SEPAC City Council Candidate Forums (Oct 26, 2021)

SEPAC held two forums with City Council candidates. Sumbul Siddiqui who was unable to attend is sending us her responses to the forum questions which we will post below when we receive them.

Session 1 candidates were: Theodora Skeadas, Alanna Mallon, Joe McGuirk, Robert Ekstut, Quinton Zondervan, Patty Nolan, and Nicola Williams (55 min 50 seconds)

Session 2 candidates were: Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, Burhan Azeem, Marc McGovern, Frantz Pierre, Tonia Hicks (camera unavailable due to Internet bandwidth issues) 42 min.

Candidates were asked to respond to the three questions below.

  1. Federal and state civil rights, disability and education laws require that students with disabilities are provided equitable access to out-of-school time and community activities. This includes having adequate, appropriate support so that disabled children can participate in a meaningful way. Insufficient Monday-to-Friday programming impacts families; caregivers may not be able to work and students don’t receive the multiple benefits that involvement in social and recreational activities provides.  The city has been chronically underfunding out-of-school-time programs that support students with disabilities. Some of the challenges families face are as follows: 
    1. Participation of children on IEPs delayed as the city’s Inclusion Initiative is extremely understaffed to evaluate the support needed (one person for the whole city)
    2. Difficulty hiring enough inclusion facilitators to meet the demand (e.g., pay is too low). Some students are never included and “age-out” at 14.
    3. Some families cannot participate because transportation home is unavailable for non-CPSD programs.
    4. Currently the City of Cambridge only offers Saturday programming for the children with the greatest needs.  How do we ensure that those children are provided programming after the school day Monday – Friday as well.

How do you reimagine Monday-to-Friday out-of-school time programs that will serve all of our special needs students?

  1. The vocational options at CRLS need to be upgraded, updated, expanded, and modified to serve the needs of students with disabilities. How will you collaborate with the school committee, and use all relevant city resources and departments (e.g., for internships) to strengthen vocational programming?
  1. The City has built a “Universal Design Playground” in Danehy Park. But presently, even though there is a city-wide “Healthy Parks and Playgrounds Initiative” some children with disabilities cannot safely use playgrounds throughout Cambridge. How will you ensure that all city playgrounds, structures, and events are accessible to children with disabilities?

Watch the SEPAC School Committee Candidate Forum from October 20, 2021 (82 minutes)

Each candidate was given 2 minutes to respond to these four questions below:

  1. Civil rights law and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act require that students with disabilities be full participants in the life of the school and have equitable access to out of school time and community activities.  We hear from many parents that this is not currently happening in Cambridge.  How will you address this?
  2. The Vision Statement for the district says that “The Cambridge Public Schools, in partnership with our families and community, will provide all students with rigorous, joyful, and culturally responsive learning as well as the social, emotional, and academic supports each student needs to achieve their goals and post-secondary success as engaged community members.”  However, by 5th grade, 85% of students with disabilities are reading below grade level; and have the greatest achievement gap among all groups.   What will you change and/or add to eliminate this disparity as well as close the achievement gap for all groups.
  3. The school district has an obligation to ensure that all students with disabilities leave school with the ability to reach their full potential including their adult goals and dreams, not only in education, but in work, life, and community involvement.   The district has currently not been meeting this requirement for all students.  How would you address this, including making improvements in our vocational programming? 
  4.  Students with disabilities have a right to be in the least restrictive environment and the majority of students with disabilities are in general education classrooms.  Teachers seldom receive specific formal education which would prepare them to teach students with disabilities.  What would you do to ensure that teachers are equipped to adjust or differentiate their instruction in order to meet each of their students’ needs.

Follow up for Executive Function Workshop for Elementary Families

On December 3rd, many caregivers attended our workshop: An Introduction of Executive Function for Elementary Families. As a follow-up, we have provided the slide deck, video, and the Q&A from the workshop. 

  • Google slide deck from the workshop (also attached as a PDF) 
  • Video Presentation (Presented by Heather Francis, Lead Teacher for Special Start) 
  • Questions and Answers from the 1-hour workshop (see attachment) 

We will post all of these resources on the OSS Website, CPSD Family & Engagement website, and SE-PAC website. 
Homework: For the next few weeks, please incorporate some of these strategies Heather Francis presented on Thursday. Visit our Q&A document for more information. 

  1. Set up a regular routine (Visit this link for examples.) 
  2. Use a timer to help students stay focused while completing assignments.
  3. Reflect with your child during meal times 

Upcoming Events: Our next overview session will be held on Thursday, December 17, 2020, from 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. This will be an Introduction to Executive Function for Secondary Families (Grades 6-12). We will send a reminder email and zoom link two days prior to the meeting. 
Thank you,
Desi Campbell 

SE-PAC Elections

While all Special Education families are part of the Cambridge SE-PAC, the SE-PAC Leadership Team requests that you consider stepping up to serve as an officer to make the team stronger, increase diversity and be more inclusive.

SE-PAC Officers must commit 20 hours per month of their time for the full school year. These hours may include attending meetings and workshops, planning events, providing support and referrals to families, writing statements, among other activities.

Please fill out the below form by Tuesday, July 14th to nominate yourself to be an officer on the Leadership Team.

An election form will be sent out Monday, July 20th with the election ending Wednesday, July 29th. An announcement listing our newly elected Leadership Team will be sent out Friday, July 31st.

As a first step in working toward becoming a more anti-racist and inclusive organization, the role of Co-Chair will be shared among the newly elected Leadership Team members who by taking on a specific role or to help manage the sub-committees listed below.

  • Parent/Caregiver Support: Supporting parent/caregiver advocacy and developing a family-to-family mentorship program
  • Workshops: Planning and setting priorities for parent/caregiver education
  • Outreach & Communication: Communicate with families, district, partner organizations and the public
  • School Committee Relations: Attending and organizing attendance at school committee meetings
  • Racial Equity: Lead advocacy efforts around racial equity & special education
  • Community-Building: Building community among special education parents and caregivers
  • Awareness Raising: Organizing and supporting organization of disability awareness activities
  • School Relations: Supporting and structuring connections with all CPS schools
  • Compliance Monitoring: Taking action related to district legal compliance
  • Leadership Development: Empowering leadership skills within the SE-PAC and SE-PAC Board
  • Treasurer/Co-Treasurer: Develop and coordinate finances

Even if you’re unable to be part of the Leadership Team, we encourage you to reach out with any concerns to the SE-PAC through the Special Education Liaison, Zuleka Queen-Postell, or the SE-PAC Twitter or Facebook pages to ensure that your voice is heard.

Creating Hope: A Dialogue with DJ Savares

Cambridge SE-PAC has been invited to join a special opportunity:  Creating Hope: A Dialogue with DJ Savarese at 3 pm EST on Sunday, June 14th

“Hope is not easy. Hope is hard. But what if we imagine living life as a perpetual meditation on Hope? In this webinar, I make visible what helps me create hopeful possibilities in a world that is thankfully always coming-into-being.”

Prior to the dialogue, join us for a screening of the documentary, Deej Sunday, June 14th at 1:30 Register HERE

Deej is the story of DJ Savarese (“Deej”), a gifted, young writer and advocate for non-speaking autistics. Once a “profoundly disabled” foster kid on a fast track to nowhere, DJ is now a first-year college student who insists on standing up for his peers: people who are dismissed as incompetent because they are neurologically diverse. Will Deej be able to find freedom for himself and others like him?

Join us this Sunday, June 14th at 1:30 for a viewing of the Documentary. Register HERE

Then join DJ himself for his “Creating Hope” Dialogue at 3 pm EST/2 pm CST/ 1 pm MT/ 12 pm PT. 

Link for CREATING HOPE will be shared at the Documentary viewing.

For Questions an Comments Please Contact Zuleka Queen-Postell,

SEPAC Statement – May 5, 2020

Statements read at the meeting are in bold with additional details following.

We ask for your consideration for the needs of students with disabilities and particularly low income, black and brown students with disabilities who are the most vulnerable among the most vulnerable students in CPS. Our students make up 1/5th of the total CPS student body and are the lowest performing student group in the district. 

We are speaking on several agenda items:

1) We support motion 20-69 and ask that the Committee additionally specify that a parent of a child on an IEP must be part of every School Improvement Council.  

2) We support motion 20-71 requiring weekly staff check-ins with every student, but ask that staff check-ins also include families, which is not consistently happening at this time according to our members, and students with disability are unable to access the learning material as a result of their parents not understanding what is going on.

3) We are also in support of Motion 20-70, regarding the set up of a recovery task force.  The SE-PAC board should be included as part of the recovery task force, to ensure the perspective of children with disabilities is considered. We also ask that CPS adopt a parent-friendly system for sharing student assessment data such as I-Ready.

In order to adequately address the recovery, we ask that parents be given full information as to how their child is performing compared to educational standards for students at their grade level. We ask that the district move to adopt a system like i-Ready, which is currently being used by a charter school in Cambridge as well as other school districts. We feel that this type of system addresses some equity concerns, not just for students with disabilities, but for all underperforming groups, as it provides communication to families as to the gaps in a student’s education, but provides tools that families can be involved in to address those gaps.

In the meantime, until CPS is able to adopt a system like i-Ready, we ask that after benchmark testing is available over the course of the year a report on results be shared with every family. In this way families will be able to be part of the plan to address their child’s gaps in learning. Only in this way can a true recovery plan address the gaps in education that exist in our District.

4) Regarding the Budget and District Plan, we support the major restructuring of CPS at the levels of Assistant Superintendents and request that the SE-PAC be the district’s resource for appointing a Special Education parent to each of the hiring committees for Cabinet-level positions including Assistant Superintendents of Elementary and Upper School/High Schools and Chief Equity Officer.

Job descriptions of both Assistant Superintendents should include responsibility for  inclusion of students with disabilities within general education settings regardless of placement and collaboration with the Assistant Superintendent for Student Services in order to hold schools accountable for inclusion and achievement goals. To ensure that disability rights are included within the equity vision of CPS, it is fundamentally important that students with disabilities be included in all planning around the position of Chief Equity Officer

5) We also wish to appoint a parent member for the position of Chief Talent Officer to ensure that the successful candidate has experience operating in a unionized setting to both value employees and hold them accountable to appropriate Civil Rights standards. 

6) Finally, we ask that as new structures are finalized, CPS correct the structural power imbalance that places the Assistant Superintendent for Student Services at a lower level of the district hierarchy than other Assistant Superintendents. The Assistant Superintendent for Student Services is responsible for special education quality and compliance within every single school in our district. If the Superintendent truly believes that our students are as important as any others, their highest administrative advocate should report directly to him or her. 

We have advocated for this in the past, and make this recommendation independent of any specific individuals. The role should not be structurally parallel to Curriculum Coordinators and Principals – it should be parallel to the instructional, curriculum and legal compliance leaders of the district. If the Superintendent of Schools truly believes that our students are as important as any others, their highest administrative advocate should report directly to him or her. 

Signed by fifteen current SE-PAC members

  • Ruth Ryan Allen, Co-Chair
  • Pamela Blau
  • Paula Caruso
  • Pia Cisternino
  • Bernette Dawson, Co-Chair
  • Karen Dobak, Co-Chair
  • Mercedes M Soto
  • Luis E. Cotto
  • Lisa Downing
  • Kevin Fanning
  • Katherine Gamble
  • Tina Lieu
  • Rosalie Rippey
  • Madelaine (Misha) Rosenberg
  • Jennifer Kozlik

Letter from DESE and Special Education Parent Toolbox

The following letter was sent to School Districts to distribute to special education families. It was downloaded from the DESE website.

April 9, 2020  

Dear Families and Guardians:

During this period of extended school closure, we recognize this is a difficult time for families, guardians, and caregivers. We understand that one of your concerns is how your children with disabilities will continue to receive support and services from schools while they are closed due to the public health emergency related to COVID-19. During this unprecedented time, we appreciate that families and educators will work together to provide the best possible access to special education instruction and services.

In this letter, I want to share important updates about what schools are doing to support your child during this time. The accompanying Family Resource Toolbox provides some helpful information about resources and strategies for families. 

On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education issued a fact sheet clarifying that schools must continue to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities while protecting the health and safety of students, educators, and service providers. In these extraordinary circumstances, special education services will be provided differently than they are when school buildings are open and fully operational. Remote special education services should start immediately. You do not need to provide consent for remote services to begin. You should receive a plan about how the school will provide remote services.

Read Full Letter:

Family Resource Toolbox

First Annual Dyslexia Community Fair

Image of teen girl's hands holding a pen, captioned: Cambridge Public Schools Celebrates Dyslexia Awareness Mongth

First Annual Cambridge Dyslexia Community Fair
Saturday, October 19 from 1-5pm
Cambridge Rindge and Latin School
459 Broadway • Cambridge, MA 02138 

Join us for an afternoon of workshops, guest speakers, simulations, and parent panels. Barbara Wilson, author and co-founder of the Wilson Reading Program, will give a keynote address. Refreshments & childcare will be provided. 

Please RSVP Here >>

Presented by the SEPAC Dyslexia Working Group and the Office of Student Services. Questions? Contact the CPS Office of Student Services 

Cambridge Dyslexia Diaries: Part 1

Principal, Anthony I. Byers, PhD shares his personal story about how he struggled to learn how to read. As an elementary school principal, he offers encouragement and advice to students telling them that with the right instruction and support they will succeed. It is important to raise awareness about dyslexia and highlight the stories of role models so that students do not feel invisible or ashamed but rather understand that they need to learn differently.

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.