RECENT PINS

Considering the CAC

I got involved in quite a few special needs organizations and support groups after my son was diagnosed. If I thought it might help me help him, I wanted to check the organization out. By the time another parent mentioned the Community Advisory Committee to me, my schedule was so full, I didn’t think I could add another time commitment to my week. Even though that parent told me the CAC was a good way to have your voice heard by the school district, I put this idea on the back burner and figured I’d consider it when I had ‘more time’ (the ‘more time’ that never seems to show up).

Over the summer, another parent mentioned the CAC to me again, and told me what the topic of the next meeting would be. She also said some of the special education administrators would be at the meeting, including the assistant superintendent of special education for our district. I decided this might be a good time to make time for the CAC. And I’m glad that I did.

School district administrators did attend the meeting to discuss improvements they were aiming to make in special education, and the parents in attendance had the opportunity to voice any concerns they had regarding their child’s school.

In my particular case, I knew my son was about to enter the 2nd grade and would be getting a new teacher, who hadn’t been hired yet. I had really liked his first grade teacher and told the administrators all of the good points about his former teacher and curriculum. Another mom, whose son is in the same class, felt the same way and gave her thoughts on this as well. After the meeting, one of the administrators approached us to thank us for telling her what was right about our children’s school. She said she really wanted to ensure that the incoming teacher and 2nd grade classroom was as well structured as the first grade class. She took a few quick notes on what me and the other mom had to say and thanked us again. Then she proceeded to speak with other parents in the room about their children’s schools.

Well, since that time, of course, the new school year has started and I must say that everything is going really well so far. The new teacher is experienced, patient and seems very passionate about teaching her kids, just like his first grade teacher.

I would like to believe that my and the other mom’s comments had a little influence on how they chose the new teacher. I’ll never really know for sure, but that experience at the CAC meeting made me realize that talking face to face with the people who make decisions on our child’s teachers and classrooms definitely can’t hurt. It gives us and the administrators a chance to see each other as real people and not just names stamped on a letter or written on a form.

The CAC is also a good way to learn about upcoming changes that are on the horizon for the special education department. For instance, at the last meeting, the new IEP format for this school year was discussed. Parents in attendance got a chance to preview the new IEP, ask questions and prepare themselves for their next IEP meeting. I figure, better to find out what you’ll be working with before you get into the meeting, rather than having to learn for the first time during the meeting.

You don’t have to be a CAC member to attend meetings. You can simply look up the meeting topics for the coming months and decide which ones you’d like to attend. However, if you would like to vote on CAC decisions, you would have to become a member – and membership is free.

In addition, you do not have to be a parent to attend meetings. You can attend the meeting as a tecaher, a paraprofessional, etc. At the last meeting I attended, I was pleasantly surprised to see a few teachers and paraprofessionals in attendance out of concern for their students.

I know we as parents have a lot on our plates as it is, but it may be worth your while to at least check out what your district’s CAC will be discussing in upcoming meetings and see if it is something that may be helpful for your child.

In San Francisco, CAC meetings are held at the Support for Families of Children with Disabilities office on the 4th Thursday of the month, usually around 6 or 6:30 pm. Check out the Support for Families website for meeting topics.

You can find more information on the CAC in your area by contacting your local parent support organization. In the East Bay, Family Resource Network  and in the South Bay, Parents Helping Parents.

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