Professor Andrea Jepsen ‘06 J.D. speaks with law students in the Special Education Legal Clinic.
Professor Elizabeth Schiltz at St. Peter Claver Catholic School in St. Paul.
the time to explain things and help them navigate what can be an overwhelming process. “I feel like I don’t have to do this journey by myself,” one mom told Shimshock. She added that “I just feel like sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. And so it just feels good to have someone walking that journey with me.” Gabrielle Kolb , who hopes to work as a litigator, said she thought the message about parents and caregivers being allowed to demand more from the school district came through. “When you don’t know your specific rights under a law, it can be intimidating to push back against people who appear to be ‘experts,’” she noted, “so I think giving them permission to ask questions was valuable.”
The students continued to work with the families through the end of the semester. The empowerment they provided will benefit the families for years to come, Shimshock said. The clinic hopes to host more training sessions at other schools, with the possibility of another meeting at St. Peter Claver or a social service agency. LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Ultimately, Schiltz hopes the clinic can work with families whose children have been labeled as having emotional or behavioral disorders – a problematic categorization that disproportionately affects Black and American Indian students. Connections with those families have not happened yet.
But two years into a pandemic, there’s excitement about connecting with more clients like the ones they met in March – and the potential to walk alongside and empower more families navigating the special education system. “St. Peter Claver – I think, absolutely, this is the beginning of a great relationship,” Jepsen said. And that goal of increasing practitioners? The clinic has made a start there too. Kari Thoreson will be working with Jepsen’s former colleagues at the School Law Center in Stillwater this summer. She hopes to practice in special ed after she graduates next year.
Summer 2022 Page 23
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