For three days at the end of January 2014, I had the pleasure of shadowing Ms. Leslie Seid Margolis ’82 at the Maryland Disability Law Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Ms. Margolis is a Managing Attorney at the MDLC, which is a nonprofit legal services and advocacy organization for persons with disabilities.
I had an early start on the first day of my Princeternship. I arrived at MDLC before 9 AM and was able to ask Ms. Margolis about her job. After answering my questions and giving me a brief tour of the office, Ms. Margolis and I met with a school nurse who is passionate about disability services and has trained teachers and school staff about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Although this meeting was really about what she and Ms. Margolis were to discuss at a future conference, it was a great introduction to disability policy. I learned that a 504 Plan is used to ensure that students with disabilities have the same education opportunities as their non-disabled peers, and that the Maryland State Department of Education has recently released a fact sheet on school suspensions, which clarifies a policy for these students.
After this enlightening meeting, Ms. Margolis and I drove to a Baltimore County elementary school to attend an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting for a student with ADHD. If a student requires specialized instruction because of his or her disability, the school is obligated to develop a program that will cater to the student’s needs, at the parents’ request. This meeting included the student’s mother, the IEP team chair (in this case, the vice principal), the school counselor, the student’s special and general education teachers, his case manager, and a representative from the county Office of Special Education. The team first worked together to reassess the student’s disability, then they reviewed his IEP to better address his specific educational areas of need. It was really inspiring to see so many people collaborating to provide a quality education for this student.
The next day, I got to shadow two MDLC paralegals, Mr. John Wheeler and Ms. Tacha Marshall, who are intake specialists. Their jobs consist of responding to the calls and emails of potential clients: this could be either referring them to other organizations or private attorneys to better suit their needs, or giving their case to a MDLC attorney. Mr. Wheeler does general intake, which is short and sweet, while Ms. Marshall does educational intake that takes a much longer time. I was able to listen in on a call from a parent of a child with a disability and got to see just how complex and important the intake process is.
Afterwards, I briefly got to meet Tatyana McFadden, a Paralympic star whom MDLC represented while she was in high school. Not only is Ms. McFadden a decorated athlete, but she is also an incredible advocate for disability rights. By pursuing a lawsuit against the state of Maryland in regards to access to school athletics for persons with disabilities, Ms. McFadden was able to initiate the Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act, which was passed by the Maryland State Legislature in 2008.
In the afternoon, Ms. Margolis and I drove to the Maryland State Department of Education in downtown Baltimore to attend a State Board of Education meeting. There, one of Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Early intervention Services for MSDE gave a presentation on the education services for children with disabilities in the state of Maryland. I learned so much about disability educational services that my state offers, including the fact that Maryland is one of the leading states in disabled rights.
My last day at MDLC was quite eventful. We attended a meeting with a consultant for V-LINC. Ms. Margolis is a board member of V-LINC, which is an organization that strives to improve the independence and quality of life for Marylanders with disabilities through technological assistance.
Next, we went to another IEP meeting at a middle school in Baltimore County. This student was a more difficult case, as he has a TBI and misses a lot of school because of it. In addition to the usual team members, the student’s neurologist and occupational therapist were on a conference call and were able to contribute to the discussion of how best to help this student. My favorite part of the entire Princeternship experience was getting to meet this student. I enjoyed sitting in on the IEP meeting, but it was really inspiring to meet the boy whom everyone loved so much. Being able to put a face to a name was very powerful, and I instantly understood why Ms. Margolis loves to represent children with disabilities.
Back at the office, I closed out my Princeternship by talking to a Senior Attorney, Mr. Bob Berlow. Although he primarily works with Ms. Margolis on education issues, it was fascinating to hear about his other work with the Maryland TBI Advisory Board and outreach to military families. I feel like this was an especially important discussion for me because it gave me a better understanding of the vast array of services that MDLC provides.
I would like to thank the Princeternship Program, Ms. Margolis, and all the staff at MDLC for this wonderful opportunity to learn about disability law. It was an incredible chance for me to see law in the context of special education and disability services—something to which I had never before been exposed. This experience has certainly influenced in a positive way my decision of pursing public interest law in the future!