2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Paul Easton

Paul Easton

Name of Host Organization: Children's Law Center of Massachusetts
City, State: Lynn, Massachusetts
Issue area: Health Care/Medical-Legal Partnership, Education Children/Youth
Sponsors: Biogen Idec; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C.

The Project

Paul established a medical-legal partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital–Chelsea Healthcare Center to provide effective educational advocacy to children who were at risk for school exclusion or who faced barriers to equitable educational access.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Despite substantial strides in recent years, schoolchildren in Chelsea and neighboring communities continue to face a variety of challenges that threaten their long-term educational outcomes. Approximately 90% of students in Chelsea come from low-income families and are classified as “high needs” by the state, nearly half of Chelsea residents are foreign-born, and four out of five students speak a first language other than English. Each of these figures represents the highest rate in Massachusetts, contributing in part to the second-highest dropout rate in the state, the lowest graduation rate for students with disabilities, and an out-of-school suspension rate approximately twice the state average. No legal aid organization focuses specifically on educational advocacy in Chelsea, presenting a significant gap in legal services that this project seeks to fill.
Fellowship Highlights: 
In the past two years, Paul has:
• Provided full legal representation to over seventy low-income clients in a variety of legal disputes with schools. He helped one client with significant disabilities secure school district funding of a private transition program after graduation, resulting in the client securing his first competitive employment and gaining the confidence to live independently.
• Worked onsite at MGH-Chelsea two days a week throughout his Fellowship, providing easily accessible legal information, consultations, and referrals to over 300 patients and families.
• Filed administrative complaints resulting in significant improvements to school district policies relating to bullying intervention and prevention.
• Leveraged the expertise of experts in developmental pediatrics to negotiate improved services and a 150% increase in early education instructional time for all of a school district’s children diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
• Conducted training workshops for parents and providers regarding self-advocacy strategies in special education, school discipline, bullying, and other education law topics.
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Paul plans to:
• Join the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights as an attorney in the Boston regional office.
• Continue working to ensure equal access to education through the enforcement of federal civil rights laws in educational institutions throughout New England.

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