Meetings to aid parents of special-needs kids

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With pages of acronyms and its own jargon, special education can be more than a little confusing for parents. Complicating matters, laws governing special education continue to change.

On Thursday, there will be town hall meetings in Richmond and Columbia counties to help parents better understand special education and the resources available to them.

It's "imperative" for parents to take an active role in the education of their children with disabilities, said Nick Harris, a training coordinator with Parents to Parents.

The group was awarded a federal contract in October to help Georgia families with their special-needs children and has organized the statewide series of town hall meetings.

Thursday's meetings will provide an overview of changes in special-education rules, information on resources available to parents and a lengthy question-and-answer session, Mr. Harris said.

Lisa Hill, the Columbia County school system director of special services, said the biggest change to the special-education process has been the method for determining a pupil's eligibility for special services.

Under regulations that went into effect July 1, classroom teachers must follow a 12-week Response to Intervention program to identify a pupil's learning difficulties. They also must graph data to illustrate the effectiveness of the strategies they use to help struggling pupils.

Among the attendees will be Nancy O'Hara, the Georgia Department of Education's director of special-education services.

"All children count in this day and age, which we think is a good thing," Ms. O'Hara said.

No Child Left Behind attempts to ensure that all pupils, including special-education children, perform at grade level. The scores of these pupils alone have prevented some Richmond County schools from making adequate yearly progress.

But Ms. O'Hara said she wants the "spotlight" on special-education children to be "positive."

Research shows that parents who are actively involved in their children's education lead to greater pupil achievement, she said.

Heather Holloway, of Martinez, said parents play a vital role as advocates for their children with special needs.

"I think it's extremely important since a child's needs are so individual," she said.

Mrs. Holloway's son, Hayden, 5, who attended a special-needs prekindergarten class at Bel Air Elementary School last year, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when he was 18 months old.

Asperger syndrome is a developmental disorder characterized by impaired communication skills, repetitive or restrictive thought or behavior patterns and obsessive behavior.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (706) 868-1222.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851.

THURSDAY'S MEETINGS


- 10 a.m.-noon, Columbia County Library community meeting room


- 6-8 p.m., Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center conference room


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