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Resurrecting Dracut’s SEPAC to advocate for special education students

Apr 29, 2019 02:55PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT – When Dracut parent Marilee Soto first realized her son had some learning issues the Dracut School Department provided him with special education services, but it wasn’t until she pushed for a diagnosis that she discovered her son has dyslexia.

Like any parent of a child with special needs, Soto realized she was her child’s voice and his advocate in navigating the complicated world of special education. It can be a long and frustrating journey.

“I used to be one of those parents who would ‘yes’ the (special education) team to death,’’ she said. “They are the experts, so I trusted them.’’

But when things “still weren’t quite right,’’ she learned that education, information and resources were her best tools. “My job as a parent was to get him the services to teach him in a way that he can learn,’’ she said.

And Soto learned she wasn’t alone. “Lots of parents have similar stories, ‘’ she said.

Soto became interested SEPAC after learning about the group from a friend in Tewksbury. She discovered every town is required to have a group, but when she looked for Dracut’s group there wasn’t one.

Dracut’s SEPAC appears to have been dormant for several years. The last Dracut SEPAC available online dates to the 2013-2014 school year. “The old group dissolved, I don’t know why,’’ Soto said.

As a result, Soto, along with Kate Burnham, Dracut’s new director of student services, teamed up to resurrect Dracut’s defunct Special Education Parent Advisory Council.

Under Massachusetts Special Education Regulations each school committee is required to establish a parent advisory council on special education. A PAC is an organized group committed to the best possible services for children with special needs.

This advocacy group is for parents and guardians of students with disabilities who receive special education services or accommodations. It can be a helpful group for parents who think their child may have learning issues or people who just want to learn more about special education. And SEPAC can facilitate communication between the parent and the school district.

Soto said SEPAC’s goal is to increase disability awareness and understanding and respect for, and support of all children with disabilities in our communities.’’

SEPAC is a group that provides a venue for parents to share ideas, learn about resources and services, and air concerns. It is a support group where families can turn for help, networking and information.

What began as a few small gatherings in December has blossomed into 25-30 members, but more people are invited to join. To meet state requirements, Dracut’s SEPAC to elect officers and hold monthly meetings.

The group typically meets the first Monday of every month at the Richardson Middle School Library, 1570 Lakeview Ave., Dracut. Due to scheduling conflicts, the next SEPAC meeting is scheduled Monday, May 20, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the school library. To RSVP for the meeting contact the Office of Student Services at (978) 957-4633 or [email protected]

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