A group of Carroll ISD parents has created the Special Education Parent Advisory Council to advocate for the needs of the district's special education students.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light many discrepancies in services available to special education students throughout the school district with many parents voicing concern and confusion online, according to Laura McCaskill, one of the steering committee members leading the effort to create the council.

“When I saw the discrepancies, the lack of consistency for special education services during the shutdown, that's when I started getting interested in what a SEPAC was,” McCaskill said.

The idea of creating an advisory council was first introduced to the CISD board of trustees in spring 2020. Steering committee member Marissa Mahon said the district needed this group to be able to share resources to ensure consistency across all special education services.

Mahon showed up to board meetings to propose this idea, which in time began to take shape and generate more interest.

“When we started to go back to school and the planning began, there were lots of discussions on how kids were going to be in school, if special education kids would be on campus. So I continued showing up to board meetings, and I continued to just speak about this and generate interest,” Mahon said.

Carroll ISD’s advisory council was endorsed by trustees April 1 and officially launched April 17. Unlike other district councils, this one will be parent led, allowing parents of special education students and educators to share resources with the district and community to better serve the students.

“It took a while for everyone to get on the same page about what the SEPAC was going to function like, and we just got to that point,” McCaskill said. “It wasn't that we didn't feel like we were being heard, but it was just a huge communication block.”

Such advisory councils can be mandated in some states; however, they are not required in Texas. Mahon and McCaskill said the advisory council in Round Rock ISD has been a source of inspiration in forming their own council.

The mission of the CISD SEPAC is to provide information and resources to parents by gathering input from members and identifying unmet needs.

“As a mom of a special needs kid, if you don't know how to dig that information up, you're not going to know. And so a SEPAC will help provide that information and a lot more to the parents in this district that have kids that receive special education services,” McCaskill said.

On April 19, CISD Superintendent Lane Ledbetter announced that the district has already moved forward with a proposal to conduct an audit on the district’s special education programs.

“It's just an area that I've heard a lot of comments, a lot of concerns about, a lot of questions,” Ledbetter said. “ I felt like this was the best way to address [the concerns], really have an outside source come in and review everything that we're doing and provide us feedback so that we can set some goals moving forward.”

Parents interested in joining the council for a minimum two-year commitment can find an application online at www.southlakecarrollsepac.org. General memberships are also available. Applications close May 3 and will be reviewed by May 13.

“I really envision personally for this to be a very safe place for people of all disabilities and desires and aspirations for their children to be welcome and to feel valued and to help, collaborate and make this better and have a voice and engagement,” Mahon said.