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Letter From the President

Revving up for Back to School!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe the 2017-2018 school year starts at the end of this month!  The end of lazy summer days is always a mixed blessing.  It’s hard to say goodbye to vacation time, the pool and a more relaxed schedule, but for many of our Special Needs Families, the return to the structure of the school year can be a big relief for our children and ourselves.  

photo of scattered papersSEPTA is excited to launch into our first full year as an organization!  At our recent SEPTA Board Retreat, we established our goals and calendar for the upcoming year. We plan to have at least one board meeting and one event a month, four General Membership Meetings a year and we will continue to grow our website and advocate for our students.  Advocacy is our number-one priority, for it is the best way to ensure a successful future for our kids.

There are several great opportunities for you to get involved in advocating for our students. Most important is the upcoming At-Large School Board Election on August 29.  SEPTA sent a questionnaire to each of the four candidates in advance of the election to find out more about them and their views on Special Education in FCPS.  Their responses (in alphabetical order) can be found here:

Please take some time to read what they have written and keep an eye out for Candidate Forums where you can meet candidates in person prior to the election.  Most of all, VOTE.  There is no better way to protect our students needs than taking an active role in the election process that will determine the stewards of their educational future.

Starting in September, our committees will begin having regular meetings.  Committee information can be found on our website.  Please consider getting involved! Join a committee or talk to us about creating your own committee.  Come to events and keep an eye out for opportunities to advocate in our CALLS TO ACTION on our FB page and emails.

You will also start to see information about our Fall Membership Drive (September-October 2017) CurrentSEPTA making a  difference one member at at time SEPTA memberships are valid through October 31, 2017.  New Memberships will be valid November 1, 2017  - October 31, 2018. Charter members of SEPTA will have a discount on their Fall Membership dues and we will also be offering a discount membership rate for FCPS teachers and staff. Please encourage all of your teachers and special needs family friends to join SEPTA.  The greater our numbers, the greater our voice on behalf of the over 25 thousand Special Education students in FCPS.  

Finally, I am delighted to share with you the date of our Fall General Membership Meeting!  This is one of the most important meetings of the year - a chance for our members to vote on our budget, voice their ideas during the membership forum and participate in an awesome gathering of friends, educators and activists as we come together to celebrate our membership and mission.  We are extremely excited to announce that we will have three very special guests of honor:  New FCPS Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Scott Brabrand; New Assistant Superintendent of Special Services, Theresa Johnson and Director of Special Education, Dr. Irene Meier.  Superintendent Brabrand, Assistant Superintendent Johnson and Dr. Meier will be making speeches and participating in a meet and greet with SEPTA members.  You will not want to miss this opportunity to get to know our new FCPS leadership! So, clear your schedule for October 10 from 7-9pm!  
Fall General Membership Meeting Special Speakers
photo of Teresa Johnson
Dr. Scott Brabrand
Superintendent of FCPS Schools
Teresa Johnson
Assistant Superintentdent of Speical Sevices
Dr. Irene Meier
Director of Special Education

Best Wishes on the 2017-2018 FCPS School Year!
Diane Cooper-Gould


Monthly Spotlight
by Advocacy Chair, Norm Hall

While it is true that all PTAs have advocacy as a key component, our status as a Special Education PTA requires us to be even more vigilant in our advocacy role. Why is this? Because the most vocal and organized groups are often the ones that stand out to leadership; their needs and interests are front and center.

As parents of students with special needs, we know that often there are challenges in simply getting our children where they need to be, when they need to be there, and despite our best intentions, we keep our focus on the day to day, the here and now. Activities that aren’t critical don’t happen. We are out of the spotlight.

As understandable as this is, we need to know that not being present and vocal can lead to decisions being made by others that do not put our students first. In particular, I am writing this to say that we need to be the PTA that demonstrates that voting and budgets matter.

We know that the continued FCPS budget shortfall does not allow for adequate funding for the programs and resources our teachers and administrators wanted. We also know that there is a rising need for Special Services and Special Education that will push up against class size and case load limits.  We know that there is a special election on August 29th for one of the three at large seat on the School Board. We know that there has been discussion about doing a “deep dive” into the Special Services budget to see how to economize on spending that supports our students.

We have asked each of the candidates running for the vacant FCPS School Board seat to complete a questionnaire developed by SEPTA to assess their understanding and prioritizing of issues that affect our students.  All candidates were notified that their responses would be publicized to our membership.  Please take the time to read their responses as you consider your vote.  Candidate responses can be found here.


  • In Person Voting: In local precincts on August 29, from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
  • In Person Absentee Voting: has started and will continue through Saturday August 26th.
  • Voter Registration Deadline: August 14th
  • Deadline to apply for a mail in absentee ballot: Tuesday, August 22nd;
  • Deadline for receipt of absentee ballots: 5:00 PM on Tuesday, August 29th
  • Location to find precincts, sample ballots, other election questions:  http:/

Please Vote!

After the election, SEPTA’s Advocacy committee will launch ongoing work by scheduling meetings in conjunction with School Board and meetings.  We will be monitoring for opportunities to take action and improve education and opportunities for our students.  Please send suggestions or comments to SEPTAadvocacy.


Candidate Information

Chris S. Grisafe

Karen A. Keys-Gamarra

Michael H. Owens

Sandra D. Allen
Sandra D. Allen


Organization Spotlight

Toby Latham, the Fairfax County Council of PTA’s representative to the SchoolConvention Schedule Board’s Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities, attended The Arc of Virginia State Convention, in Norfolk, Virginia, from August  7-9. This event connects advocates—like you—to others from across the state.

The event kicked off with an update on pressing national policy issues and the role The Arc plays in advocating with and for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After the opening session, Toby attended breakout sessions addressing inclusive education practices, resources for families on the waiver waiting list, and fundraising for non-profit organizations. During these sessions, Toby made connections with other advocates, including leaders from the following groups:


  • Rikki Epstein (Executive Director) and Lucy Beadnell (Director of Advocacy)—The Arc of Northern Virginia. The Arc promotes and protects the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. The Northern Virginia Chapter coordinates events and provides services, consistent with The Arc’s mission, in our area. For example, the Arc of Northern Virginia helped Toby’s family successfully navigate the ECDC waiver application process, after their son was twice found (incorrectly) to be ineligible. Learn more about The Arc of Northern Virginia here.

  • Liz Altieri—Radford University. Professor Altieri is leading an effort to study best practices for promoting inclusive education. She presented during several breakout sessions, describing various programs that led Montgomery County (Virginia) to successfully become a 100% inclusive school district. Professor Altieri is part of a team seeking to establish the Virginia Center for Inclusive Practices at Radford University. Part of that effort requires soliciting stories—good and bad—regarding experiences with efforts to include students with disabilities in the general education setting. The survey is available here.

  • Tauna Szymanski, Allison Thurman, and David Rosenblatt—Including Me in Virginia.  This organization joins parents and professionals in advocating for more inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities in their general education classroom in neighborhood schools throughout Virginia. You can follow this group and access their resources here.

  • The GKTC Tribe—Tribe is a group of nonspeaking autistic young adults who are bound together by their friendship, similar way of communicating (by pointing to letters on a letter board), and passion for advocacy. These autistic self advocates are working to debunk the many misconceptions about autism and to spread autism acceptance in the local community and beyond through education and outreach. Most recently, their efforts have led to a collaboration with University of Virginia undergraduates in a seminar titled, The Science and Lived Experience of Autism.

Toby Latham and Allison

If you’re interested in attending this event next year, scholarships are available to help with the cost of attendance. Members are encouraged to contact Toby ( for general information about the conference or specific details of the sessions he attended.
Toby and Allison Thurman
from Including Me in Virginia
Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities

photo of Pat HynesAdvisory Committee for Students with Disabilities (ACSD):  School Board Member Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill District) will serve as this year’s liaison to the ACSD. SEPTA looks forward to working with Member Hynes and the ACSD in fulfilling the committee’s duty to address needs in the education of students with disabilities.

The School Board continues its effort to appoint members to the ACSD. The committee consists of members representing each of the 9 magisterial districts (e.g., Providence, Hunter Mill, Lee), and 3 at-large seats on the School Board. In addition, the following groups are represented by members of the committee:  Career and Transition Services, Assistive Technology Services, Faculty Representative, Preschool, Higher Education, City of Fairfax School Board, the Department of Neighborhood & Community Services, the Disability Services Board, the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens’ Associations, the Fairfax County Health Department, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, and the League of Women Voters.

The ACSD will meet in September to start the process of addressing, among other topics, the following School Board charge:

  • Examine how students with disabilities are making progress in the general education curriculum (IDEA, 2004). Explore “progress” as supported by, at a minimum: student growth progression, cohort progression, national data and parental goals.
  • Examine current FCPS staffing practices and facility adequacy and/or limitations to evaluate efficacy in delivering services at the building level while meeting the needs of a diverse population of students with disabilities in grades PK-12 with current composition of FCPS facilities.

School Board Member, Jane Strauss (Dranesville District), has requested that SEPTA identify candidates interested representing her district on this important committee. If you live in the Dranesville District (Herndon, Langley, McLean High School pyramids) and would like to serve on the ACSD, please send an email to Toby Latham ( with a cc to SEPTA (  If you are interested in joining the ACSD and do not live in the Dranesville District, SEPTA will gladly put you in contact with the appropriate point of contact for each committee seat, to see if the position is available. ACSD meetings are held once monthly. 


As we look forward to the 2017-2018 school year it is important to consider ways in which everyone can support your Fairfax County SEPTA. Why volunteer? Well, you can use your unique talents and/or interests to further the positive relationship between teachers, students, parents, and administrations in FCPS! We have multiple ways to invest your time in SEPTA and the lives of our students receiving special education services:

Please email one of the committees above for more information.  Emails should be sent to: with the committee name in the subject line.  


Don't Forget!  Join FFX Co. SEPTA for SEPTA Spirit Day on 8/23 at Sugar Mama's in Fairfax!  Please join us from 1PM to 9PM for some local, handmade ice-cream.  Mention SEPTA at check out and Sugar Mama's will donate 20% of the sales!  Come join us for some sweet fun before school starts!
Back to School Tip:  To help your child's new teachers get to know his or her special needs, it is a great idea to write a loetter to your child's general ed and special ed teachers and deliver it to them at your school open house.  You can mention favorite pastimes, nicknames, areas of strength and weakness and much more!.
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