Kathy Flaherty of Severna Park, who has a special-needs child in third grade, wanted to know more about assistance for "twice-exceptional" students, who have disabilities but are intellectually gifted. Mark Turner of Odenton, who has a special-needs eighth-grader, suggested simplifying the language in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process.
Sylvia Barrett of Severna Park, mother of a middle-school student, simply sought to learn more about resources available for special-needs students because, she said, often "nobody tells you about it; you have to go by word of mouth."
The three were among more than two dozen Anne Arundel County parents who attended the school system's Special Education Roundtable on Wednesday night, at which school officials sought feedback on ways to serve the approximately 7,900 IEP children in the district.
Co-sponsored by the county's Special Education Citizen Advisory Committee (SECAC) and the school system's division of special education, the Gambrills-area roundtable comprised rotating discussion groups on four topics: discipline, transitioning, home school communication and the IEP process. It unveiled the school system's Parent E-Handbook and featured displays on technology devices.
SECAC chair Kim Offutt said the group has consistently drawn special-needs parents who provide assistance and input but launched its first roundtable to encourage more involvement.
The roundtable also offered such reference materials as the "ABC's of Special Needs," a handout that listed about 100 acronyms and their corresponding meanings, such as SID (sensory integration dysfunction) and HFA (high-functioning autism).
The handout resonated with Turner, who during one discussion encouraged school officials to use the full names of terms on first reference rather than assuming parents knew what the acronyms mean.
"They need to simplify the language in the IEP into plain English, so that you don't need a Ph.D. to interpret it or ask to interpret it," he said. "They said they are working on that. I think it's a consistent theme among parents at the roundtable."
Flaherty, whose son is twice-exceptional (also known as 2e), has often said students' needs aren't met in schools because "it appears as if you have a typically age-appropriate student, but you really have someone who needs extra challenges and needs extra support.
"In the past, my son fell into that realm where he was very bright, yet no one was seeing he had special needs that needed to be addressed. So there was a lot of frustration with this bright student who wouldn't do his work."
Linda Farrier of Severn has two special-needs children in high school, with both soon leaving the school system. She said she sought to know about transition issues. "Everything I've learned so far is that it's a completely different world once they leave high school."
Most parents and teachers agreed that despite concerns, assistance to special-needs students has vastly improved over the last generation.
Marcine Stone, a resource teacher at Shipley's Choice Elementary School in Millersville who has worked in the Anne Arundel school system for more than 20 years, said special education is now "more family-friendly."
"The general-education teachers have gotten more used to the idea [of including special-needs students in general-education classes] and they're so good at now incorporating these students and welcoming them into the classroom," Stone said. "This generation of students in the general-education population are so used to having these kids in their classroom, they're part of their life. I see so little of this 'What are they doing here?' "