Parents, educators and community leaders in Freeport are spearheading efforts to resurrect a Special Education Parent Teacher Association to provide a unified voice for families with children who have special needs.
The groundwork to revive SEPTA has been laid through collaborative efforts between the Freeport PTA Council and the larger Nassau regional PTA board, which has been instrumental in facilitating the process.
Parents in the school district are primarily leading the bid to bring back SEPTA, recognizing the need for a dedicated platform to address the unique challenges faced by children with special needs. Since 2020, discussions have taken place to resurrect the group.
The previous SEPTA disbanded in many years ago due to a lack of parental involvement, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this will not be the case with the new unit.
An informational meeting, held at the Freeport Recreation Center on Jan. 31, marked a major initial step in the process.
About 25 parents, teachers and administrators were in attendance, discussing their experiences and expectations and laying the foundation for future collaboration.
Howard E. Colton, Freeport village attorney and president of PTA council, as well as Procedures Chair for the Nassau region PTA, pointed out the significance of a specialized PTA to provide structure and advocacy specifically tailored to children with special needs.
“We have eight PTA units within the Village of Freeport, and they’re doing a great job, but it’s nice to have one group solely focused on helping those with special needs,” Colton said.
Colton has played a crucial role in trying to form a new Freeport SEPTA, serving as a vital liaison between the local PTA council and the regional Nassau PTA board.
Loraine Marin, a parent of special needs’ children who have attended public schools in Freeport, emphasized that SEPTA could better assist parents in figuring out the correct individualized learning plan for their kids. Such plans are known as Individualized Education Programs, shortened to IEP’s. There are also 504s, which grants students access to special services but which does not require the need for a specific special education teacher.
“At first, it just felt like I had no one in my corner, no one to help my child,” Marin said of when her children first attended public schools. “I had to fight… I had to do my research. I had to learn the talk. I had to do it all in order to get what my child deserved.”
Marin said that through SEPTA, parents of special needs’ children who are just getting started in the public school system would not face such confusion and feeling of loneliness in their attempt to make sure their children receive all the help they need to succeed.
In addition to Marin and Colton, Pat Watkins and Desiree Peart — both former PTA council presidents — are also leading the charge in creating the new special education group.
Peart said that the unit would serve as “a safe place where parents don’t feel like they’re alone,” as well as providing them with the necessary guidance and knowledge.
Representatives from the Nassau PTA, including the regional director Sarah Henris, were present at Jan. 31 informational meeting, as valuable insight into the role and significance of SEPTA was provided.
One of the key challenges highlighted during the meeting was the complexity of navigating the educational system for children with special needs. Parents expressed concerns about the transition between grade levels and the intricate process of IEPs and Committee on special education meetings.
Reflecting on his personal experience, Colton emphasized the critical role of advocacy and support for children with diverse learning needs. He said he was misdiagnosed with having multiple learning disabilities until an attentive principal led him on the road to the gifted program.
Reviving SEPTA would involve several steps, including drafting bylaws, appointing officers and obtaining charter status. Despite the work that needs to be done, Colton said he is optimistic, citing the fervent support and engagement from the community.
The next informational meeting is scheduled for March 12 at 7 p.m. at Freeport High School at the Distance Learning Center. All interested parents and Freeport residents are encouraged to attend. The hope is to create the new SEPTA by June, so that the group is up and running and meeting regularly by the time school resumes in September, officials said.