Regional and Statewide Services for Students with Orthopedic Impairments (RSOI) at Douglas ESD hosted the 2022 Feeding Seminar at the Salem Convention Center. Practitioners from around the state, including Douglas ESD employees, attended.

The education of safe feeding in schools

Eating is a basic need but isn’t always simple.

As a child Holly Knotowicz, M.S., CCC-SLP experienced difficulty eating. No one knew she was living with eosinophilic esophagitis disease. She received her diagnosis as an adult. The autoimmune disease causes chronic inflammation that interferes with swallowing. Now she makes it her mission to support individuals experiencing this complication and other feeding difficulties, drawing on her own experience while creating individualized treatment plans. This international speaker was one of the presenters at the annual 2022 Feeding Seminar. The event was hosted by Regional and Statewide Services for Students with Orthopedic Impairments (RSOI), a program housed at the Douglas Education Service District.

In early November, more than 130 people made their way to the Salem Convention Center for a 2-day seminar, designed for practitioners who work in educational settings in the fields of administration, speech language pathology, occupational therapy, dietary and nursing.

“All learners have the right to eat or be fed at school to have the stamina to persist throughout the day. The Feeding Seminar that RSOI provides to school feeding teams builds awareness to identify those who are at risk for choking when eating at school,” said Debra Fitzgibbons, Regional and Statewide Services for Students with Orthopedic Impairments (RSOI) and Oregon Technology Access Program (OTAP) coordinator.

Difficulty eating can be connected to chewing, swallowing and oral weakness complications, food allergies, sensory processing, motor development or illnesses. Practitioners working in school settings play important roles in supporting the safe feeding.

The seminar kicked off with a keynote message from Fitzgibbons. “Friends from across the state, we are here to share ideas,” she said. “Great things are happening.”

Throughout the two days important accessibility ideas were shared from ways to support children experiencing complex medical needs, strategies to help anxious eaters, and how to wean children from feeding tubes. The seminar provided 12 hours of professional learning for feeding teams to examine their practices and set equitable goals to ensure Oregon’s learners remain safe while eating.

Karen Shaw an early intervention and early childhood special education (EI/ECSE) speech and language pathologist for Douglas ESD keeps returning to this seminar. “I find this conference gives me functional, real-life and useful ideas that I can take with me and use with my students,” she said.

Knotowicz talked about the importance of building relationships with caregivers. She explained that it’s important to listen and gather information to learn how to best support a child. A practitioner plays a vital role and is often a liaison between a caregiver, physician and child.

Encouragement was also offered to practitioners. Melanie Potock, M.A., CC-SLP, a pediatric feeding expert, author and internationally-known speaker mentioned that progress can take time. “Build skills and abilities in small steps. Take tiny steps and put as many rungs in the ladder as you can,” she said.

Attendees truly appreciated the opportunity to gather. Phil Cusack an EI/ECSE occupational therapist for Douglas ESD has been attending feeding conferences since the nineties. He explained that there’s always something to learn.

“It’s great to see everyone,” said Elisha Miller an occupational therapist for High Desert ESD. “I’ve met some of the people here virtually, but never in person until today.”

The seminar even included giveaways. Knotowicz and Potock teamed up with innovative companies specializing in tools to support feeding therapies. More than $7,000 of products were donated, including curriculum that Potock helped write, were raffled off to attendees. Hoots and hollers were heard as winners ran or skipped to the stage to receive their prizes. Every attendee left with something useful.

Acknowledgement was given to Dr. Linda Brown, an educational specialist for the Oregon Department of Education, who is preparing for retirement. She has been an important partner for helping students with low incidence disabilities achieve success through equitable and specialized supports.


The success of this seminar was made possible thanks to the behind-the-scene preparations. Thank you, Debra Fitzgibbons, Melanie Potock, Holly Knotowicz, Chandra Pinnock (administrative assistant OTAP/RSOI) and Cindy Doyle (Education Services event planner for Douglas ESD).


Regional and Statewide Services for Students with Orthopedic Impairments (RSOI) provides services to professionals and families concerned with the needs of young children and students with orthopedic impairments, from birth to 21 years of age. The program provides information, training, resources and referrals to school districts and educational programs throughout Oregon. RSOI is funded by the Oregon Department of Education’s Office of Special Education. 

Holly Knotowicz, M.S., CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist who specializes in the complex field of feeding assessment and therapy. Find out more at

Melanie Potock, M.A., CCC-SLP is a pediatric feeding expert and author. Find out more at