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.


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 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


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 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. (

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, 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

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 .

Meeting Adjourned.


FCSN “Visions of Community”

Parents at VOC Conference

Cambridge SE-PAC was well represented at the Visions of Community Conference held by the Federation for Children with Special Needs on March 10. Thanks to scholarships from Cambridge Public Schools and the Federation, a diverse group of CPS families were able to attend this annual conference in downtown Boston.

The conference included three 90-minute breakout sessions focused on early childhood, special education, learning disabilities, and challenging behavior. In addition to workshops in spoken English, closed captioning, ASL and language translation were available and a subgroup of workshops were presented in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, and Haitian Creole. The conference also included two stirring Keynote Addresses.

Tom Sannicandro, Director of UMass Boston’s Institute for Community Inclusion, spoke about the tendency of schools and other community institutions to expect less for individuals with disabilities when it comes to fully participating in education, career, and community life.

Think DifferentlyOne focus of the ICI’s work is advocating for businesses and organizations to include individuals with disabilities in their recruitment and hiring. Not only is this the right thing to do, he argued–it will also lead to better outcomes. 

For example, he described an ICI Board Meeting where a Director who has Down Syndrome emphasized the importance of using plain language, “so that everyone will understand what we are talking about in our advocacy.”  In this way, embracing diverse abilities and neurology yields a more inclusive and well-considered end result.

Citing the “high hurdle of lowered expectations,” he noted that too often conversations about the futures of students with disabilities do not include a discussion of college. Today, in addition to community college and 4-year universities, increasing numbers of higher education institutions are developing Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Programs (ICEs) and other means for providing a college experience to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These certificate programs offer valuable training for entering the workforce while enabling students to experience college life.

According to Sannicandro, “Too often, conversations about children with disabilities do not include discussion of college–but our children are no different than any other children. We need to hold our communities, our schools, school administrators to a higher standard.”

To his audience of special educators, administrators, and special education families, Sannicandro expressed empathy for how difficult is can be to advocate for a child with a disability.

He stated, “Education  is a civil right. It is our responsibility to make sure that all of our students are prepared for adult life. Yet, sometimes parents ask, did I go too far? Did I ask for too much? I understand my community is strapped for cash — should I stop pushing?”

Disability Rights are Civil Rights

He paused, allowing the audience to answer with a resounding, “No!”

Then he continued, “The reason the answer is no is not just because of the child in front of you. It’s because we are fighting for every child in our community.”

The second keynote presenter offered a living testimony to the power of full inclusion. Melissa Joy Reilly, a powerful self-advocate and Special Olympian, is a graduate of Acton-Boxborough High School and the Transition Program of Middlesex Community College. A staffer for Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge, Melissa began by describing her varied interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Then, she said:


I am pretty much a regular girl who just happens to have Down Syndrome. But you know what? I am also a lucky girl. I grew up in a great family, in a great town with great schools. Way back when I started school, inclusion was just beginning. My parents tell me some great people like Lou Brown, Martha Florist, Sue buckley and our own Ann Howard gave them good advice about supporting me in school. They and many others had a vision that inclusion was going to make life better for everybody.

They opened the eyes of many teachers and special educators. How lucky was that?

For me, inclusion was normal. So, all the way from Kindergarten through high school, I was part of the regular education classes – except for math. I love school. Even that big bus. (I think you know what I mean). Now because of inclusion, all people with disabilities are getting a better education and are getting better jobs.

Many years later, I was told that inclusion was not exactly normal. It was not exactly an easy ride. There were many bumps, but my parents had help. They would be forever grateful for Rich Robinson’s advice. And to Tom Sannicandro, for getting us through a legal mess.

By the way, I do know that having an extra chromosome also comes with some extra challenges. But, I have learned out to deal. But, for the most part, I am just a girl who is more alike than different.

And that is why, after high school, just like my classmates, I wanted to go to college too. Live away from home. And then, maybe get a dream job. Well, living away did not happen. Because I went to Middlesex Community College. I graduated from their transition program with a certificate in office support. And guess what? I did get a dream job.

I am working here in Boston at the State House. I am an office aide for Senator Eldridge. I just love my job. And I just love going to work. My co-workers are all super nice and I have the best boss ever.

Along with pursuing her career, Riley volunteers with a food pantry and serves on the Board of Special Olympics. Riley is an accomplished Special Olympian herself, and won silver medals in skiing at the International games in Nagano and in Pyong-chang. She is also a motivational speaker who draws on her experience to demonstrate how the limitations society imposes on students with disabilities does not reflect their true potential.

Referencing her participation in the MA Down Syndrome Congress “Your Next Star” campaign, Melissa ended her presentation with a promise that inclusion can work. She said, “Dreaming and hoping for a bigger and more interesting life can become a reality. Today, each one of us in our own way has the opportunity to reach for the stars.”