Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Weeki Wachee workshop gives tools to parents of special-needs children

SPRING HILL — Few things terrify a parent more than finding out that their child has special needs.

On the day such a diagnosis is made, most parents know little about their child's condition or challenges, and even less about their rights to get help at school.

Life becomes a jumble of terms to learn, forms to file, meetings to attend.

To help untangle the knots, parents of special-needs students and the Hernando County Schools are co-sponsoring a conference next week on special education law and advocacy.

Led by national experts Pete and Pam Wright, the conference on Jan. 16 and 17 will feature 12 hours of presentations on the intricacies of federal special education law, parents' rights, strategies for negotiating with school districts, and plenty of time for questions.

Pete Wright, an attorney specializing in special education law, has represented dozens of families in disputes, and won a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. His wife, Pam, is a psychotherapist who works with children and families.

At $125 for a single parent or teacher, and $175 for couples, the conference isn't cheap.

But the price includes two law books and materials, as well as continental breakfast and lunch on both days. And there are 20 partial scholarships available for families or individuals with a financial need which reduce the price to $75 for one person and $125 for a couple, said Nikki Pierce, founder of the parent support group Special Students of Hernando.

Participants can register at the door at the GlenLakes Golf & Country Club in Weeki Wachee, but registration in advance will guarantee a seat. Residents of other counties are welcome.

For one parent, the myriad of federal and state laws presented a nearly insurmountable challenge after she learned her son had a rare immune system disorder.

"It was horrible," said Joanne O'Connell of Spring Hill. "You feel like you're alone."

For months she argued with school officials.

She spent long hours on the Internet learning about her son's illness, and figuring out her legal rights.

Then she attended a conference on special education law, and discovered a network of other parents who had been through the same struggles she was facing.

As she learned the legal nuances — "You have to leave a paper trail, that's the key" — her relationship with the district improved.

"Now they treat me like gold; they're wonderful," O'Connell said.

That's what the parents' support group hopes to provide at the conference, said Pierce.

"If we can help educate parents so they can advocate for themselves and their child, then we have done what we set out to do," she said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.

fast facts

Learn more

For information on the conference or to register, call Special Students of Hernando at (352) 584-5512 or visit www.specialstudents

Weeki Wachee workshop gives tools to parents of special-needs children 01/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 4:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Senate ponders health care bill it doesn't want to be law


    Buoyed by a signal from House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a pared-down health care bill late Thursday that he hoped would keep alive Republican ambitions to repeal Obamacare.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expressed concerns about passing the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare without assurances of further negotiations.
  2. Arrest made in shooting death of 19-year-old found in lot


    A 20-year-old Tampa man was arrested Thursday night for the shooting death of a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in a vacant lot on Tuesday.

  3. Rays fall to Yankees in 11 on Brett Gardner homer (w/ video)

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — The front office did its part Thursday, making two trades to bolster the roster in a push for the playoffs. But the Rays didn't follow up in a frustrating 6-5 11-inning loss to the Yankees.

    Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge stands on the mound and can only watch as the Yankees’ Brett Gardner starts to circle the bases after his walkoff home run leading off the 11th inning.
  4. Believe it! Rays are buyers, trade for reliever Dan Jennings and 1B/DH Lucas Duda

    The Heater

    NEW YORK — Dan Jennings' ability to render lefty hitters useless with a sinker that gets beaten into the ground and Lucas Duda's power to blast baseballs off and over outfield walls should make the Rays better.

    Lucas Duda
  5. Bucs' direction is decidedly up for first time in several years


    TAMPA — If you want to see a team give the Heisman Trophy stiff-arm to expectations, check out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Tight end O.J. Howard, left, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, was brought in to give QB Jameis Winston another big-play option.