October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

On Wednesday, October 21st at 7pm, we will host a Virtual Listening Party and discuss APM’s Educate Podcast episode, “What the Words Say: Many kids struggle with reading – and children of color are far less likely to get the help they need.”  Please email cambridgesepac@gmail.com for the Zoom link.

Thank You, Mayor Siddiqui!

Cambridge SEPAC would like to voice our gratitude to Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and the Cambridge City Council for Lighting Up City Hall Red for Dyslexia Awareness Month from October 13-16th. Click here to read her proclamation >

Our Community Can Do Better

Dyslexia is the most prevalent learning challenge, with nearly 1 in 5 students experiencing difficulties learning how to read.  In Cambridge in 2019, 53% of African American or Black students and 59% of Students with Disabilities did not meet expectations on their Grade 3 English Language Arts MCAS as compared to just 20% of White and Asian students.  Our community must and can do better.

We are eager to partner with Cambridge Public Schools in applying what we have learned about brain science and the science of reading to close these persistent gaps, which disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and other students of color (BIPOC).  

Learn more – videos

Statement from the Leadership Team of the Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council

Dear Madam Mayor, School Committee members, and Superintendent Salim,

Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council is an all-volunteer group of Cambridge parents and caregivers working to improve special education and general education practices with particular attention to the needs of black and brown scholars with disabilities and special needs in our community. Our guiding principle is that decisions must be made based on the needs of the child, not the availability of programs or resources.

We want to begin our comment by saying thank you for basing your latest proposal on the needs of our scholars and community, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all model. Your new proposal is a significant improvement and we can see that you have been listening. 

On order #20-204, parents of scholars with disabilities have a range of opinions on standardized testing. The core mission of Cambridge SE-PAC is to focus on the needs of students and to demand accountability for ensuring they are learning to their greatest capacity.  

Under current conditions, we are united in a belief that standardized testing in Spring 2021 would place undue burden and stress on students and teachers alike.

However, our students — particularly students of color with disabilities — are most at risk for being left behind during this pandemic and we demand that CPS adopt an alternative assessment that is reliable, transparent and family-friendly. CPS must commit to improving practices for sharing information about how our students are doing in relation to grade level standards.

We have repeatedly asked the district to adopt the iReady system, which is used in charter schools and private schools to share real-time data on student learning between teachers and families. The system is more timely and more family-friendly than the MCAS, and our students with disabilities in charter schools find it easier to demonstrate their learning. This would replace the district’s use of FAST assessments and make student learning data fully transparent.

Statewide accountability measures should not be discarded until appropriate and transparent in-house measures are in place to ensure that parents and families understand how our students are doing during this difficult time, such as the iReady System. We have recommended adoption of iReady in writing, in public testimony, and in meetings with the Superintendent and Office of Student Services. If the CEA is serious about finding an alternative to the MCAS, we call on you to be allies to our students by investigating and publicly supporting this measure.

On #20-209, understanding that being outdoors reduces the risk of transmission of COVID-19, we remind our community that the needs of all students must be considered in this and any other procedural change. Specifically, there are a number of medical conditions that would result in the exclusion of students if outdoor learning were to take place during certain New England weather. For instance even if warm clothing were provided on cold days, many conditions such as sickle cell anemia, asthma, and allergies which are prevalent in communities of color would be exacerbated, compromising immune systems further. Please keep in mind that some of our teachers and staff also suffer from these conditions. 

In addition, some students with special needs have a tendency to bolt away from their classroom and therefore would be unable to safely participate in outdoor learning without added adult supervision. Finally, the very common issue of inattention among students with disabilities should be proactively taken into account by ensuring that learning activities and curricula support students who may be easily distracted in the less-controlled outdoor environment.

With all of this said, there are also benefits for many students with disabilities to spending more time outdoors and specific classrooms or groups of students who may be able to adopt this measure without a problem. It is our role and responsibility to ensure that any course of action under consideration keeps in mind the needs of students with disability from the outset, and not as an afterthought.

We support the spirit of 20-205. In spirit, this order would provide parents and caregivers with greater transparency about children’s learning progress. Research shows that clear communication with families about what students are expected to know, and how students are progressing, is an important strategy for improving student achievement.

Under conditions of remote learning, this type of transparency and collaboration is especially important. Whether the district develops its own means for communicating student progress on “power standards,” or adopts the iReady system as we have repeatedly recommended,  school-caregiver partnership is crucial to building a more equitable, anti-racist, person-centered and socially just school system.

We encourage the District to continue to listen and actively seek out input from parents and caregivers to ensure that all families understand and agree with any adjustments made to student expectations when teaching and learning under conditions of a pandemic.

In Conclusion, our comments tonight point to the importance of transparency and accountability for student learning. The district’s revised proposal and inclusion of diverse parent voices on the COVID-19 Task Force suggest a deepening of respect for the role that parents and caregivers play in education. 

We would like to point out that IEP meetings are a context where the parent/caregiver role in education decision-making is legally mandated. We call on CPS to treat IEP teams as a microcosm for fully collaborative decision-making. Unfortunately, at this time, IEP teams do not provide a model of what collaborative decision-making should look like. Too often, decisions seem to have been made before the team even sits down at the table. When our views differ from the district’s position, we often face hostility.

We will continue to raise this issue, but take heart in the actions the district has been taken to fully include diverse parent and caregiver voices in decision-making at the district level. 

Thank you very much for your time and for all you are doing to support the best possible decision-making during this difficult and unprecedented time. 

The Leadership Team of Cambridge Special Education Parent Advisory Council:

  • Nicole Ahart 
  • Ruth Ryan Allen  
  • Bernette Dawson  
  • Lisa Downing 
  • Karen Dobak  
  • Gardite Fougy  
  • Love Holloman  
  • Julie McKinney 
  • Alec McKinney 
  • Berry Pierre  

  • Rosalie Rippey   
  • Mercedes Soto  
  • Ena Valenzuela 
  • Linda Vick

Connect with Other Families

Webinar Wednesdays at 10am

Webinars will be broadcast via Zoom so that families can watch as a group, use the chat bar to ask questions, and talk afterwards. We are currently working through the Basic Rights in Special Education trainings of the Federation for Children with Special Needs. To join, email Zuleka Queen Postell at zqueen-postell@cpsd.us to request the link.

Parent Support groups – Fridays at 10am

Free support group offering support and information, facilitated by New England Home for Little Wanderers. More Information >

Sensory-friendly Netflix Party – FRIDAYS AT 7PM

Join through the Netflix Party App, or join us on Zoom to watch through the SEPAC. Past Family movies have included Farmageddon (A Shaun the Sheep Movie) and Arctic Dogs. Learn More >

SE-PAC Community Meetings – 2nd and 4th Wednesdays at 6pm

Work with other special education parents to advocate for equity and quality in special education in Cambridge. Learn More >


Contact Zuleka Queen-Postell at ZQueen-Postell@cpsd.us or (617) 593-4402

Emergency School Closures: Resources for Our Community

Following are some important resources and sources of information for parents of students with disabilities in Cambridge.

Federation for Children with Special Needs

The Federation for Children With Special Needs has extensive resources for parents of students with disabilities – including distance learning resources and information about students’ legal rights while school buildings are closed. Some key guidance from this website is directly linked below.

View these resources here >

Federal Guidance

“How a district will provide FAPE will look different during this unprecedented period of national and state emergency. While ensuring the health and safety of students and educators is a priority, it may not be feasible during the current period of school closures to provide, for example, hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language services. However, many specialized instructional opportunities and related services may be modified to be effectively provided by sending resources and supports

to students or online or telephonically. Such forms of specialized instruction may include, for instance, accessible reading materials, speech and language services through video conferencing, and videos with accurate captioning. Moreover, districts may continue to implement many of the accommodations on a student’s IEP, such as extensions of time for assignments, large print, and use of speech-to-text and other assistive technology.”

Read full guidance >

Department of Elementary & Secondary Education – Guidance to Special Education Leaders

  • Begin services as soon as you can; add more over time
  • IEP amendments are not required
  • Online or virtual remote learning in this emergency is considered an alternate mode of instructional delivery
  • Give written notice to parents of remote learning plans – what to expect and how services will be delivered
    • Send email or correspondence to documenting services, accommodations, and modes of delivery – could use N1
    • Let parents know who to contact with questions

Read service delivery guidance from April 3 >