2015 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Karmena Diggs

Karmena Diggs

Name of Host Organization: Advocates for Children of New York
City, State: New York, New York
Issue area: Education/Special Education
Sponsors: The Morrison & Foerster Foundation

The Project

Karmena will provide direct legal representation, community outreach, and policy advocacy to help low-income students with disabilities in New York City learn to read proficiently so they can succeed in school.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
In New York City, 200,000 students—nearly one out of five—are classified as students with disabilities. While teaching students to read is a fundamental responsibility of schools, the most recent state tests reveal that a startling 93 percent of students with disabilities in NYC are not proficient in reading. Students who do not learn to read proficiently have a higher likelihood of remaining trapped in poverty and are more likely to experience school failure, drop out of school, be unemployed, and become involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The law requires that students with disabilities receive supports and services to meet their learning needs, including specially designed reading instruction, assistive technology, and modified text. This project will connect these students to the unique services and evidence-based approaches that they need.
The Right Person For This Project: 
Karmena is the right person for the project because:
• She is committed to advocating for the needs of low-income, minority, and special education students, and has extensive experience in working with these populations
• Her personal background and experiences give her a direct connection to the underprivileged students and families that she will serve
• Karmena’s joint degree in education policy gives her a unique understanding of literacy instruction and special education issues beyond legal advocacy
Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship: 
In the first six months, Karmena will:
• Receive intensive training on representing students with disabilities from experienced Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) attorneys
• Meet with key partners to discuss barriers students face in learning to read and effective strategies and programs for teaching students to read
• Develop know-your-rights presentations and informational flyers for parents of students who are struggling to read
• Provide advice and case representation for families of students with disabilities who call AFC’s Education Helpline or are referred by other sources

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