The Washington area's first course designed to teach parents of handicapped children to understand and use new federal regulations concerning the education of their children began last week in Alexandria.
The course, one of the first in the nation, attempts to show parents how to obtain proper training classes and teachers for their children under the Education for All handicapped Children's Acr, according to Winifred G. Anderson, the class instructor.
"Parents are permitted for the first time under the new law to be an integral part of the education of their handicapped children," said Anderson. "This course will teach them what their rights are as well as how to do such things as obtain records, participate in the evaluation of their children and monitor the programs educators provide."
Among the parents taking part in the course were Bob Weich, a Fairfax County architect, and his wife. They are currently going though an appeals process in the Fairfax County school system regarding what kind of education is best for their multiply handicapped daughter.
"We want to learn how to confront the system and work with it on behalf of our daughter," said Weich. "So often during the appeals process (when parents challenge school decisions regarding their children), you feel like you're standing around with your foot in your mouth. You feel like you're stalled and we want to learn how to avoid that," he said.
"I sure wish this class had existed before I would have been better prepared for these appeals," he said.
"parents can use the course to knesses of their children and how to tem in order to gain help," Michael P. Woodard, an educational specialist who teaches part of the course, explained.
"They can learn what to do if they hit a snag and what to do if they want to blow the whistle" on administrators. "There's just too much at stake for them to be uniformed," he added.
At the Wednesday night meeting, Anderson, Woodard and Stephen Chit-administrative law, led the five parents who attended the session through and federal regulations and what they could do about them.
"The course is a way of synthesixing all the regulations into understandable form and turning the (educators') jargon into English," Anderson said.
The parents of handicapped children say that finding help, as quickly as possible, can often mean the difference between full development of their children or none at all. Mary the class that her youngest daughter, Amie, now 3 year old, showed almost no speech at all until it was realized she had a hearing impairment. After surgical correction, Amie has nearly full hearing and is progressing rapidly Harkers said.
"We're happy with the services were getting in Alexandria, but we're military (her husband is in the Navy), and if we ever leave I want to know how to get the best help for my children," she said. Her oldest child, Jamie, 5, is mentally retarded, but should eventually be able to hold down a job, she added.
The 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children's Act, which became fully operational this year, provides millions of dollars in federal aid for the education of handicapped children up to the age of 21. Under its definitions, as many as 12 percent of the nation's schoolchildren could receive help for specific disabilities, which intardation, hearing and sight impairment, physical problems and others.
Although federal law does not require such parent training as the Alexandria course provides, its wording "encourages" it. Anderson said.The course which is sponsored by the Parent Education Advocacy Training Center, is underwritten by a $55, 000 federal grant parents pay a $100 fee for the 15-hour couse, and scholarship money is available. Assitional courses will be enroll in similar classes, and eventually many will start such classes of their own Anderson said.