2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Teresita Ramos

Teresita Ramos

Name of Host Organization: Disability Law Center
City, State: Boston, Massachusetts
Issue area: Education/Special Education, Disability Rights
Sponsors: Equal Justice Works Text-To-Give Fellowship

The Project

Teresita provided legal services to low-income, immigrant Hispanic children with disabilities in Lawrence, MA. Her work addressed widespread denial of education rights and empowered parents to enforce their rights through culturally competent advocacy training.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Lawrence Public Schools is among the poorest school districts in Massachusetts. 86% of Lawrence students come from low-income families. The district is composed of 90% Hispanic families, mostly of Puerto Rican and Dominican origin. Half of the children are English language learners, and 25% of all students receive special education services. Lawrence is the first district in Massachusetts to be declared a failing school system and placed in receivership. A superintendent, appointed in 2011, has been tasked with turning around this system that serves 13,000 students. The district’s turnaround plan seeks to address numerous shortcomings, but special education students, especially those with dual special education and English language learner (ELL) eligibility, have received little attention. Lawrence has no legal services organizations providing special education services. As a result, families with special needs children, especially low-income immigrant families, face extreme challenges in asserting their right to special education services.
Fellowship Highlights: 
In the past two years, Teresita has:
• Secured language access rights of thousands of special education students in Lawrence and across Massachusetts by filing 3 systemic complaints in the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education.
• Trained over 500 parents in education rights and advocacy.
• Secured the educational rights of hundreds of children through direct representation, and the filing of due process and procedural complaints on their behalf.
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Teresita plans to:
• Work at the MA Law Reform Institute (Massachusetts’s Poverty Law Center) as the Language Access Attorney.
• Work on systemic litigation issues related to access to education and government benefits by limited English proficient communities in Massachusetts.
• Lead the Language Access Coalition in Massachusetts.

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