Newton Learning Center, a Second Start Learning Disabilities Programs, Inc. school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other similar learning differences, is hosting a free Individualized Education Program (IEP) rights panel discussion on Saturday, Feb. 23, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center Auditorium, 925 Riverside Drive, in Reno.
The expert panel discussion covers the IEP process, how parents can best help their children on an IEP and advocacy for parents and students. Deidre Hammon of the Center for Self Determination Children’s Advocacy Project, and Michelle Bumgarner, Esquire, of Adams ESQ, will lead the discussion and answer questions.
RSVPs and questions may be submitted online prior to the event here to give presenters time to research responses.
Respite service is being offered by the JUSTinHOPE Foundation at its Sparks location, 870 Steneri Way, suite 101, for the event. Cost is $25 per child, with a 20 percent discount for siblings. Reservations are required and must be made prior to Friday, Feb. 22, at noon by calling (775) 453-9262.
“Children designated for an IEP can have a wide range of issues including learning disabilities, deafness, behavior problems, Down Syndrome and Autism,” Tara Bevington, CEO of Second Start, said. “In Washoe County alone, about 8,700 students are on an IEP, and that number is multiplied throughout the state. We invite parents from all regional school districts to attend.”
Bevington said students on IEPs have about a 29 percent graduation rate in Reno-Sparks, compared with 63 percent nationally.
“We are hoping to help parents whose students are on IEPs to understand their rights and to help them navigate the ins and outs of the process,” Bevington said. “It can be overwhelming and frustrating.”
Hammon said special education law is a very narrow field and can be extremely complex for parents.
“School districts tend to think in stereotypes,” she said. “It’s a lot easier for them to segregate kids into separate classrooms, but what we know from research is that doesn’t work. What works is integration with special, individualized strategies for each child, and the key to that is to get a good evaluation for your child.”
Hidden disabilities like learning disorders and Social Pragmatic Language Disorder (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome) tend to fly under the radar, Hammon said, and parents are often told their child is lazy or needs to try harder.
“A good evaluation is critical to helping build the IEP roadmap,” she said. “When we know how a child learns and thinks, we can start to do things to provide support, access to curriculum and create an environment where the child can learn.”
Hammon said when children are supplied the proper resources that have been identified in a good evaluation, they will flourish.
“I have a child in my caseload who, when I met him, had had something happen to him at school,” she said. “He was already nearly non-verbal with a hearing impairment and developmental delays.”
Hammon said the district moved him out of that school and into a new school, only to be placed in a classroom with an emergency substitute teacher.
“Things got worse and worse for him, even with a 1:1 aid” she said. “He was having tantrums and throwing things.”
Hammon said through intervention, they were able to get the school district to provide a functional behavioral assessment with a behavioral analyst, which most districts should be able to provide.
“He was homebound for a bit and received intensive one-on-one instruction where he learned to read,” she said. “This is a fifth-grade student who couldn’t read. With the right resources, he learned to read in five weeks’ time.”
The child moved to yet another new school with a qualified teacher who had background in behavioral studies. He continued to participate in intensive behavioral support programs and his behavior came quickly under control.
“He is now playing violin with other fifth graders, he’s reading and he’s well-known and popular in the school,” she said. “They painted a special room in the school library for him inspired by his love of a certain kind of book.”
Hammon said she hopes parents will come away from the IEP seminar with a better understanding of what a good evaluation looks like, how to get one and how to hold the school district accountable.
“There’s this lost cause attitude from school districts,” she said. “With the right resources, the child can experience immense changes on the right trajectory. You have to be able to say no to the district, otherwise you’re not an equal player at the table.”
If you would like to attend the IEP rights panel discussion, RSVP here.