November 4, 2011
Cooley Law School Event Takes a Look at the Needs of Special Education Students
On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids, through the Center for Professionalism and Ethics, and coordinated by Assistant Director Karen Rowlader, presented a panel discussion, and question and answer opportunity for law students, parents, guardians, educators, and others advocating for children in special education.
From left: Scot Reynolds, Debra Blake, Patricia Clement, Douglas Ley, and Visiting Professor David Tarrien.
The panel discussion came about as a result of a program implemented by David Tarrien, a visiting professor at the Grand Rapids campus. Initially, the program was designed to give Cooley students a chance to develop their advocacy, research, writing, and presentation skills and also to develop a sense of responsibility to the community by serving some of its most at-risk members. The students put together a presentation about Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that are developed with primary and secondary school systems to provide free and appropriate public educations to children with special needs. When the presentations were given in west Michigan last spring, attendees included parents and other primary caregivers, school administrators, teachers, and tutors.
At each presentation, while it was evident that all of the groups involved initially came to the table in good faith to develop programming for the children, the complexity of the issues to be addressed did not always lend itself to an amicable, streamlined process. Indeed the arcane nature of the statutes and rules surrounding IEPs and governing their application often seems at odds with a parent or caregiver’s eagerness to protect and ensure academic success for a beloved child. Practical matters, too, such as financing for much needed services for the few while ensuring fair access to educational resources for all students, can set the stage for miscommunication, mistrust, and bad or hurt feelings on both sides of the table. Unfortunately, the process itself often draws attention away from the child meant to be at the center of these discussion.
From these observations, Professor Tarrien and the students decided to put together a panel discussion. The panelists would be trained, professional advocates, who can argue passionately, yet remain object and fair-minded – keeping the child at the center of the discussion. Chosen were Debora A. Blake, J.D., ACCESS (Advocacy and Consultation for Children’s Educational Services and Support) Education, a former administrative law judge and current advocate; Scot A. Reynolds, J.D., a lawyer who practices in this area; and Patt Clement, program director, The Arc - Kent County, an advocacy center formed by parents for this type of advocacy.
At the presentation, the room was filled to capacity with a mixture of law students, parents and primary caregivers, school teachers and administrators, and other advocates. The discussion was lively and wide ranging, with lots of equally well-thought-out questions and answers. Moderating was Douglas Ley, a fourth-term Cooley student who, as an insurance agent, did estate planning for families with special needs.
At the end of the session, it was announced that some of the Cooley students were forming a Disability Law Student Organization, with many students signing up on the spot. Connections were made between parent groups and Professor Tarrien for more student presentations, and many caregiver participants approached the panelists to request further information. Professor Tarrien and the new Disability Law Student Organization look forward to hosting and moderating more such presentations at all Cooley campuses in coming months.
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About Thomas M. Cooley Law School:
Thomas M. Cooley Law School is the largest law school in the nation. Founded in 1972, the private, nonprofit law school operates its Juris Doctor program, Joint Degree programs, and Master of Laws programs across Michigan in Lansing, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. Cooley recently announced a new Tampa Bay, Florida-area campus, with courses beginning in May 2012. Cooley has more than 15,000 graduates across the nation and worldwide and offers enrollment three times a year in January, May and September. Cooley is an independent law school, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. Additional information can be found at cooley.edu.and the Higher Learning Commission. Additional information can be found at cooley.edu.