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Choice, Respect, and Cooperation

Let me introduce you to Suzy*, a 15-year-old in the 8th grade at her local middle school. She desperately wants to take driver’s education. The school told her parents that she cannot take the course because it's taught at the high school.

In the past, middle school students have take advanced classes at the high school. I was perplexed about the decision to deny Suzy access to driver's education. I did some research but found no state or local policies stopping Suzy from taking the class.

Suzy had not attended her own IEP meetings in the past. I attended this IEP meeting, with Suzy and her parents, as an advocate to be sure that Suzy's voice was heard. Teachers recognized improvement in Suzy’s effort and academics. Yet one thing remained the same. She struggled with organization! So much so that teachers were reluctant to let incomplete assignments leave the classrooms. The team discussed ways to help Susy with organization, such as a check in/check out system.

Finally, it was time to discuss Transition and what high school would look like. At this point, I asked about driver’s education and shared my research findings. No one at the table told Suzy she wasn’t allowed to take driver’s education.

Instead, the team discussed the amount of homework assigned by the driver’s education teacher. The teachers all said homework for the ONE class would be up to two hours of work PER night. (I could confirm since my children had all taken that class with the same teacher.)

The team had doubts about Suzy's success taking the class during the school year. However, Suzy could take the course during the upcoming summer session after 8th grade. She would have a chance to get extra help and have time for homework without other classes getting in the way.

So, I ever so gently laid it all out on the table for Suzy explaining each person’s point to be sure she understood. Then I asked her, “What do you think? Can you handle driver’s education now? Or do you want to wait and take it in the summer?” She thought it over for less than 30 seconds and said, “I think the summer makes more sense so I can focus on that class.”

There was a good likelihood that the IEP team would have decided the same thing. But Suzy was included in the conversation and given information to make the decision on her own. She knew she had been heard and her ideas mattered. That is a big deal for students at any age!

Suzy has new confidence and recognition of her part on the IEP team. And she’s likely to be more cooperative and successful than if the decision had been made without her.

*Not her real name

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