Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines

Tuesday, September 10th                                                     51EH5sroTQL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_
7:15 PM, Darien Library Community Room
Please RSVP to

Jonathan Mooney is a dyslexic writer and speaker who did not learn to read until age 12. He faced a number of low expectations growing up and was told he would flip burgers, be a school dropout and end up in jail. 

Needless to say, these prophecies didn’t come to pass. 

Jonathan beat those odds, graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in English Literature, is a Harry S. Truman Scholar for Public Service, and was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship.  He is a widely sought after speaker whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, HBO, NPR, ABC News, New York Magazine, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. 

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State Performance Plan on Special Education

Darien families,

In recent weeks, some of you have received an email from Bureau of Special Education. The email contains your child’s name, a link to a survey and a seven-digit survey code.

Below is an explanation from Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC)* of why the state is required to survey parents.

The survey information is needed to gather accurate data about how parents feel about their experience with the special education process in their town. Please consider responding by the deadline listed on the email.

Darien SEPAC

*CPAC is a statewide nonprofit organization that offers information and support to families of children with any disability or chronic illness, age birth through 26. The Center is committed to the idea that parents can be the most effective advocates for their children, given the confidence that knowledge and understanding of special education law and its procedures can bring.

From CPAC:

State Performance Plan (SPP) on Special Education
In the last few days you may have received a letter with a survey request for the Connecticut State Department of Education. It is important that you respond and fill out the survey to help ensure that all students in the state receive a free appropriate education.

Every year, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires each state to submit a State Performance Plan (SPP) on special education. The SPP includes reports from the state on 20 areas with questions running from whether evaluations for students being considered for special education are done on time, to whether students who had received special education are employed after High School, to whether some ethnic groups are put in special ed more often than others.

One of the reports, called Indicator 8, asks how parents feel about their experience with the special education process, and if they feel that they are included as full partners in designing Individual Education Plans (IEP) for their children. The state finds this information by sending out the survey you have just received. Every year roughly one third of families who have students in special education receive a survey.

All answers to the survey are kept confidential, your name and your child’s are not shared with anyone. The results are shared with the districts and with the United States’ Department of Education
The state has been collecting the surveys since 2003, and the results can be found at:

Your responses to the survey are very important. In most years less than a quarter of families reply, and the more who do, the better we will all understand how the schools are doing. If you have any questions or concerns we are here to help, so please feel free to call us at (860)739-3089 or email at

Inclusion: What Every Parent Should Know by Dr. Paula Kluth

Tuesday, April 30th
12:00-1:30 PM, Darien Library Community Room
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Paula Kluth, Ph.D., one of today’s most popular and respected experts on autism and inclusive education, will provide new strategies and ideas to help you partner with your child’s teacher.

In this presentation, participants will learn about recent research on inclusive classrooms, useful supports, and helpful questions to guide your next meeting. Video clips, active learning techniques, and classroom examples will be used to answer questions such as “What is inclusion?”; “Is inclusion right for my child?”; and “How can I support my child’s inclusive education experience?”

Through her work as an independent consultant and the high-energy presentations she gives to professionals across the country, Dr. Kluth helps educators and families create responsive, engaging schooling experiences for students with disabilities and their peers, too. An internationally respected scholar and author, Dr. Kluth has written or cowritten several books for Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., including “You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom, Second Edition (2010); Pedro’s Whale (2010); From Tutor Scripts to Talking Sticks: 100 Ways to Differentiate Instruction in K–12 Classrooms (2010); “A Is for All Aboard!” (2010); “A Land We Can Share”: Teaching Literacy to Students with Autism (2008); and “Just Give Him the Whale!”: 20 Ways to Use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise, and Strengths to Support Students with Autism (2008).

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Past Events

Colleges with Support Services: Panel Discussion

Monday, April 1st
7:15 PM, Darien Library Community Room
Please RSVP to 

Students with IEPs/504s and parents are invited to attend a panel discussion, which will include representatives from colleges offering support services. The panel will share details about available academic, social and living supports. Meghan Emanuelson, Director of Guidance, Darien High School, will moderate.  Darien SEPAC, DHSPA, Darien Public Schools and Darien Library are sponsoring this evening program. Panelists include:

Syracuse University
Judy Kopp
Assistant Director, Office of Disability Service

Karen Toole
Coordinator of Academic Support, Office of Disability Service

Iona College
Amanda Marino
Assistant Director, College Assistance Program

Landmark College  
Max McAuley
Assistant Director of Admissions

Manhattanville College  
Jessica Holt
Director of Undergraduate Admissions

Dean College

Katie Fernandes
Associate Director of the Arch Learning Community, Success & Career Advisor

*Please note: The Darien Library parking lot is under construction.  The link below provides an overflow lot map.

Using data-driven instruction to make progress

By Dr. Margie Gillis, Nationally recognized literacy expert
Thursday, February 28th
Noon-1:30 pm,
Darien Library Community Room
Please RSVP:

Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)/Dyslexia affects 80% of those diagnosed with learning disabilities. The Connecticut Department of Education has approved universal screening reading assessments to be used by schools to identify students with below grade level reading skills. That data, as well as criterion reference testing, can provide school teams with valuable information that is useful for creating instructional approaches that address students’ unique learning needs.

From identification and instruction, to advocacy and empowerment, Dr. Margie Gillis will discuss the process of getting the best support for every child who needs it and will answer your questions. Topics will include:

  • Identification and what CT law says about dyslexia/reading disabilities
  • What is a universal screening reading assessment?
  • What is criterion reference testing?
  • Understand the differences between Scientifically-Based Reading Research and Whole Language approaches
  • Relationship between processing time and fluency
  • Comprehension and reading-to-learn skills
  • Progress monitoring tools

The presentation is co-sponsored by Darien SEPAC and Darien Library.

Margie B. Gillis, Ed.D is a nationally recognized literacy expert and a certified academic language therapist who has been teaching children of all ages to read for over 40 years. She received her Doctorate of Education from the University of Louisville in Special Education. In 2009, Margie founded Literacy How, Inc.

Dr. Gillis has worked at the policy level through the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and was instrumental in Connecticut’s adoption of a universal screening test for K-3 student.

Preparing Middle School Students with Special Education Services &
504 Accommodations for Darien High School 

Wednesday, January 30th, 9:30 am-11:00 am DHS Chill Zone

Please join us for an informative panel discussion and explanation of the high school transition process for middle school students with IEPs and 504 accommodations.

Topics will include:

  • Understanding the transition process to Darien High School
  • What are the supports for students with IEPs and 504s at DHS?
  • When do articulation PPTs take place?
  • Who does a student typically go to for help?
  • Overview of DHS course options and class requirements

Speakers will include:

  • Scott McCarthy, Program Director, Special Education & Student Services
  • Kristin O’Reilly, DHS Special Education Department Chair
  • Paul Ribeiro, DH Assistant Principal
  • Meghan Emanuelson, Interim Director of Guidance
  • DHS School Counselors, Special Education Teachers, School Psychologist, Related Service Providers

Co-Sponsored by DHS Parents Assocation and Darien SEPAC


Fall 2018 Presentations

Finding the Right Colleges for Students with Learning Differences with Dr. Michelle Berg

New date! Thursday, November 15th

7:30 PM, Darien Library Community Room

Parents and students: Please join educational advising and placement expert Dr. Michelle Berg, who will discuss what makes a college the ‘right fit’ for a student. Discussion will include full consideration of the academic, social and emotional realms of a student’s life. Dr. Berg will also address some of the essential skills students need when transitioning to college including how to manage anxiety during the application process and beyond. Dr. Berg specializes in working with students who have learning differences. The presentation is co-sponsored by Darien SEPAC and Darien Library.


Your Special Education Rights: What You Need to Know to Advocate for Your Child

Wednesday, May 9th  ,  7: 15 pm

Darien Library Community Room

Please RSVP:

Attorney Jennifer Laviano and special education advocate Julie Swanson will demystify the federal laws that govern the rights of children with disabilities and give you the information you need to help your child succeed in school and beyond. Topics will include: How to craft language in documents…criteria for independent evaluations…and deciphering IEP language. Plus, how the recent Supreme Court decision on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District affects your child’s educational program.

 Jennifer Laviano and Julie Swanson are co-authors of the new book, Your Special Education Rights. If you would like to purchase a copy and have it signed the night of the event, please click on the link below. Books will not be sold at the event.   Click Here

Important note from the presenters/authors: 

“Our sincere hope is that our candid account does not alienate educators and administrators, but rather raises awareness of how difficult it can be to navigate the special education system.  Our goal is empowerment of parents so that they can work shoulder to shoulder with their school districts on behalf of their child, rather than against them.”

Jennifer Laviano is a special education attorney in private practice in Connecticut. Her firm’s representation of children with special needs encompasses the full spectrum of advocacy under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504, from attendance at IEP team meetings and mediation to litigation in due process hearings and federal court. She is a regular presenter about the special legal rights of children with disabilities and their entitlement to receive a free and appropriate education and to be free from disability-based discrimination.

Julie Swanson is a Connecticut special education advocate whose practice grew out of her efforts to help her son. As an advocate, she helps parents navigate the special education process, including attending IEP and Section 504 meetings. She speaks frequently on special education matters and has a long-standing history of service on special education-related state boards, task forces, and legislative appointments to state councils.

This event is co-sponsored by Darien SEPAC and Darien Library.