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November 9, 2002

Area schools move toward mainstreaming special needs students

From: Savannah Morning News, GA
Nov. 9, 2002

Parents excited about possibility of getting mildly disabled students back into regular classes next year.

By Lanie Lippincott Peterson
Savannah Morning News

As 6-year-old Dante studied his spelling words, his mother sat next to him, doing some homework of her own.

At a forum for parents of children in special education, Beverly Townsend listened closely as school official Mikki Garcia described parents' rights to see records and stay involved in the education of a disabled child.

"This was great!' " Townsend said as the talk ended. Because Dante is deaf, she's worked with special education teachers for years, "but I wanted to know more," she said.

Nearly 100 parents came to the Coastal Georgia Center Thursday evening to hear about social security benefits for disabled children and parents' rights in Savannah-Chatham County schools.

Along with her report, Garcia offered some news:

Next fall, "all children with mild disabilities will be attending school in their neighborhoods," said the executive director of the district's department for exceptional children.

That means children with learning disabilities, mild intellectual disabilities or mild emotional disorders will go to nearby schools, not a special program.

"Our hope is that eventually, everyone will go to their area school," Garcia said.

But, later, Garcia said she didn't know when all the district's 4,200 special education children could move to nearby schools.

Garcia and other school officials recently visited the Blacksburg, Va., school district where all disabled children attend regular classes. Savannah officials were impressed.

Still, one Savannah educator noted Thursday, it took the Blacksburg district 13 years to mainstream all its students.

At the forum, parents cruised by information booths, chatted with vendors and snapped up booklets on Special Olympics, vocational rehabilitation and advocates for the disabled.

"My son has learning disabilities," said Eva Tyson. "I need to find out everything I can."

Added machine operator Robert Fair, the father of two mentally ill sons: "Any time you can get together and get information in one spot, it's a blessing."

The event was organized by the department of exceptional children's new nine-member parent advisory committee. Also present, Lon Forbes, the district's new "parent mentor."

A teacher and the parent of a disabled child, Forbes began work in September as a liaison between parents of disabled children and school officials. Pleased by the turnout, Forbes said he hoped the forum would occur again next fall -- or maybe even next spring.

For more information, contact Lon Forbes, parent mentor for the Savannah-Chatham Public Schools' Department for Exceptional Children or the department's new parent advisory committee at 201-5583

For more information, contact your school principal or the Savannah-Chatham County schools at 201-7647. Or contact the state at (404) 656-3963 or online at

Excerpts from Parent's Rights and Responsibilities in Special Education:

* You have the right to see your child's education records, get copies and request that something be changed.

* The school district can't change your child's educational program without informing you and getting your consent first.

* You can request mediation or a due process hearing if you disagree with the school's plans for your child.

* You have a right to have your child taught in classrooms and participate in all school activities with other children who do not have disabilities and are of the same age and grade.

Source: The Georgia Department of Education, Division for Exceptional Students

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