2015 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Tovah Pentelovitch

Tovah Pentelovitch

Name of Host Organization: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
City, State: Austin, Texas
Issue area: Education/Special Education
Sponsors: Greenberg Traurig, LLP; Texas Access to Justice Foundation

The Project

Tovah will curb problematic use of Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs in Austin and underserved regions through outreach and representation of most at-risk students in school disciplinary proceedings.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Placement into Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEP) often serves as a defining push down the school-to-prison pipeline for at-risk students. DAEPs in Texas are associated with high recidivism and school dropout rates, as well as juvenile justice system involvement. The Texas Education Code requires students be placed in DAEPs only under limited circumstances and also limits the bases for discretionary removals to DAEPs. Yet, the vast majority of removals in Texas are for discretionary reasons, indicating that many students are being placed into oft-problematic and under-performing DAEPs when other less extreme and alienating disciplinary measures are available. Disciplinary proceedings themselves can be confusing and overwhelming for students and parents. Representation will help demystify the process while ensuring fair and legal hearings with the best possible educational outcomes for students.
The Right Person For This Project: 
Tovah is the right person for the project because:
• In her four years of graduate school, she had many public interest internships - including at the Travis County Juvenile Public Defender’s Office, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), and the Travis County District Attorney’s office – which gave her the opportunity to work with client populations including juvenile offenders and to work on a diverse set of issues
• With a Master’s of Science in Social Work, she has a broad range of tools beneficial to building successful client relationships and community collaborations
• She has an expansive network of social service contacts with which she can begin collaborating immediately
Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship: 
In the first six months, Tovah will:
• Activate a network of service providers to build a client base in Austin, Texas and begin building a network in Laredo and Del Rio using contacts already established by regional TRLA attorneys
• Develop and disseminate user-friendly “Know Your Rights In School Disciplinary Proceedings” material
• Begin providing direct representation in school disciplinary proceedings in Austin

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