Welcome Back!

Message from Cambridge SE-PAC Liaison Zuleka Queen-Postell

I am a lifetime resident of Cambridge and a Cambridge Public School Graduate. My position as SE-PAC Liaison (Special Education Parent Advisory Council Liaison) is to serve ALL families who have a student in Cambridge with an IEP or 504 plan by helping you to better understand your Special Education Rights, assisting with navigating the CPSD programming, and organizing opportunities for families to meet with the school committee and administration to add an important voice to a school district’s dialogue and decision making.

ALL parents of students with an IEP or 504 are members of the Cambridge SE-PAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council).  SE-PAC’s have tremendous potential to have a positive impact on special education programs in a school district. PACs can provide invaluable activities for parents, and as mentioned above add an important voice to a school district’s dialogue and decision making.

SE-PAC meeting are generally held the third Thursday of each month, with this year’s schedule as follows:

  • September 20, 2018
  • October 18, 2018
  • November 15, 2018
  • December 13, 2018
  • January 17, 2019
  • February 21, 2019
  • March 14, 2019
  • April 18, 2019
  • May 16, 2019
  • June 13, 2019

The SE-PAC board members meet monthly with Dr. Alexis Morgan, our new Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and have meetings throughout the year with members of School Committee.

At this time we would like to welcome you to the 2018-2019 school year, and invite you to become an active member of the SE-PAC. We will be holding elections for this year’s officers at our monthly meeting on Oct. 18. We would love to have you run of office, please see our ballot HERE.

New Website: Educational Placement Options

FCSN logoThe Federation for Children with Special Needs has launched a new website that aims to support families of students whose needs are unable to be met within their school district. According to FCSN, this website is designed to benefit:

  • Families of children receiving special education services (i.e., on an IEP or 504 Plan) but who do not feel that their child’s needs are being met;
  • Parents of have questions about alternative options to their child’s current placement;
  • Parents of children with complex needs who may require an alternative school program or private day school;
  • Parents considering or already coping with residential placement for their child of any age (including adult children), and would like emotional support for the unique stressors of this experience;
  • Professionals working with children with complex challenges wishing to better understand the perspective and needs of families considering and experiencing private placement.

Read more at https://fcsn.org/sepo/

Resous nan kreyòl ayisyen (Resources in Haitian Creole)

FCSN logoYou can find videos, slideshows, and audio presentations in Haitian Creole, providing important information about special education. Go to fcsn.org/outreach/haitiancreole to access:

  • Special Education Audio files / Edikasyon Espesyal Atelye Dosye Son
    • Dwa Debaz nan Edikasyon Espesyal
    • Konprann Pwosesis Planifikasyon Tranzisyon
  • YouTube Webinars / Webinars sou YouTube
  • Slideshare Presentations / Prezantasyon sou Slideshare

Educar, Informar y Empoderar a las Familias (Educate, Inform & Empower Families)

FCSN logoLa Federación para Niños con Necesidades Especiales se creó en Massachusetts 1974 como un pequeño grupo de padres de familia con un interés en común, organizar una mejor asistencia para sus hijos con necesidades especiales.

Un nuevo sitio web está disponible para proporcionar información útil en español. Los videos, hojas informativas y más están disponibles en http://fcsn.org/spanish.


Meet with CPS & OSS Leadership

Please Join us…

End of Year Roundtable
with Superintendent of Schools Kenny Salim
and the Office of Student Services Cabinet

Thursday May 17th at 6PM
Cambridge Citywide Senior Center – 806 Mass Ave
Childcare and Dinner provided

Come hear what CPS has accomplished this year and what their plans are for next year! This is also an opportunity to share your experiences of your 2017-2018 school year. Please RSVP HERE.

If you have questions or require childcare, please contact Zuleka Queen-Postell at ZQueen-Postell@cpsd.us or (617) 593-4402.


DESE Needs Our Help!

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) wants your feedback for the Massachusetts IEP Improvement Project. This feedback is needed to make advancements with this initiative.

District administrators and other staff have provided their feedback, and DESE is following up with a second survey specific to families, students with IEPs, and other interested parties. They need our assistance sharing and completing this survey, which is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole. This survey is open now through May 18th.

You can assist by completing the survey HERE

Updated information about the status of the Massachusetts IEP Improvement Project will continue to be posted on their website. (http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/ImproveIEP/)

Input from family members and students with disabilities is essential in order to strengthen the direction of the state’s new IEP. Feedback from stakeholders in your community is critical in advancing the Massachusetts IEP Improvement Project, and impacting outcomes for students with disabilities. Your your support and participation in this survey is sincerely appreciated.


“Deej” A documentary on Inclusion

Inclusion shouldn’t be a lottery.

View Trailer>>
Reserve Tickets>>


Abandoned by his birth parents and presumed incompetent, DJ Savarese (“Deej”) found not only a loving family but also a life in words, which he types on a text-to-voice synthesizer. As he makes his way through high school and dreams of college, he confronts the terrors of his past, society’s obstacles to inclusion, and the sometimes paralyzing beauty of his own senses. In his advocacy on behalf of other nonspeaking autistics, he embraces filmmaking and poetry, and discovers what having a voice can truly mean.

  • Date: Thursday, April 26, 2018
  • Time: 6:30 PM – 9:30 PM EDT
  • Location: AppleCinemas – 168 Alewife Brook Pkwy, Cambridge
  • Cost: FREE


MCAS Workshop for Parents


MCAS: Access & Achievement for Students with Disabilities
A Workshop for Parents and Professionals
Presented by Federation for Children With Special Needs

Saturday April 7th, 2018 at 1pm
Cambridge CityWide Senior Center
806 Mass Ave

This workshop will introduce the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) and how children with disabilities can participate in meaningful ways in MCAS.

Childcare and lunch will be provided. Please RSVP at this link.

For more information, contact: Zuleka Queen-Postell at 617-593-4402


Letter to School Committee

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.


Cambridge Special Education
Parent Advisory Council

Dyslexia, Inclusion, Sub-Separates: March Business Meeting

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.