Education

Special-needs children have unique educational challenges. This group breaks down barriers

A new Benton Franklin PTA group designed to help families with special need children

The Benton Franklin County Special Education PTA is a new group helping families give kids in special education support.
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The Benton Franklin County Special Education PTA is a new group helping families give kids in special education support.

Scott McDonald knows a lot about special education programs.

For more than 10 years, he’s sat with parents and teachers talking about how to educate students — first as a parent, then as an advocate.

“So I have seen a lot of meetings. I see a lot of stuff in common between all of the school districts,” he said. “You go into this and it’s mom, sometimes mom and dad, and sometimes mom, dad and student, and eight people sitting around the table staring at you, and it’s very intimidating.”

And if a parent disagrees with how a school district is handling the education of their child, the parent can face an uphill battle trying to deal with the issue.

But a group of parents are coming together from across the Tri-Cities to become a support system for parents while also working with school districts on how to better deal with the needs of special education students. The new team approach will provide a support group, be advocates for parents, and also be an educational resource for parents with children in special education.

The Benton Franklin Counties Special Education PTA was officially recognized late in the spring. While they have 29 members now —mostly from Richland — they’re hoping to draw people from all of the school districts.

“It’s one of the unique things about this, is that it’s not attached to one school, which I think is great,” said Tami McCain, a member of the group.

One of every eight

Just in the Tri-Cities, about one of every eight students needs special education, and while the experiences of those parents may be similar, each child comes with unique challenges. That’s why each student starts what is called an individualized education plan.

When a parent first talks about the plan, they can feel alone or in denial, said Myriam Bradshaw, a teacher in the Richland School District who has four children with special needs.

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The Benton Franklin County Special Education PTA Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

It’s something the members hope to be able to educate their members about. They are hoping to adapt a packet that Pasco School District hands out to help parents navigate their education plans.

Along with that, there are groups like Partnerships for Action, Voices for Empowerment. The advocacy group works to support people affected by disabilities. McDonald volunteers for the organization to help parents when they meet with school districts.

They hope to provide other ways people can reach out, either through their Facebook page or through regular meetings.

They also want to act as an advocacy group to talk about what is working well and what may need to be changed. They’ve already met with special education administrators in Pasco and Richland, and are hoping to do the same with Kennewick.

“We have a plan to work with school PTAs to help them out,” said McDonald. “I’m also with the Arc of Tri-Cities, so we’re looking at using them in cases, because they’re plugged into a lot of resources.”

They hope to reach out to general education teachers as well, so information can be shared about having a special education student in a classroom.

Ultimately, the goal is to have children prepared well enough so they can be self-sufficient.

Statewide, more than 40 percent of special education students don’t graduate, and that number is worse in Richland.

In the future

For the six members who talked with the Herald about the new PTA, they hope to bring in more people from across the region. They want to have people in each of the school districts who can field questions and provide the PTA leaders with information.

Bringing in more people also allows parents to share what is working well for them, Bradshaw said.

“It seems to us that Pasco is doing much, much better with their special education department, so we would love to have parents from Pasco, and tell us what’s working for them,” she said. “So when we go to our meetings, with our special education directors we can go, ‘Hey you know we’re part of this PTA and there are other parents in Pasco ... .’”

They also want to help their teens advocate for themselves, because they will need to do that when they’re adults, Mobley said.

People interested in joining the PTA can email bfcsepta@yahoo.com, or call McDonald at 509-308-6254.

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