MOULTRIE -- About 1,200 students in Colquitt County have special needs, ranging from mild cases such as attention deficit disorder to severe cases including cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, and a new support group wants to help parents learn to help their children to get the education they deserve.

"All students deserve a free, fair and appropriate education," said Theresa Kirkland, parent director of Parents Learning About Needs of Students (PLANS).

The goal of the group is to educate parents about the special education process, to teach them to ask questions, and to communicate with the teachers. Developers want parents to know to become good advocates for their children, and how to get the best possible education out of the system.

"We want to get parents and teachers on the same page," Kirkland explained.

Though educators try to give parents the opportunity to ask questions, parents often don't know what to ask.

"It's overwhelming to a lot of parents," said Cathy Owen, a school psychologist with the Colquitt County Board of Education.

"A lot of it is not knowing what to do or how to do it," added Kirkland.

PLANS is part of the Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities' Project Bridge. The GCDD website states that "the goal of Project Bridge is to establish a statewide network of informed and skilled parents who can successfully collaborate with schools to support their children in positive and proactive ways. When parents and teachers collaborate, their alliance sends a powerful message about their expectations, care and support for the student."

"The group is funded through the governor," said Geni Akridge, assistant principal of Willie J. Williams Middle School. "The state will provide videos and training material."

PLANS is the first program of this type in Colquitt County. Thomasville and Bainbridge have similar support groups, and developers of PLANS hope to share resources with those groups.

The first meeting of PLANS will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Colquitt County Arts Center.

"It will be an organizational meeting," said Kirkland. "We need to find out what parents would like to see."

"The group could go in any direction," added Owen. "We need ideas from parents and teachers."

Free childcare will be provided for parents attending the meeting.

For more information, contact Theresa Kirkland at 985-0355 or Cathy Owen at 873-3413.

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