August 2020 Issue
SPAN Parent Leadership E-News
Dear Parent Leaders,

This quarterly newsletter is designed to empower, engage, and support individuals like you who passionately represent the needs and perspectives of all parents. Parent leaders become role models for family engagement, advocating not only on behalf of their own children, but for ALL children! 

We know that family engagement is key to student success. School districts need to make parents and families part of this success equation. To build and sustain a high quality, equitable educational environment, districts need to listen and make sure that every voice is heard. In the midst of COVID-19, a successful solution in reopening schools this fall requires a collaborative partnership between schools and families where parents feel empowered to engage with their schools as partners in learning and decision-making and take a leadership role in this process. Now is the perfect opportunity for parents across race, culture, language, socio-economic background, and learning abilities to get involved in their schools and re-imagine existing school policies, programs and practices that affect education, safety, health, and well-being of our children. Together we can make a difference: Make your voice heard!

~ START-Engaging Parents of Students with Disabilities in Schools (START-EPSD) Project Team
Upcoming Virtual Networking Meetings
START-EPSD Project invites parent leaders, advocates, school professionals, local agency representatives, and community members to participate in the virtual networking meetings.

These networking meetings encourage mutual learning and information sharing to expand connections as well as to enhance skills and knowledge of parents, school staff, and community partners to work together to improve outcomes for all children, and particularly for children with disabilities.

Strategies for starting and developing effective Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) and other advocacy groups will be discussed. 

South Jersey Parents Talk Special Education:
A Virtual Gathering
(Available in English and Spanish)
Date: Thursday, August 20, 2020
Time: 6:30 PM-8:00 PM
Date: Thursday, August 27, 2020
Time: 12:00 PM-1:30 PM

For more information, contact a Parent Groups Specialist in your region or Tatsiana DaGrosa, Project Co-Director, at
Your Leadership Toolbox
Quick Guide "COVID-19:Key Questions to Ask Before Schools Reopen"
School districts across New Jersey are making plans for reopening schools in the summer and for the 2020-21 school year. The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Educationreleased by the New Jersey Department of Education indicates that diverse parents, students, and community members should be actively involved in developing these plans.

To guide these discussions and to ensure that various needs of families and students are taken into consideration, here are key questions you may want to ask district leaders about school reopening. Download this quick guide in English and Spanish
Quick Guide "Tips for Parents to Participate in a Decision-Making Group"
Even if you have not previously served on a decision-making group, it is never too late for parents to get involved. Parents belong at the decision-making table where important conversations happen, and action plans are discussed that impact student learning and development.

The following are practical tips and strategies to participate in decision-making groups, such as Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs), school reopening task force, PTO/PTA, school improvement teams, County Councils for Young Children (CCYC), early childhood, health advisory, bi-lingual, Title 1, or literacy committees. Use these tips to guide and empower you on your leadership journey. Download this quick guide in English and Spanish

All Quick Guides are available in English and Spanish. Download them ALL:

Parent Group Highlights
Parent Groups Make the Transition
to Virtual Meetings
When school buildings closed in March, everyone had to pivot and transition to the “new normal”- physical distancing and remote learning. Parents were balancing working from home and trying to figure out how to best help their child with learning at home. While many felt a sense of isolation and overwhelm, the COVID-19 pandemic presented additional challenges for parents of students with disabilities. These families were often disproportionally impacted by the extended school closures when their children with disabilities were left without adequate special education and related services.

Special Education Parent Advisory Groups (SEPAGs) knew the challenges families were experiencing with remote learning and seized the opportunity to quickly move from in-person meetings to virtual meetings. It was a perfect opportunity to continue engaging parents and consistently involving them in providing input to their school districts even when the school buildings were closed. What many groups saw was an increase in attendance and participation. Parents who previously were unable to attend meetings found themselves at home and available to join. SEPAGs from the New Providence School District in Union County, Oceanport School District in Monmouth County, and the Keyport School District in Monmouth County invited their Special Education Leaders into the meetings to listen to input and answer questions via Zoom and Google Meets platforms. The Township of Union SEPAG in Union County used it as an opportunity to combine time to provide parent to parent support with obtaining feedback on their child’s remote learning experience. The Old Bridge SEPAG in Middlesex County has continued having monthly virtual meetings via Zoom. Their last virtual SEPAG meeting in July had 50 attendees compared to the average of 20 attendees for their in-person meetings.

The development of school reopening plans has been a hot topic for the families and parent groups. Parents are more likely to participate in meetings around a topic that greatly interests them, and when they know that their voice can help influence the decision-making process. When invited to these meetings, Parent Group Specialists from the START-EPSD Project, were able to provide SPAN resources for parents, including most current and relevant COVID-19 resources, Quick Guides, and other tools for parent groups.

Even though the location of SEPAG meetings may have changed to virtual meetings, the impact and advocacy work that these engaged parent groups accomplish continues to strengthen and amplify parent voices in their school communities!
Grupo de Apoyo Virtual Padre a Padre
On April 30th as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parent to Parent NJ began hosting two weekly parent support groups in Spanish. What started as a quick response to an unprecedented situation has now morphed into a strong group of parents who meet weekly via Zoom to connect with each other.

This parent group, “Grupo de Apoyo Virtual Padre a Padre,” has been sustained by the parent participation and leadership. During weekly meetings, parent members share resources, their family experiences and guidance with each other. This camaraderie has created a safe space to ask questions and seek support. The group meets every Thursday at 11 AM and/or 6:30 PM and is facilitated in Spanish. If you are interested in participating or would like more information, you can reach out to Brenda L. Figueroa at
You can also just log in at your preferred time (or both) using the link:

*The group is currently taking a summer recess and will be back on September 10th. Download the flyer
Turning Casual Conversations into Concrete Action for Family Engagement 
The START-EPSD Project hosted a three-part Parent Lunchroom Conversations Series for families to speak out and share their remote learning experiences, receive current information and resources, as well as to discuss how parents can get involved in the planning and decisions around reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

Each week, these casual one-hour long conversations had a different topic. During week one, we discussed the school to home connection during remote learning. Week two focused on family members and parents as “learning coaches,” and during week three we talked about planning for student success and future learning. Nearly 180 participants joined the conversations and received information about district and community groups they can connect with, tools to communicate with their child’s teachers, avenues for providing direct input, and practical tips to help them be meaningfully engaged in their child’s school.

In addition, the START-EPSD Project team shared a new resource - the Family Engagement Inventory Tool for School Reopening and Recovery. This tool offers an opportunity to gather a team of stakeholders to take an inventory of family engagement practices across four domains – communication, parent/family engagement in student learning, engagement in decision-making, and strategic family and community partnerships. The results can help build and strengthen staff and families’ capacities to create partnerships that will benefit all students.

Link to the Family Engagement Inventory Tool in English and in Spanish and Instructional Guide for using this tool in English and Spanish

If you are interested in receiving support with using the Family Engagement Inventory Tool, Contact Us to connect with the Parent Group Specialist in your region who can assist you.

Based on the huge success of the Parent Lunchroom Conversations series, the START-EPSD Project will be holding a similar three-part series for educators called “The Faculty Lounge: The Educator-Family Partnership for School Reopening and Recovery."

Connecting with Families -
Wednesday, August 19th @ 12:00 pm

Engaging Families as Learning Coaches -
Wednesday, August 26th @ 12:00 pm

Educator Planning for Success and Sustained Efforts - Wednesday, September 2nd @ 12:00 pm

For more information, contact Monique Dujue at or (201) 932-6585
Latino Voices: Our Journey
through COVID-19
On August 5th, despite damages and power outages inflicted by Hurricane Isaias, dozens of Latino parents from across New Jersey attended the START-EPSD Project’s virtual forum “Latino Voices: Our Journey Through COVID-19.” This forum provided parents with a platform to openly speak out about their experiences, successes, challenges, and concerns during the COVID-19 global pandemic. In addition, the SPAN staff shared updated information about school reopening plans, provided an overview of various SPAN projects, community resources, and other support systems that could be beneficial to families. The most significant thing about this forum, however, was that this conversation was 100% in Spanish - by Latinos for Latinos! Too many times, we hear about the lack of information available in Spanish for Latino families. Providing most current and relevant information in Spanish is especially critical now when so many parents are struggling to make informed decisions about which educational option is the most favorable for their children as the schools are planning to reopen for the 2020-21 school year.

The Latino Voices forum was a great success! Parents and community allies asked SPAN to continue these conversations in Spanish as they are vital to the leadership development and empowerment of Latino families. Latinos raised their voices, and we listened! By popular demand, the START-EPSD project will host “Voces Latinas” forum again on September 23, 2020 at 6:30 pm.

For additional information, please contact Fanny Ochoa at or (551) 260-0046
Save The Date for
"Identifying Struggling Students,"
Part 2 of the NJTSS Webinar Series
"Identifying Struggling Students"

Date: Wednesday, September 30, 2020 at 12 PM

For more information, contact Debbie Esposito at or
(201) 873-6473
SPAN's Virtual Learning Opportunities
Can't have an in-person training due to COVID-19 pandemic?

No problem! Subscribe to SPAN YouTube Channel and view our virtual library of recordings for information on special and general education, health advocacy, parent leadership, public policy, and much more.
Dawn Monaco, SPAN senior trainer, facilitates an information session with presenters Debra Jennings, SPAN executive co-director, and Tatsiana DaGrosa, START-EPSD Project co-director, on information about "The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education," NJ's guidance for districts on reopening schools and how families can be engaged in the planning process at the local level. Watch this video
Michele Tyler, Parent Group Specialist, facilitates an information session with the presenter Tatsiana DaGrosa, START-EPSD Project co-director, on the Quick Guide "COVID-19: Key Questions to Ask Before School Reopen," particularly questions related to school operations, academic recovery, social-emotional and health supports, remote learning, and family engagement. Watch this video
Resource Collections
Browse our newly updated resource collections for articles, briefs, fact sheets, checklists, short videos, webinars, and training materials.

Inclusion Resource Collection - Here you will find resources on benefits of inclusion, inclusion in education, strategies and tips for families, and inclusion webinars.

Literacy Resource Collection - Here you will find materials on supporting literacy achievement in the classroom, activities to promote literacy at home and in your school/district, as well as literacy webinars.

NJTSS Resource Collection - Here you will find basic information on multi-tiered systems of support, NJTSS framework and its components, practical strategies and tips for families and parents, as well as NJTSS webinars.
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network - Our Vision is that all families will have the resources and support they need to ensure that their children become fully participating and contributing members of our communities and society. Our Mission is to empower and support families and inform and involve professionals interested in the healthy development and education of children and youth. Our foremost commitment is to children and families with the greatest need due to disability or special health/mental health needs; poverty; discrimination based on race, sex, language, immigrant or homeless status; involvement in the foster care, child welfare, or juvenile justice systems; geographic location; or other special circumstances. Our Motto is, "Empowered Parents: Educated, Engaged, Effective!"
SPAN Parent Advocacy Network | 35 Halsey Street, Newark, NJ | 1-800-654-SPAN