Special Education Parent Advocate

Linda Leenstra, Special Education Parent Advocate

Linda wants you to ……

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Advocacy to parents understanding your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), which includes:  A. Interpretation, B.Preparation C. Monitoring and observation, D. Meeting attendance, E. Letter Writing, etc…

Contact Linda:

(973) 534-3402

What’s SEPAG?

Special Education Parent Advisory Groups: are required for all school districts in New Jersey. The purpose of these groups is to provide opportunities for parents and community members to offer input to their districts on critical issues relating to students with disabilities.

New Jersey Administrative Code 6A:14-1.2(h) states that:

Each board of education shall ensure that a special education parent advisory group is in place in the district to provide input to the district on issues concerning students with disabilities. Developing & Implementing an Effective SEPAG Understanding

The Purpose

• To provide direct input on the policies, programs and practices that impact services and supports for children with disabilities and their families.

• To increase the involvement of families of children with special needs in making recommendations on special education policy.

• To advise on matters that pertain to the education, health and safety of children with special needs.

• To advise on unmet needs of children with disabilities. Keeping the Focus on Input

• Keep a policy focus: make sure the SEPAG keeps its focus on providing input on special education policy issues.

• A SEPAG is not a “support group” or a place for a “gripe session”.

• Avoid getting bogged down in busy work; such as doing carnivals, information fairs, fund raising, and organizing speakers

. • There may be both a parent advisory group and a support group in a district.

Parent Involvement in building membership through Special Education:board-meeting

• A majority of members should be parents or caregivers of children receiving special education services.

• Be sure to include families of children in out-of-district placements.

• Include students receiving special education services or former recipients as members

. • Conduct outreach to ensure that the parent advisory group is representative of the special education services received, placements, programs, ages, disabilities, schools attended and racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Providing input on Systemic Issues

• District policies and procedures

• Inclusion/ LRE • Funding issues

• Transition

• Staffing and professional development needs

• Related services

• Facility issues; such as accessibility, location of programs

• Extended school year Holding Productive Meetings

• Announce meeting dates and agenda items early enough to give interested parties an opportunity to plan to attend

• Create opportunities for active participation

• Build agendas with input from multiple people

• Use “people first” language in reference to individuals with disabilities

• Keep minutes of all meetings and make minutes available on request

• Hold regular meetings at least quarterly

• Start and end meetings on time

• As a group, agree on the process for making decisions developing Effective Practices

• New member orientation

• Established by-laws for the group’s operations

• Annual meeting to set goals and priorities

• Provide interpreters and other necessary services as needed

• Develop close working relationship with other district groups • A report of group activities and suggestions should be presented to the local Board of Education, at least annually


“Why is it so hard for most of us to ask for help?”

In working with clients for all sorts of services, they immediately responded with all kinds of excuses … and they all are Uncomfortably familiar.

Not only do I hear these excuses from clients all the time, but I often hear the same things in my own head!


I would be extremely shocked if you can honestly say you’ve never thought or even verbalized at least one of these excuses.
“I could really use Jane’s help with this, but I know how busy she is right now. I shouldn’t bother her. I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“I’ve got way too much on my plate right now, but I don’t want to burden other members of my team by delegating any of it.”
“I need to work harder to prove I’m capable of handling this. What’s wrong with me that I can’t do this on my own?
“I’m afraid I’ll look weak, unqualified, or even dumb if I ask for help. I should figure this out on my own so no one will know how much I’m struggling with this.”
The crazy thing about excuses is we convince ourselves that asking for help makes us inconsiderate, and shows that we’re not hard working or capable
There is only one thing all these reasons come down to, and that is just plain old FEAR! It’s scary to ask for help, to put yourself out there to be judged, ignored, laughed at, or rejected.


Having helped a multitude of others, I see how much people want to help others. We crave it as humans. To know that we’ve had an impact on someone’s life is the best feeling in the world!
In reality, my clients come to me because they are frustrated, feeling like they are inadequate, aren’t doing enough, and can’t make the difference they need/seek. They want to have positive outcomes and make an impact on others (especially those they love), but feel they just don’t know how?
So when you don’t ask for help, you’re actively blocking the people in your life from a potential sense of joy and fulfillment.
You can’t say, “I want to make a difference for others,” and never let others make a difference for you.
Imagine how sad your life would be if no one ever needed your help, guidance, advice, talent, love, or friendship. It would be a lonely, unfulfilling experience.
The greatest gift in life you can give someone is allowing them to help … allowing them to have a positive impact on your life.
And if you’re worried about looking “less than” or weak if you ask for help, realize this … most people will respect you when you ask for help, support, or feedback. Believe me, they will feel honored, flattered, validated, respected, loved and all kinds of things you would be robbing them of if you don’t ask.
Trying to do everything alone is a stressful, lonely place.

Two people are better than one, because they can reap more benefit from their labor.


As humans, we’re social creatures, and we crave connection, collaboration, and support. It’s just how we’re wired. And yet, we keep ourselves stuck, isolated, and overwhelmed when we cut ourselves off from the help of others.
More than ever, in our history, we try to do everything on our own and it’s flat-out unnatural. It’s driving us crazy, making us unhealthy, and leading to a greater mass feeling of isolation than ever before.
I’m here to tell you: You’re not meant to do it all alone! In fact, it’s high time that we all embraced the fact that we simply can’t do it all alone. And what a relief that is!

Do not withhold good from those who need it, when you have the ability to help.


So, how can we ask for help in a way that feels better for us and for the other person?
If you’re wondering the same thing, here are a few ways to make the whole experience feel more like a win-win:
Acknowledge their awesomeness. If you’re asking someone for help, advice, support, etc., it’s probably because you know they have something valuable to contribute. So let them know how amazing they are… Be honest about why you’ve chosen them as the best person to help. This is not about buttering them up. Don’t be fake, with forced compliments, but genuine, and give your heartfelt praise.
Be specific about what you need. Even people who really want to help you will have a hard time saying yes if they’re not fully sure what you’re asking for. Do you want them to do a quick read-through of your cover letter before you hit “send” on a job application, or are you asking for a full-out intensive edit? Be clear and specific, and you’ll avoid lots of misinterpretations and resentment down the road.
Give them an out. If you know someone is extremely busy or going through a tough time, it can feel even more uncomfortable to ask for their help. Sometimes, it can ease the pressure all around if you give them an out. Something as simple as, “I know you have a lot going on right now, so I completely understand if you can’t make time for this. No hard feelings!” They’ll be grateful for your acknowledgment … and that you gave them a choice.
Appreciate their effort. This one is pretty obvious, but still worth saying. Once they’ve offered their help, be grateful and show it! As I said earlier, people love to know that they’re making a difference and a positive impact on someone, so share with them how much they’ve helped ease your burden.

They help one another; one says to the other, ‘Be strong!’

I want to hear from you now: What stops you from asking for help? And how much of a relief would it be to finally ask for what you need?

Hudson County Special Education Parent Leadership Round Table

Hudson County Round Table Feb 2015

Hudson County Special Education
Parent Leadership Round Table
This is an opportunity to meet face to face and exchange ideas around what works to enhance and sustain family engagement in schools to improve outcomes for children with disabilities. Strategies to start and run local special education parent groups/advisory groups will be discussed and shared. Come and network with other parent leaders in your county.
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 24th 2015
Time: 6:30pm-9:00pm (registration and networking 6:30PM-7PM)
Location: West New York Housing Authority Building
515 54th Street
West New York, NJ
Entrance to the building is on 52nd Street. Municipal parking across the street (on 52nd
Snow date: Tuesday, March 3rd (Same place and same time)
To register go to http://hudsoncospecialedroundtable.eventbrite.com or contact Myriam Alizo at malizo@spannj.org or 201-960-7159