SEPAC Business Meeting – May 10, 2022
Call to Order
Introductions: Alison Elmer, Inae Hwang, Sarah Barton, Jess Dombrosky, Sean Garballey (State Rep. For Arlington and Medford), Michele Phelan, Krasimira Petkov, Brenda Mahoney, Cheryl, Rabbi Talya Weisbard Shalem, Marais Young, Lauren Bellon, Lauren Lineback, Tracy Perneta, and Carole
Approve Minutes: Meeting minutes from February 2022 were approved
– We spoke to the School Committee two weeks ago and did a review of the findings of our first annual SEPAC survey. I think we were well-received. The slides are up online if you want to take a look at them.
Planning Workshops for the Coming Year:
APS Staff Reports:
– The superintendent strategic planning committee has been meeting each week, at least three times already.
– The district is going to be holding meetings around choosing a new Literacy curriculum, so if you want to participate in the process, stay tuned.
Discussion with Representative Sean Garballey:
– He represents the 23rd Middlesex district, which is Arlington and Medford. He was on the Arlington School Committee prior to being a State Representative. He was also a student at APS and was on an IEP, because he was born prematurely. His focus in the house has always been on Special Education, and students with disabilities.
-He is the main sponsor of Turning 22 (autism support services) and transportation services. He is also the main sponsor of the Conclusive Concurrent Enrollment Program, which is around students with autism, Down Syndrome or IDD as they attend college. This helps students who qualify attend college just like their peers. UMass Boston is the center of inclusion of these 15 inclusive programs around the country (state?). (Alison added: Arlington is going to be a MAICEI partner with Middlesex next year (we have previously sent students through LABBB)
– He is working on expanding the program to all the MA State public colleges. The program allows students who might not pass the MCAS still be able to have the opportunity to attend college with their peers.
– When he was on the School Committee he would attend these SEPAC meetings regularly, and he would still be happy to attend and listen to any feedback or complaints parents may have.
-Massachusetts is known as a free petition state, which means anyone can come forward and propose legislation or changes to State Law.
-Sean wanted to also share his cell number to anyone who wanted to contact him: (781)859-7781
-Inae shared slides showing the data from APS showing Chronic Absenteeism for the district, along with separating them into three categories: (High needs, All Students, and Economically Disadvantaged)
-JAMA found increases in diagnosed anxiety and depression between 2016 and 2020 (pre-COVID). Currently our laws lead to punitive responses for students who are dealing with mental health challenges. We would like to see the State Laws support more of a social-emotional/mental health/ system of support response to school refusal.
-Under current law, we have the Mental Health Parity law, and currently school Educational Psychologists aren’t covered under Parity Law, but they are working on introducing a bill that will allow Educational Psychologists to be covered and to practice under Mental Health Parity Law.
-Inae brought up continuing to push Bill H.537 in support of SEPAC representation on every state School Committee, and Sean agreed that it was worth continuing to try to push this bill through to be law.
-Sean mentioned a bill he’s promoting that would allow any teacher, current or retired, to serve on the DESE board. Currently they are forbidden from serving, and this doesn’t make much sense.
-Lauren Bellon said that school refusal is also being handled in wildly different ways across the elementaries in Arlington. She mentioned that so many behavioral supports and analyses are around fixing the kid and fixing the family, but not much attention is being paid to the environment that the kid is refusing to attend, and its role in the school refusal.
-Barbara Mahoney said that DESE put this out on their desktop regarding school refusal: Mental Health Resource on School Avoidance:
School avoidance has been identified as a growing concern amidst the overall youth mental health crisis. The Department, in collaboration with Thriving Minds – a partnership between BRYT (Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition), the Massachusetts School Mental Health Consortium, and the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy – is offering a training session on school avoidance to explore how to use available resources and case studies to identify what a school avoidance intervention might include. This session will be held at 3:00-4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17. Interested school mental health staff (school counselors, school psychologists, and adjustment counselors/school social workers) are asked to register online.
-Families are struggling to access mental health services. One of the biggest reasons is that there is a staffing shortage due to the salary for DDS and DMH staff being so low. The pandemic led to a lot of young DDS and DMH staff leaving their positions, so there is a long wait-list for these programs.
-Sean has worked on having insurance-mandated services, such as mandated hearing aids for students between birth and 21, and Lyme disease treatment/management. He mentioned that health insurance lobbyists have put in a lot of effort to kill bills like these, so it has taken a long time for bills like this to move forward.
-Sean said he was happy to work with parents on legislation with respect to getting Dyslexic learners the screenings, supports, and insurance coverage for services. He mentioned that the implementation of the laws are as important as the laws themselves.
-Rabbi Talya Weisbard Shalem mentioned how different districts in the state have different cultures around Special Ed and give differing amounts of services to students. Sean mentioned using the Special Ed circuit breaker fund to support students who need to go out-of-district to receive the services they need.
-Sean said they recently passed his bill around meal debt shaming into law, which would prevent schools from making an example of students who couldn’t pay for lunch.
-He mentioned that his concern is that Arlington might lose money if he encouraged the State to recalculate the aid which districts receive.
SEPAC Board Nominations
– Inae nominated herself for Chair
– Sarah nominated herself for Co-Chair
– Jess nominated herself for Secretary
– Lauren Bellon nominated herself for Webmaster
Public Participation/ New Business/ Open Discussion: