Nina Russell is a recent graduate of Keene State College and an intern a The Law Office of Lillian E. Wong.
Ms. Russell's personal experiences with special education have led her to pursue a career helping children with disabilities.
I was a sophomore in high school when I became part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). As a student I did not understand the IEP and what rights I held. Today, I understand that an IEP contains many components. An IEP statement consists of the child’s present levels of academic achievement, measurable annual goals, how the child will meet those goals, the services and accommodations the child will be served, and measurable post-secondary goals. Today, I also know what the IEP team consists of the parents of the child with a disability, one or more regular education teacher(s) of the child, one or more special education teacher(s), a qualified representative of the local educational agency, an individual who can interpret any evaluations being presented, and anyone else who has knowledge or special expertise regarding the child and the child if necessary. 20 U.S.C. § 1414.
Most of my high school career I really didn't understand my disability. I also didn’t understand the whole IEP process and why I was given accommodations. I just believed I was inept and I could not do anything by myself.
My mother insisted that I attend my IEP team meetings. To me, attending IEP team meetings was fun because I did not have to attend class. Attending the meetings was also hard. No one took the time to explain to me what these team meetings were about. It was not my parents' fault because no one really took the time to explain to them either. It was difficult to sit there and listen to people who barely knew me talk about me like they knew everything about me. It was also disturbing to hear these people talk about my strengths and weaknesses and plan out the rest of my high school career. Not once did the “team” ask me my thoughts when I was sitting right there. Since my confidence and self-esteem was already shot down by some of my teachers and my peers and I did not know how to stick up for myself, I was not confident enough to participate in these “team” meetings.
Attending the meetings was very discouraging. I was at a disadvantage because I did not know my disability until my senior year when I was diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADD. So until then I just thought I was incompetent. To me, the IEP meetings were just time out of class where people, who supposedly knew me so well, could discuss how I could not handle a normal classroom and how much help I needed. This was very hard to listen to. But not attending the meeting would have been difficult too. If I knew that there were people in a room talking about my life, future, and education and I was not involved that would have been difficult too.
Before a child attends an IEP meeting, someone should discuss the purpose of the meeting with him or her. Many students with disabilities have the ability to articulate their needs and describe how their disability affects them. Still, the process is intimidating, so students should prepare for the meeting. One idea is to prepare a student agenda to distribute to the team.
Students who have disabilities along with their parents need to learn about their rights. Parents especially need to learn the process of advocating for their child's education. If it is appropriate for a child attend the team meetings, it is important to explain the purpose of the meeting to the child, help the child prepare for the meeting, and discuss the experience afterward.
It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
The Law Office of Lillian E. Wong, LLC
15 Morningside Drive
Topsfield, MA 01983
15 Morningside Drive
Topsfield, MA 01983