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Marblehead SEPAC is rebuilding 

The staff at the old Bell School was awarded at the “Unsung Heroes” event in June 12 of 2018. Photo by Jennifer Jackson

The Marblehead Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) is working alongside district administrators to help institute and perfect services that are inclusive and effective for students within special education.

Currently, the council is in its rebuilding phase after COVID-19 and members are raising concerns about the fiscal year 24 budget.

“What we hear from parents is that they’re not feeling like their child is getting the equity and inclusion that they desire, or they’re not getting the appropriate level of attention that they need for their specific disability,” said Jeff Levin, co-chairperson of SEPAC.

The all-volunteer board is tasked with working with the director of student services, and other district leaders to help create a more inclusive environment by removing the labels that for years have categorized special education students.

“The whole thing about special education is providing services in the least restrictive environment,” said Jennifer Jackson, co-chairperson of SEPAC. “So if a student can receive the services in their general ed classroom with their peers, that’s the ideal. And that’s what we would like to see happen versus pulling a kid out. It immediately lights to other kids like, ‘Oh, where’s so and so going?’ and, ‘What are they getting pulled out for?’”

SEPAC’s website says the council lacks the power to enforce policy or legislate, but rather “operates by providing guidance, suggestions, feedback, and is to be a consulted sounding board in the decision-making process.”

“Marblehead is amazing in terms of its open-mindedness. I think the challenges come down to just frankly the resources. Sometimes there’s a shortage of resources,” Levin added.

With an $800,000 budget cut for the FY24 budget that will result in cuts to jobs and programs, Levin is concerned for the services provided not just to special education students in the district, but general education students as well.

“I don’t think this town is picking on special education but they are having a hard time, in my humble opinion, focusing on education the way that they should, in terms of how other towns support all of their children,” said Levin.

“My experience here has been relatively positive, but I am deeply concerned about our path forward as a town as we continue to have budget needs that aren’t being met for our schools,” he added.

Jackson and Levin said Marblehead SEPAC has a very good working relationship with the district administration and understands some of the challenges it is facing in trying to deliver an exemplary education to the students.

“Last year when there was a budget override vote, it got rejected very loudly. So I’m deeply concerned about the future and I think that’s probably a challenge in a lot of the other districts,” said Levin.

Jackson pointed out how the district is required by law to meet the individualized education plans despite the budget cut.

“So, the budget impacting the entire town is going to impact every child, and to be clear, a lot of our general education students actually benefit from having special education kids with special education needs or disabilities in the room to have a better understanding of different learning perspectives, different learning styles, different opinions, different insights,” she said.

“All the resource constraints for the town are affecting every student. So of course, it’ll impact our kids with special needs, but it’s also going to impact our general education kids as well,” Levin added.

One tradition for Marblehead SEPAC is holding an Unsung Hero event each year to commemorate people who make a difference in the special education world, especially those who may not always get the credit they deserve.

Any community member is welcome to participate and nominate anyone in the community or school who has shown exemplary work, made a significant contribution, or made an impact beyond their expected responsibilities.

Nominations include examples of how their efforts go “above and beyond” and how their actions promote inclusion, enhance the special education community, inspire others, or positively impact an individual or group of students.

“Unsung Heroes” was established almost 10 years ago by Marblehead SEPAC. Since COVID there has been no in-person event, but SEPAC is working to bring it back in the second week of June. Next month, SEPAC is hoping for people from the community to nominate their unsung heroes.

With six members on the board currently, SEPAC is also working to bring speakers to talk with parents about specific topics related to their special education needs.

“Before COVID, we were very vibrant, because we had a lot of speakers coming in on different topics,” Jackson said. “We had a lot of parent engagement, and I think COVID really hit hard as far as being able to offer that kind of resource to parents and so we’re trying to rebuild engagement with the parents in the community, and we would really like to have more involvement from parents.”