START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities

Offering programs and services that support the engagement of families to improve outcomes for students.



SPAN Parent Leadership E-News

View articles from the START-EPSD Newsletter Archive below

2019, May 25 |  Leaders translate vision into reality

2019, Feb 27  |  Leadership is a choice, not a position

2018, Nov 10  |  Parent leaders aren’t born. They’re made!


START-Engaging Parent of Students with Disabilities (EPSD) offers programs and services that support the engagement of families to improve outcomes for students, including developing and supporting Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) in communities and school districts.

Through workshops, regional meetings, and parent leadership development activities, we help parents and parent leaders:

  • Become informed and active participants in their child’s education
  • Partner with educators in improving educational programs for students with disabilities, particularly in the area of Inclusion
  • Start or strengthen parent advisory groups or parent support groups in their areas


For more information, resources, and materials about a topic, 
select from the one of the START-EPSD focuses below.

Parent Groups

Supporting the engagement  of families in schools to improve student outcomes


Increasing the capacity of schools and parent leaders to engage families in promoting literacy achievement


Providing families with information in order to increase the numbers of students benefiting from greater access to inclusive education


Sharing information useful for families and school and district leaders to engage families in the NJ Tiered Systems of Support Framework

Parent Group Highlights

Ocean City Special Education Parent Advisory Group (SEPAG)

The purpose of the Ocean City SEPAG is to keep lines of communication open between parents/families and the Ocean City School District with a focus on special education.  
The Ocean City Special Education Parent Advisory Committee was organized in 2013 by then new Director of Special Education Matt Carey. At the first organizational meeting, Marya, a parent leader, volunteered to be the president of the first SEPAC in the district. Marya held the position of president until 2018. Under her leadership, the OC SEPAC (now SEPAG) held numerous informational meetings on various topics important to parents, including Basic Rights in Special Education, the IEP, Community/Recreation Programs, Dyslexia, Transition Planning, Nutrition/Dietary Needs, and Augmentative/Alternative Communication. The group also held several social and support meetings for its members, many of which Marya hosted in her own home.
Ocean County SEPAG members pose in front of a bounce house on a sunny day

Ocean City SEPAG members pose in front of a bounce house at the Ocean City school district’s Fitness Fun Day

In 2015, the SEPAG leaders coordinated the Ocean City School District’s first Fitness Fun Day, a free inclusive community event that includes fun outdoor activities and food. It was so successful that it has become an annual tradition. In addition, the SEPAG played an integral part in establishing a Best Buddies Program at the Ocean City High School that was featured by Classroom Close-up, NJ which highlights innovative projects in New Jersey public schools.
In October 2019, now under the leadership of its new president Jodee Wagner, the OC SEPAG held a reorganization meeting to discuss the year ahead and set goals and priorities. One of the goals this year is to have more parents, families, teachers, and community involvement to share ideas, insights, and information. To this end, the OC SEPAG is working to raise awareness about the group in the schools and community: The group leaders attended and spoke at an OC PTA meeting and participated in the IEP/504 Workshop at the College Planning Conference at the Ocean City High School. At both events it was apparent that the SEPAG could be useful to a lot of parents, families, and students in the community. 
In addition, this year the OC SEPAG provided input toward the development of an At-a-Glance directory of the special education personnel in the district that will allow families to have quick access to contact information for related services staff. The group will also have the SEPAG flyer available at each of the schools in the district to be shared with parents/families at the IEP and 504 Plan meetings.
The SEPAG has built a collaborative partnership with the OC PTA. The latter has provided several grants over the past few years to enhance special education programs and has organized fun, inclusive events for the students. 
The OC SEPAG hosted a social/support meeting for its members in January as a way to engage parents/families, network, socialize, and enjoy a night out! 
The OC SEPAG provides updates and shares information with their members on various district-wide initiatives, such as encouraging the use of American Sign Language (ASL) in Ocean City schools. The Ocean City School District is providing free workshops for teachers and staff throughout the year to promote utilization of ASL in the classrooms and throughout the schools. The use of sign language can be a great supplemental tool in teaching all students and is especially helpful for those students who are hearing-impaired, non-verbal, and/or delayed in speech. The use and instruction of sign language also promotes inclusion awareness throughout the school community!
Most recently, the OC SEPAG and the special education department collaborated on creating a Forum on Dyslexia that consisted of parents, teachers, reading specialists, and related services staff discussing strategies, interventions and supports the school district is implementing to meet the needs of all students, especially those struggling to learn to read and/or receiving special education services. The OC SEPAG invited other parent groups in Cape May County to join them as well.
As usual, the OC SEPAG parent representatives attended the Cape May County Quarterly Special Education Parent Leadership Roundtablehosted by the START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities Project on March 1, 2019. They were joined by over 30 parent leaders, educators, directors of special education, and community partners from across the county to learn about and exchange ideas around what works to enhance and sustain family engagement in schools to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. As the result, the OC SEPAG committed to hosting a county-wideNurtured Heart Approach training for all interested families and educators.
If you have questions about the OC SEPAG, contact Jodee Wagner, SEPAG President.


What People Are Saying

A strong parent advisory group can help foster ongoing communication between the parents and school to better serve our children.

Our group started with two parents and a supportive District Supervisor. What’s important is to get up and running and see where it takes you.

The advice that parents need to continually talk with school district personnel and develop meaningful inclusion programs and then continually evaluate their children’s progress based on data was on the mark.


Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities is a partnership between the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (NJOSEP), and SPAN Parent Advocacy Network. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the Department of Education. No official endorsement by NJOSEP of any product, commodity, service, or enterprise mentioned on this website is intended or should be inferred
SPAN’s START-EPSD Project is funded through a Cooperative Agreement with the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Special Education Professional Development.