Committee provides special education parents guidance, support
LONE TREE – Having a child diagnosed with a disability can be an overwhelming situation for parents. Thanks to a collaboration between the families of students in special education and the Douglas County School District (DCSD), these parents no longer have to face it alone.
The Douglas County Special Education Advisory Committee (DCSEAC) provides DCSD special education families with a place they can get answers and support.
“This group is actively planning events and resources to help the parent community gain a better understanding of the Special Education process in the District,” explained Director of Personalized, Special Education Nancy Ingalls. “Often there are resources within school and outside that parents just do not know about. This group is really helpful in promoting and raising awareness to what all of those resources are.”
“It can be very emotional and overwhelming when your child is first diagnosed with any disability,” added DCSEAC Chairperson Lori Werhane, a parent of three DCSD students, two of which are on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). “Learning about the IEP process can be very intimidating when everything is so new. Our goal at DCSEAC is to put forth helpful information to help guide parents on the IEP journey. We want them to know they are part of their child's team and it's okay to ask questions and be involved. We have found just providing that information helps enormously in taking stress off parent's shoulders.”
Colorado law requires a state level Special Education Advisory Committee, with members representing each judicial district. Werhane recently volunteered to represent the Sixth Judicial District for the Colorado Special Education Advisory Committee (CSEAC) as a Parent Board Member and hopes to collaborate with the group to provide even more information from the state level to Douglas County parents.
Additionally, Colorado school districts are strongly encouraged to have their own SEACs. The Douglas County SEAC is one of the more active committees in the state.
Last fall, Douglas County’s SEAC was reinvigorated by a new group of parents who felt it was important to share the insights they had learned about special education with others.
“[We felt] an empathy for other parents who have children with disabilities and didn’t know where to go for information and support,” Werhane said. “We wanted to share our experiences and the resources we have found over the years with other parents as they began their IEP journey. Our hope is to have a place where parents can find a lot of information that is valuable and not have to start searching for resources from square one.”
Since then, attendance at DCSEAC events has grown from around six people to more than 150, as the group has launched a new website, speaker series and family picnic. Approximately 250 parents and children attended DCSEAC's June family picnic in Parker.
The events and special committees focusing on families with children on IEPs also bring parents together to network and support each other.
"Over the last year we have surveyed our parents -- a unique group of amazing people whose children are supported on IEPs in the district -- about what kinds of support and services they need. One request has been the ability to connect with other families who also have children on IEPs," said Werhane.
Now parents are able to network, share experiences and find support. In fact, the group even worked to build resource lists featuring local support organizations for students with Significant Support Needs (SSN), Serious Emotional Disabilities (SED) and Learning Disabilities (LD).
Ingalls says the group has really provided a positive way for parents to advocate for the personalized needs of their children and connect with the District.
“Our goal is to promote a partnership between parents, children and their district IEP team,” Werhane explained. “In the end it's really all about best supporting our kids. We find a positive approach is very effective.”
Werhane says through collaboration with District special education staff concerns are often resolved quickly and more amicably.
“We are always thrilled to point a family in the right direction. There are very dedicated district staff who have gone above and beyond to help children get back on track. It is very rewarding when you see that happen ,” Werhane said.
Learn more about DCSEAC at their website, http://www.dcseac.org