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Greenwich Citizen

Shining Spotlight on Needs of Children with Disabilities

'Exceptional Educators' Honored with Awards

By Anne W. Semmes
May 30, 2008

Getting that special help for a child with learning disabilities is an ongoing challenge for parents. To address their needs and concerns a Community Forum sponsored by Greenwich Public Schools was held last Thursday at North Street School.

Knowing what help is mandated in the school system is part of the battle. A number of mothers of elementary school kids signed up for a table to learn about the law from a Special Ed. parent advocate who offered them a pile of source books and listened to their concerns.

One mother had a child with dyslexia who was having trouble reading, but as dyslexia wasn't covered by special ed how could he be helped. Another took her child for help in the spring and was told to come back in the fall at the next grade level.

Maria, a mother of first and third graders with ADD, hearing and fine motor displacement disabilities said her school had not had an occupational therapist for the last five months as "the school district pay is so low - they get more money from private practice."

"It's not knowing the laws and what I'm entitled to be able to advocate for my child," said an Old Greenwich mother.

The mothers were taken through a number of federal and state programs
with acronyms such as LRE and FERPA . There was Child Find, Tiers I, II and III. They were asked to list three programs or services that were going well and three not going well.

LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) and FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) were said to be going well but Child Find - a system that flags children needing help - got mixed opinions. "The early intervention process," summarized the advocate, "is a struggle." "My two kids are getting less in Tier III than a non-disabled child in Tier II." "The Tier III early intervention reading program doesn't work for dyslexics."

More comprehensive evaluations were the common wish. A better understanding of the laws by both district teachers and parents was needed. And there was a wish for an ombudsman for parents. For further help, parents were directed to a Web site, for their rights.

At the forum's end all tables reported their findings. With the recent replacement of five assistant principals, the finding was, "Too much change over." At the High School there was "a lack of updated and appropriate technology," and a "lack of staffing." A final finding - "We need to schedule more forums like this," was the consensus of all those present.

Following the forum, special ed teachers who have excelled in their services to the learning disabled came into their own before the regular Board of Education meeting. They were Estelle Hermes, a speech and language pathologist at Riverside and Eastern Middle schools; Molly Roy, a first-grade teacher at Parkway School; Lauren Showstead, a special education teacher at Parkway, and Deborah (Debbie) Zygmont, a paraprofessional at Greenwich High School.

Speaking for them was Diane Corba, who co chairs the PTA Special Education Services Committee (SES) along with Laurie Shelz and Michele Regan. She and her co-chairs presented the four with the S.E.S. award.

"This award recognizes individuals who work in Greenwich Public Schools and who see each child's potential, and inspires enthusiasm for learning. These individuals surpassed the award criteria and possess vision, integrity and leadership in their fields of expertise, as well as advocacy for the student's needs."

Speaking afterward, Estelle Hermes, who was said to be able to "find the right key to each child," said she had been a speech pathologist for 25 years and had only recently returned to teaching. She was happy to have made such an impression in "in such a short time." But as she was older and her children grown, she "didn't have to rush home.

"I can stay at school," she said with a smile.

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