The professors shared with the class real-world examples of IEPs and progress reports they had gathered, including some their own children had received in school. Many of the reports lacked specifics about the children’s progress, or measurable goals. “We wanted to make the point that it happens to everybody,” Jepsen said. Some students were shocked at what they found and were eager to use their legal training to help families. Their first opportunity was an intervention of sorts – a training session at St. Peter Claver, a small Catholic school in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, for families with children who had been identified as eligible for special education services through St. Paul Public Schools. The session would teach family members what to look for in their children’s IEPs: a baseline, measurable goals, and outcomes. In class, as the students broke into pairs to hone their presentation, a bigger goal emerged: to empower families. Professor Schiltz reminded the group that the families have some leverage – the school district needs them to approve the IEP. The training session should give parents confidence, she said, and let them know it’s OK to ask questions. EMPOWERING FAMILIES The professors worked with St. Peter Claver’s principal, Terese Shimshock, to plan the session, inviting families to the meeting at the school on a late Tuesday afternoon in March.
Law students Merry Snyder, left, and Gabrielle Kolb, right, share information with families about what to look for in an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
St. Peter Claver’s student body is 98 percent children of color – mostly Black. Seventy percent of the student body receives free or reduced-price lunch. The school draws families from all over the Twin Cities, Shimshock said, attracted by the school’s small class sizes and because “families look like them here.” “Unfortunately, a lot of families come to St. Peter Claver because they’re not successful at other schools,” she said, so kids are usually one to two grade levels behind. With individualized instruction, and a foundational phonics program, most students have made significant progress, she said. The day of the meeting arrived, cold and rainy. It was just one
more obstacle for families who are already stretched, Shimshock said. “All families struggle with coming into the special ed process,” she said. “Even as educators, it’s confusing – much less people that are already feeling that they are not respected in the education process.” The organizers were relieved when two parents arrived – a mother and a grandmother who co-parents her grandson with his mom. The students’ presentation went smoothly. The parents were highly engaged and asked good questions. Then the students and professors divided up to talk with each family about their specific situation. Afterward, both parents expressed gratitude for having someone take
Page 22 St. Thomas Lawyer
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