(Sept. 6, 2017) Catherine Read talks with Diane Cooper Gould, President of the Fairfax County Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA), and Joanne Walton who is a SEPTA Delegate to the Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA) and also a founding member of SEPTA. The Fairfax County SEPTA launched in April of 2017 and is an additional support organization for existing PTAs throughout the county.
Diane Cooper Gould is the parent of two special needs children. A conversation with someone from the Arlington SEPTA inspired her to start a similar organization for Fairfax County. Joanne Walton, also the parent of a special needs student, joined this start-up effort to better support both parents and teachers. Fairfax County is the 10th largest school district in the nation and over 25,000 students currently have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), others have 504 plans, and some students have not yet been identified as having special needs. The goal is to assist the families of special needs children from their infant-toddler years right through to their high school graduation.
A key focus of SEPTA is recognizing the importance of the “T” for Teacher. They welcome greater teacher input on what is needed in schools and classrooms. Advocacy at school board budget hearings for necessary funds is also a key focus since teacher retention is a challenge. Special Education teachers in Fairfax County stay for an average of 3 years. Better funding and raising teacher pay is needed to support the special needs community in the county. There are teacher shortages in general in Fairfax County schools, and there continues to be unfilled special education teacher positions as the new school year begins.
The collaborative aspect of SEPTA includes offering support to parents through awareness of other organizations offering support within the disability community – such as Parents of Autistic Children (POAC), Decoding Dyslexia Virginia, the Arc of Northern Virginia and programs through the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. There is a page on the SEPTA website specifically for support groups and that list continues to grow. As the 2017-18 school year begins, the Fairfax County SEPTA will be focused on raising awareness of their organization and how parents and teachers can find the resources they need through this new organization.