In California, if you work with children with special needs or have a child with special needs, you may hear the term “SELPA” but not know what it means. A “SELPA” (which stands for “special education local plan area”) is a consortium of school districts responsible for ensuring that special education programs and services are available in the plan area to meet the needs of those qualifying for special education. SELPAS are non-profit organizations with staff and administrators to create and oversee the local plans. Each is governed by a Board of Directors that consists of the superintendents of each participating school district. SELPAs may have a “cabinet” or “policy councils” that help review funding, complaints, recommendations and other matters.
History of SELPAs: SELPAs were created as a result of the California Department of Education’s adoption of the “California Master Plan for Special Education” in 1974 to ensure that special education was available to all students in need of special education. As part of the plan, in 1977, the State of California was divided geographically into numerous “service areas” and the school districts and county offices in those areas were given the responsibility of collaborating to create and oversee plans to make sure that special education would be provided to to school aged and preschool children in their service areas. In 1980, all of California’s education programs for students with disabilities were formally combined in the “Master Plan”(SB 1870) and the service areas responsible for delivering those programs were officially named “Special Education Local Plan Areas” as reflected in the California Education Code (Ca. Ed. Codes 56170, 56220). In California, there are approximately 124 special education local plan areas.
SELPA responsibilities: The role of each SELPA is to: make sure that free and appropriate special education services are available to all children eligible for special education services, coordinate the services of its member school districts so that every student with special needs in the plan area have access to the programs, and oversee the distribution of funding to the districts for the special education programs.
Each SELPA administrator or director (per the California Department of Education website), is responsible for making sure that:
- “all individuals with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment;
- all regular education resources are considered and, where appropriate, utilized on a local or regional basis to meet the needs of students with disabilities;
- a system exists at the regional level for identification, assessment and placement of disabled students;
- a viable system for public education is functioning in the community, with broad participation and interaction involving other parents and other agencies serving children and young adults;
- an annual compliance monitoring system implemented, that continues to assure non-compliant items that have been identified through self-reviews, verification reviews, focused monitoring or complaints have and continue to be rectified.”
Source: California Department of Education, http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/caselpas.asp.
Each administrator or director is also responsible for preparing an annual budget and making sure that the funds are distributed to the districts and spent in accordance with the local plan. SELPAs may have “program specialists” who provide support to districts and families by attending an IEP meeting, sharing information about special education legislation, and performing other supportive functions.
SELPAS in the San Diego Area: The San Diego area has six SELPAs: East County, North Coastal Consortium for Special Education (NCCSE), North Inland Special Education Region, Poway USD, San Diego City USD, and South County. (For a full listing of all California SELPAs, click here).
Community/Parental Input: Each SELPA has a “Community Advisory Committee” (“CAC“) that consists of parents of children receiving special education services and possibly those working with children with special needs. CACs meet regularly to share and discuss items relating to special education and plan activities to support those working with students receiving special education services. CACs may have executive boards that schedule and run the CAC meetings and may make recommendations to the SELPA about special education programs, forms, and services.
Parents wishing to share information, raise concerns or praise, may do so in the form of a public comment. Each CAC has its own rules governing public comments but typically, a parent signs a form before the meeting is started to alert the CAC board that he/she would like to be recognized so that they can talk about a subject relating to special education. Public comments are often limited to 3 minutes. Those giving a public comment should consider having something written or typed to give the CAC to make sure their comment is fully and accurately recorded in the minutes. If action is requested, the CAC will consider the request and take action and/or provide feedback as appropriate.