COLUMBIA — Parents from across the state and country came to learn about special education law at a workshop hosted by the Missouri Disability Empowerment Foundation (MoDE) on Friday at The Crossing in Columbia.
James Gallini, an attorney specializing in special education law, shared practical information about Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans through his University of Lawyer coursework.
When we started Advocate University, [we wanted] To raise the level of expertise and understanding regarding special education, law, and civil rights law as it applies to general education,” Gallini said.
According to Gallini, many special education workshops have not picked up since the pandemic hit.
“I think it’s empowering to learn to do these things personally, and also to be able to advocate and meet with other families who have been affected just as you are in these areas,” Gallini said. “So being able to get those to come back again, spreading COVID, I’m excited about that, and I’m glad we had this opportunity.”
Organizers said 55 people attended the workshop in person and more than 40 people were on Zoom. Many of the attendees were parents of children with special needs.
Nicole Malmkar of Nebraska is a mother of three, ages 18, 16, and 11. She said she had to travel out of state several times to access appropriate resources for her three children with special needs.
“I don’t know if someone in the Special Education Act has spoken in Nebraska since I was on this trip with my kids about five years ago,” Malkar said. “So I had to travel out of state. This isn’t the first time I’ve traveled out of state to attend these types of conferences.”
She said she hopes to bring back what she learned on Friday to Nebraska.
“I had to learn about the law. We had to pay a lot to get involved for our kids,” Malkar said. “And so I hope in the end I can advocate well enough so that they can make ends meet at school instead of having to do everything after school. “
Felicia Ford is an attorney and mother of three children with special needs, a 10-year-old and two 7-year-old boys. She traveled from St. Louis to attend the workshop because she says learning opportunities like these are rare.
“Even as a practicing attorney, I don’t get the opportunity to learn about special education to this extent, and special education law and operations,” said Ford. “So that was really great for us parents who just need to know what we need to do to stand up for our kids and our families.”
She said navigating the IEP process for her three children was difficult even with her legal background. She said she believes the lack of resources and information may lead some children to continue to have problems in the classroom.
“I have friends who work in other areas, and they work with kids as educators,” Ford said. “And they tell me stories of how difficult it is for parents to get support to make sure children have access to resources.”
The Department of Education will hold the Special Education Station Clinic at the Missouri River Regional Library Art Gallery in Jefferson City on April 22. Special education attorneys and advocates will be available to discuss IEPs and 504 plans for free.