Individualized Education Plans aid students in the learning environment

Leon Yang, Sports writing editor

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 2004, emphasized the need to “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

The special education department at the high school ensures that students are given the appropriate Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, a measure that provides students with an equitable and appropriate education, while keeping them a part of the high school community.

According to Special Education Director Sarah Orlov, if a teacher, parent or other adult who knows a student well suspects a learning disability in the student, that student can be tested for eligibility of receiving an IEP. Orlov said that students between the ages of three and 21 may be eligible for this plan.

Orlov said that there are a variety of services that a student with an IEP can receive.

“Some students may have learning center services where they go to a learning center maybe one block and get academic support,” Orlov said. “Some students may have speech and language services where they get specialized support around their communication skills. Some students might get specialized reading services if they are struggling with reading, decoding or comprehension.”

Orlov said that students may get specialized instruction in various academic subjects, as well as help in dealing with physical disabilities. Students older than 21 can receive services that help them transition to jobs. Moreover, Orlov said that many colleges provide accommodations for students who had IEPs in high school.

According to Special Education Coordinator Jim Henry, a student’s IEP is cyclical and changes every year.

“Each year, there is another IEP that is developed because the idea is that the student will grow and develop over time,” Henry said. “What the student may have been working on the first year of the IEP will change over time as they develop and learn new skills.”

Henry said that although having a disability can pose a challenge, students can properly face these challenges with the necessary resources.

“It might a difficult thing to wrap their brain around, but with support, education and counseling, students are able to realize that in order to address an issue, they have to really understand what they’re dealing with and that these are the people and services that can help them,” Henry said.

A student who wished to remain anonymous said that although there is a stigma that students with IEPs are given an “advantage,” this belief is ultimately unfounded.

“I definitely don’t focus as well as most kids, so I would say in some ways it’s more fair,” he said.

He said that although he is not affected by any criticism, he understands that other students with IEPs may take offense to the idea of an advantage.

“You can’t always get inside the brain of someone,” he said. “Personally, I do fine with any criticism, but for someone who might really need that time and every second of it, it could hurt them. I would say, just let them have their extra time and act as if it’s natural; that’s just the standard amount of time they get.”

Another student who wished to remain anonymous said that although sometimes students with IEPs are seen as being “lucky,” there are not many negative connotations that come along with IEPs at the high school.

“There aren’t a lot of stigmas in the high school because it’s pretty normalized,” he said. “People who have it aren’t really different and they’re not treated differently if they have one.”

Henry said that there is a distinct boundary between giving a student too few and too many services that must be met in formulating an IEP. He also said that he loves to see the progress in students with IEPs.

“When I hear about students that progressively need less and less special education support, that is so exciting to me as a special educator because that’s exactly what I want to see,” Henry said. “I always want to see students get the support that they need, but also I champion the cause to see students need less and less, because in special education we only want to provide what is needed and no more or less.”

Orlov said that the school community needs to continue to accept all students, including those with disabilities.

“I think it goes with accepting all differences: people who look different, people who talk differently, people who are of a different background and people who learn differently,” Orlov said. “We’re all different in some ways, and I have a quote on my wall that says, ‘Every one is a genius, but if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.’ That was said by Albert Einstein.”

Henry said that members of the high school community should continue to serve as advocates for all students.

“It’s just great that there’s such variety and students come with their own skills and their own passions and interests,” Henry said. “That’s what makes us all unique and special. We need to value that, recognize that and celebrate that because it really is all about equity and excellence. Regardless of their background, income, race or sexual identity, everyone should be entitled to all the wonderful things that are going on at Brookline High School.”

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