IEPs, special ed explained

Rebecca HerskovitzPhoto: Lee Larcheveque

Most high school students feel stressed at some point each day, and often find their school work challenging.  Now, just imagine having an identified learning disability, too.

Most learning disabilities are “invisible” and you might not even know that another friend or student in your class is struggling with something that you experience as “easy.”  

However, students with disabilities that affect their learning do not have to “go it alone.”

Many students at ARHS and around the country have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, and use special education services.

What exactly is an IEP? The website explains that “a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that public schools create an IEP for every child who is proven to need one. It addresses each child’s unique learning issues and educational goals. It is a legally binding document. The school must, under law, provide everything it promises in the IEP.”

There are a lot of different services at our school that help deliver the terms of the IEP.

I asked Ms. Herskovitz, a special education teacher, about why so few students know about who receives special education services.

“This is an interesting question,” she answered. “It is somewhat by design.  Every student has a right to privacy and confidentiality when it comes to having an IEP and using any services.  So we want to respect that, of course. On the other hand, these topics could be de-stigmatized if the whole community could really understand what an IEP is and what a “disability” really is, because it can be quite multifaceted.”

Ms. Herskovitz went on to explain her role in the school as an Academic Skills teacher and as a liaison. As a liaison, Ms. Herskovitz communicates “with teachers, parents and students, to make sure everyone is on the same page and students are making progress.

She also teaches five Academic Skills classes each day. “This is a class where students learn new skills (in the areas of math, reading, writing, self-advocacy, and planning for after high school) in Strategy Instruction time. They then have a chance to use those skills while doing their homework during Strategy Application time.  We also do a lot of activities around organization, such as writing in a planner and making prioritized to-do lists,” Ms. Herskovitz said.

It is also interesting to hear about all this from the student perspective.

I interviewed two students in Ms. Herskovitz’s class.

“I feel like special ed classes can be kind of taboo and people don’t like to talk about them because they think their friends will judge them. Which might be true,  but that’s because people don’t understand what they are about,” said one student.

“Being in academic skills has been extremely helpful throughout my high school career and probably will continue to help me next year,” said another. “I’ll use the strategies I gained here out in the real world like college.”