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Program mandated by law

November 1, 2016
By Mary Haley - For Mirror Moms , Mirror Moms

Not only is the Right to Education Task Force a good idea, it's mandated by law.

According to Amy Woomer, who is the director of educational programs and services at Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8, (IU 08), the local task force is one of 29 in the state.

It serves 35 public school districts, five area vo-tech schools, two charter schools and about 81 private schools in Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Somerset counties.

There's also a state counterpart.

All of the groups are the result of legislation passed in 1972 that mandated "a free public program of education and training to all school-age children having, or thought to have, an intellectual disability,'' Woomer said.

"A key role of both the state and local task force is to work cooperatively to identify barriers to education for students with disabilities so that these groups may influence positive change in the education of students with disabilities,'' Woomer said.

The local task force, supported by the IU 08, brings together parents of children with disabilities, school district representatives and representatives from agencies that assist and support families.

Monthly meetings are held the first Wednesday of each month from September through May. The meetings, which start at 9:30 a.m., provide updates on special education, highlights on local school district programs and activities, and specific topics of interest.

Although the task force has been active since the mid-1970s, many parents don't know much about it, task force members said. Participation by parents and school district representatives varies, with average attendance at meetings ranging from 10 to 15, Woomer said.

But she stressed the group is beneficial for both parents and educators.

"The LTF is an excellent resource for parents of children with disabilities as its focus is to ensure children are provided access to meaningful special education programs and services to ensure every child can benefit from his or her educational program,'' Woomer said. "In addition, the LTF can assist parents with better understanding the special education process, a process that is often difficult to navigate on their own.

The LTF is not a support group, but a group of parents, school district and agency representatives that provide valuable information and assist with getting information to questions in which parents of children with a disability may be struggling.

Donna Messner, who is director of special education programs for the Altoona Area School District, said either she, or special education supervisors or school psychologists attend the monthly task force meetings.

"District representatives are able to respond to questions and concerns,'' she said. "This helps to clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings that families may have. It helps the district to understand the concerns and needs of the families.''

Messner said that in previous years, Altoona school representatives have worked with outside agencies to present a program on Transitions for the district's secondary students. Transitions is a program that helps high school-age students with disabilities successfully move beyond high school into the community.

To identify students who might have special needs, Altoona school representatives through Early Intervention Program screens children for developmental delays and other potential disabilities, Messner said. The district partners with area agencies to identify students who are in need of services, she said.

On Early Intervention Transition Nights, a host of school officials, including principals, special education supervisors and school psychologists provides information about specials needs programs that are available in grades kindergarten through 12, and the special education department holds four training session throughout the year for parents based on topics picked by the parents, Messner said.

As with most districts, parents receive information at IEP meetings (Individualized Education Program) throughout the year about their child.

"The district participates in annual notices published in local newspapers by IU 08 to provide information regarding special education services and contact numbers for our district,'' Messner said. "Any opportunity for parents to receive information and communicate with district representatives is welcomes by AASD and viewed as a positive.''



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