Port Jefferson parents form special education PTA

Port Jefferson parents form special education PTA

Suffolk Region PTA Director Joan Wabnik, right, confirms the PJSD SEPTA officers after the group was chartered March 26 at the high school library. Photo by Alex Petroski

Many hands make light work.

Parents in the Port Jefferson School District fully embraced the axiom March 26 by officially chartering a special-education-specific Parent-Teacher Association.

“I am a parent of a child with special needs,” said Leza DiBella, who was officially voted PJSD’s SEPTA president-elect Monday night. “I’m also an attorney, and even as an attorney, the process of getting everything I need for my son and going through [Committees on Special Education], it’s overwhelming.”

DiBella, along with Karen Sullivan, another parent of a child with special needs in the district, and a handful of others have been working to get the organization off the ground and chartered by the Suffolk Region PTA since December. Sullivan was elected president at the meeting and will serve a two-year term, at which point DiBella will step in and a new president-elect will be chosen to learn for what will essentially be a two-year training period, pursuant to the bylaws voted upon by the members March 26. The new SEPTA joins the Parent-Teacher-Student Association, which serves the middle and high school communities in Port Jeff, and the Parent Teacher Association, which oversees the elementary school.

“We have two other wonderful sister organizations, the PTA and the PTSA, but they have a lot on their plate to kind of focus on, so we just wanted another organization to really hone in and focus on special education students,” Sullivan said. “The special education students and parents get to have a bigger voice. We get to focus on advocacy for the children; we get to focus on different workshops and guest speakers — really just more creating support and advocacy for the needs of the special education students and parents.”

To officially be chartered, the group needed at least 25 community members present at the meeting to vote on the nominated officers and bylaws, who were also willing to pay the $12 annual membership fee. Sullivan, DiBella and Superintendent Paul Casciano all said they weren’t sure what type of turnout to expect. Sixty-four members registered Monday night.

“It’s fantastic,” Sullivan said. “It means that the community is really supportive. It means that the community wants it.”

DiBella chose a different word to sum up her feelings: “amazing.”

“It’s inspiring to be here,” she said. “I thought we have a really small community and it’s a small district. Some of our grades only have 60-plus kids in them. To see 64 paying members in this room was inspiring tonight.”

Linda Loverde, Suffolk Region PTA associate director, who conducted the business of the meeting, called the large initial membership sign-up something to be proud of.

“This is the greatest showing I’ve seen in quite a few years,” she said.

Casciano said he has high hopes for the future of the organization.

“Knowing some of the people — the officers and in the membership — I think they’ll come up with some pretty creative things,” he said.

DiBella said the group’s mission first and foremost will be support for parents of children with special needs.

“As a parent it’s hard to know what to ask for, what your rights are, and we just wanted to help people get through the process and get their children everything they need,” she said. “There’s so much to learn and I draw on my legal background all the time. Without that, I don’t know how a parent could possibly do it on their own. I felt like as a district it would help other parents with providing information and guidance, and also we’re a support group for each other.”

For more information about PJSD SEPTA or to become a member, email [email protected].