Workshop highlights best practices in special education

Debbi Buck, left, and Aimee Gilman speaking at the workshop.

Over 80 individuals who either work or live with children with disabilities took advantage of a free workshop hosted in Athens on March 27. The purpose of the event, a collaboration of nine organizations, was to identify best practices in special education and share strategies for improving communication between school officials and parents. 

Organizers say the event was a unique opportunity for both parents and professionals to increase their understanding of children with disabilities and their right to a meaningful education.

“It was great for parents and professionals to hear information from someone other than ourselves,” said Sue Meeks, an IPAC Board Member and one of the event’s coordinators. Meeks, RN, also regularly assists area families as manager of the Family Navigator Program.

The day opened with a Parent Advisory Council (PAC) Luncheon, hosted by the State Support Team-Region 16. SSTs provide a combination of facilitation, technical assistance, and direct support to districts and schools, as well as to partners throughout their region. The PAC is designed to provide a much needed connection among parents, their children, and the Ohio Department of Education.

"I feel that the intended goals of the PAC meeting/luncheon were met," said Linda King, Early Learning and School Readiness Coordinator with the SST-16. "This success has once again illustrated the value of partnering with other local parent organizations."

Following the luncheon was a two-part workshop covering the issues surrounding special education. The first session focused on parents’ experiences, the second targeted professionals. The speakers included Aimee E. Gilman, a lawyer with an expertise in special education, and Debbi Buck, a special education consultant for the SST.

“These events are important because parents need to have the opportunity to hear about what options they have for their disabled children,” Gilman said. “I also think professionals benefit by hearing what issues parents face, and how they can work cooperatively with parents to best serve these kids. I hope more of these events can allow parents and professionals to learn about the requirements of the law, and best practices in education.”

Families and caregivers are often under-informed and/or misinformed about their rights, said Maria Lamb, a mother of a child with Down Syndrome and also the Treasurer for Appalachian Network for Developmental Disabilities (ANDD).

“By learning as much as you can, such as by going to training events like this one, you can get accurate, up-to-date information and can be a more effective advocate,” Lamb added.

In addition to the learning opportunities, Lamb appreciated networking with other parents.

Sponsors for the event included IPAC, the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD), SST-16, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Project LAUNCH, Corporation of Ohio Appalachian Development, the Autism Society of Southeast Ohio, ANDD, and the Dairy Barn Arts Center.

The fact that the event was a collaborative effort of so many parent and professional organizations made it especially unique, said Valorie Dombroskas, co-coordinator and Parent Advocate/Trainer with the OCECD-Southeast Office.

“As I watched each person working away, playing their part in carrying off this event, it said something to me about how much we love our kids,” Dombroskas said. “In southeastern Ohio, where resources are limited, we can do so much more together than we can alone.”