Advocating for your child and teaching self-advocacy as they get older is a critical skill for special needs parents and students. Ultimately, advocacy is the best tool we have for ensuring our children have the access to supports they need to thrive. But so many of us are overwhelmed by the day to day and find we are lost when it comes to knowing how and where to speak up and speak out for our differently-abled children.
Within FCPS one of the best ways to get your needs heard and on record is to speak out at a meeting of the Advisory Committee for Students With Disabilities or ACSD.
What is it?
The ACSD is our local Special Education Advisory Committee or SEAC. Every school district in Virginia is required by law to have a SEAC and the SEAC must be open to public (that means you!) comment. The ACSD is an advisory committee made up of a majority of parents of students with disabilities and persons with disabilities as well as community stakeholders, an FCPS county educator, a School Board Member representative and representatives from the FCPS Department of Special Services. Members of the Committee are appointed by School Board Members and the community stakeholder organizations that hold a spot on the committee.
Why is it important?
The ACSD is useful in several ways. It is a place where ANY FCPS community member can go and present their concerns (or praise) regarding ANY issue facing special education students. As a parent, you can discuss anything that you feel is critical about special education in FCPS. You can discuss systemic problems or successes that you have experienced or you can address needs specific to your child. You will have 3 minutes to speak at the top of the meeting. (I will give more details on the process below). While the Committee as a whole cannot respond to your needs in the moment, usually committee members and/or faculty members will approach speakers directly with information and guidance during or after the meeting. Your testimony also allows the committee to track issues within the county. When several parents report similar issues, it gives the ACSD concrete evidence to take to the School Board and FCPS faculty about our community needs. As a parent, the impact of having your voice heard cannot be underestimated. At the ACSD you will be heard by more high-level community members and FCPS special education staff that have the power to help you and your child than in just about any other setting within the county. For the greatest overall impact and most direct contact with a wide range of specialists who can help your case, the ACSD can not be beat.
How do I testify?
The ACSD meets on the second Wednesday of every month. Click here for the ACSD meeting schedule. Arrive a few minutes early and sign up to speak. All of the meeting materials and the speaker sign-in sheet will be to your right as you enter the room. If you are unsure of what to do or where to sign up, feel free to ask anyone you see; the committee members are there to help and serve your needs as a special education community member! Once you have signed up, take a seat in the bank of seats to the left of the doors through which you entered. Once the meeting has been called to order and the minutes and agenda approved, the Chair of the meeting will call for public comment. The names of those testifying will be called in order. You will have three minutes to speak. You may stand and step toward the meeting table to testify. I recommend that you write a draft of your comments and practice prior to the meeting, it will help you make sure you hit all of your important points, and cut down on your nerves. If you are stopped, don’t worry! The meeting rules limit testimony time due to time constraints of the Committee. The Committee will also accept a copy of your written comments to be included in the minutes of the meeting. I strongly encourage you to bring some copies to distribute. This way your concerns are a matter of public record. Once the public testimony portion of the meeting is concluded, you may leave the meeting or stay to witness the remaining work of the ACSD. Usually, the meeting addresses various issues related to the ACSD charge for the year. See the Agenda posted online and given out in hard copies at the meeting for more details.
What do I do if I can’t make it to the meeting?
You may submit written testimony. Written testimony may be sent to ACSD via the Parent Resource Center email: email@example.com Make sure you put “ACSD written testimony” in the subject line. I have requested that the ACSD make a process for written testimony and that it be posted online. I have also suggested that a dedicated email be created for the ACSD. I will notify our membership if these changes are made. You may also want to send a copy of your written testimony to Pat Hynes, School Board Liaison to the ACSD. Her email is: Pat.Hynes@fcps.edu
TLDR: WHAT DO I DO AGAIN?
What: Advisory Committee for Students With Disabilities (ACSD)
When: Second Wednesday of most months CLICK HERE for Full Schedule
Meeting time: 7pm
Where: Gatehouse Administration Center
8115 Gatehouse Rd, Falls Church, VA 22042
Parking and Entering:
The main entrance to the Gatehouse Administration Center is LOCKED after 5pm. You MUST park in the garage under the building and enter the building via the parking garage elevators. Take the elevators to the first floor of the building. As you exit the elevators, turn to face the back of the building and follow the hall to the left all the way to the end. The ACSD meeting room is the last door on your right at the end of the hall.