement, social-emotional wellbeing, and long-range outcomes between students with, and without disabilities.

Simply reviewing the caseloads of family liaisons reveals the disparity:

Type of Liaison       Hrs/Week      Students
Elementary                          30               324
Upper School                       20               265
High School                          40            1,965
SEI (ELL Programs)            40               560    (8.1% of District Total)
Title 1                                    30            1,160    (45% of Title 1 Schools)
Special Education           10-15           1,534    (22.2% of District Total)
(Source: DESE – School & District Profiles)

The Special Education Liaison’s work fits squarely within District Planning Objective 4.1 Families As Partners, and 3.2 Inclusive Practices. All of her work aims to support parents of students with disabilities and empower them with the information they need to be full partners in the education of their children.

The current Special Education liaison has made dramatic strides towards building diversity and equity within the community of families who are empowered as advocates for their children in Cambridge. Historically, special education advocacy has been the domain of the privileged. In Cambridge, our liaison works to build the capacity of all families to support their children to reach their full potential.

Our liaison is essential to the health of our group. She supports, advertises, and conducts outreach for two, twice-monthly support groups (held at Fletcher Maynard Academy and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School); two monthly events designed to welcome and attract families and their children, in order to build a diverse and inclusive support community; Workshops and SEPAC business meetings – at least once per month – on topics which this year include Basic Rights in Special Education, Understanding Slow Processing Speed, Dyslexia, and Understanding Challenging Behaviors. She also provides referrals and support, and meets monthly with members of the CPS administration. She is doing an excellent job and has in fact diversified not only the membership, but also the leadership, of our organization.

Please go to our website, www.cambridgesepac.org to read about the work of our Special Education PAC, which is made possible by the support of the Special Education Family Liaison. We have advocated for an expansion of her role for the past two years, and can think of no reasonable explanation for her to be excluded from the District’s effort to strengthen Family Engagement through the position of Family Liaison.

Thank you for considering this very urgent equity concern.

Sincerely,

Cambridge Special Education
Parent Advisory Council

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