Importance of the Special Education Advisory Committee
Special Education Advisory Committees ( SEACs) were introduced in Bill 82, the 1980 amendment to the Education Act, mandating special education service delivery to all exceptional students. They were piloted together with the rest of the legislation at 23 school boards. Since September, 1985, all school boards have had SEACs, as a standing committee of the school board. Throughout this period they have served as a valuable resource to school boards in meeting their legislative and accountability requirements for special education.
Initially, SEACs were established under Section 206 of the Education Act. In 1997, Bill 160 repealed that section of the Act. Instead Section 57.1 of the Education Act mandates the existence of SEACs, with Regulation 464/97 setting out the establishment, composition, practices, procedures, powers and duties of SEACs. The SEAC’s primary role is to make “recommendations to the board is respect of any matter affecting the establishment, development and delivery of special education programs and services for exceptional pupils of the board”. The regulation then goes on to say that the board, before making a decision on a recommendation from SEAC, shall provide an opportunity for the SEAC to be heard.
The board must also ensure that the SEAC participates in the board’s annual review of its special education plan. This latter requirement is more fully described in the document Standards for School Boards’ Special Education Plans (Ministry of Education, 2000). This document states that the board’s special education plan must describe how the board has included its SEAC in all phases of planning for special education services.
SEACs are legally entitled to review the financial statements and to participate in school boards’ annual budget processes. (Reg. 464 Section 12 subsection 3)
From information received by the Provincial Parent Associations’ Advisory Committee on SEAC’s (PAAC) from its SEAC reps., many boards overtly value the contributions of the knowledgeable volunteers who are represented on their SEAC. At the same time, other boards do not seem to place the same value on their SEACs, perhaps because trustees and even administrators do not understand why SEAC has been mandated to exist and they do not understand their own roles with respect to SEAC.
SEAC is a standing committee of the board. That means that it has to be established in accordance with the legislation. However, SEAC reps and school boards must understand that it does not exist to merely “rubberstamp” the decisions of the administration and the board. SEACs exist to provide input on the particular needs of each association’s exceptionality group, to bring valuable information from parents in their associations on the gaps in service being experienced by their children, to work together to ensure that the needs of all exceptional pupils are met and to advise the board on how the board’s special education programs and services need to be improved. It follows from the above that SEACs must act in a monitoring capacity, if they are to fulfill their legislated role. SEACs need timely access to information about budgets and expenditures. They are required to advise the board when its special education programs and services do not meet the Ministry of Education’s legislative, policy and accountability requirements and/or do not meet the requirements of the Human Rights Code of Ontario for equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities.
It is worth noting that administrators attend SEAC meetings to support its effectiveness by providing SEAC with all the data and information it needs to be an informed advisory committee of board. They are not voting members of SEACs.
Boards should not view their SEACs as an adversary. SEAC input provides a set of standards and a vision toward which the board should be working in its special education programming and service development and delivery. Along with the school board’s other standing committees, SEAC should be reporting at every board meeting. The SEAC report should include the minutes of the last meeting, including any motions, policy recommendations, etc., made by the members of the SEAC. The report should also include the differing points of view expressed by SEAC members on various issues. All of this information will be useful to the board in making its decisions with regard to special education. It is the job of trustees to make informed decisions, ensure compliance with the board’s legislated mandate and to direct the administration where appropriate.
SEACs are a very important part of the board’s special education infrastructure and should expect to be respected and valued, as they fulfil their mandate as an advisory committee of the board.