Zoe Masters

The Project

Zoe (she/her/hers) will work with young people who attend alternative and nontraditional public schools in greater Philadelphia to educate them on their civil rights and support them in building power to advocate for more meaningful, accessible, and effective pathways to graduation.

One in five Philadelphia ninth-graders will attend an alternative or nontraditional school during their educational career. Many of the approximately 5,000 students who currently attend these schools have had their education interrupted by being pushed out of traditional schools, experiencing homelessness, or being incarcerated, on top of continually experiencing the effects of interlocking systems of racism and criminalization of poverty. Instead of reversing discriminatory patterns of pushout and helping every student remain in school and graduate, alternative schools often exacerbate pushout by adopting exclusionary policies, collecting limited data about barriers students encounter, and having very little accountability. These problems persist despite federal and state laws that protect all Pennsylvania students’ ability to access public education.

Fellowship Plans

Zoe will build on the Education Law Center’s existing relationships with Philadelphia-area youth organizations and child-serving providers to address the concerns of young people who attend alternative schools. She will undertake individual representation to enforce students’ federal, state, and local education civil rights in enrollment, special education, anti-harassment and bullying, and school discipline matters. Her work will ensure that alternative schools enroll students promptly and provide appropriate special education services, English language instruction, and due process in school discipline proceedings. Informed by community relationships and research into accountability gaps, she will support young people who attend alternative schools to build power and develop a focused advocacy campaign that pushes alternative schools to provide more meaningful, effective, and accessible programming.

Media

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In my six years as a high school educator, my students’ feedback pushed me every day to build a more supportive, inclusive classroom. My goal as a lawyer is not only to make sure that my clients receive a high-quality public education; it is to help them build power so they have a say in advocating for schools that fully support them and help them thrive.

Zoe Masters /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Stacy will advocate for Los Angeles County’s secure track youth with disabilities to ensure their right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) through direct representation, education, and policy reform.

With the closure of the state-run Division of Juvenile Justice in California, over 800 secure track youth now depend on individual counties to house them, educate them, and provide them adequate programming. Secure track youth will be detained in county detention facilities for long periods of time, and advocates are still brainstorming how to ensure robust programming for these youth.

Secure track youth with disabilities will now depend on counties, such as Los Angeles County, to meet their needs. However, despite having a legal right to an appropriate education, detained students with disabilities in Los Angeles County rarely receive an appropriate education and related services.

Stacy’s passion for education equity motivates their commitment to ensuring every student’s right to an appropriate education that meets their needs.

Fellowship Plans

During their Fellowship, Stacy will represent secure track youth to address their individual FAPE violation claims. They will collaborate with other advocates, such as community-based organizations and formerly detained persons, to inform the development and implementation of Los Angeles County’s reimagined youth justice system. Additionally, they will develop a policy report discussing the issues impacting access to appropriate services for detained youth with disabilities.

Media

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An appropriate education has given me so many opportunities to lead a fulfilling life, and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to lead a fulfilling life too.

Stacy Nuñez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Dalia (she/her/hers/ella) will work alongside Immigrant Justice Idaho (IJI) to provide direct legal immigration services to individuals in rural communities of Idaho who seek asylum or are in removal proceedings.

Idaho is home to residents in small rural communities who struggle to access legal services, particularly immigration services. This project seeks to breach the gap in need and focus on removal defense and defensive asylum cases. The need for representation of these cases is high and these individuals are least likely to be represented due to many reasons, such as a lack of funds, unaccessible information and services, and isolation in small rural towns where services are not available.

Dalia’s personal experiences drive her passion for this project. After college, Dalia worked with families in rural communities, which motivated her to pursue law school and inspired this project. She looks forward to working with communities in Idaho and expanding access to immigration legal services.

Fellowship Plans

Dalia’s project has two central components: to increase the number of rural residents in Idaho who receive IJI deportation defense services and to train trusted partners in geographically diverse communities to make referrals to IJI. Dalia will renew outreach to rural communities and expand IJI’s pilot referral project to a majority of the counties in Idaho. This effort, in addition to a revival of safely conducted in-person outreach to rural communities, is expected to drive more cases to IJI and deliver needed immigration expertise to those who serve the IJI constituent community.

As an undocumented woman of color, I grew up personally impacted by immigration laws and policies. This project is an opportunity to give back to my community and bring legal services to areas that have a high need for them.

Dalia Pedro Trujillo /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Elizabeth (Lizzie) will provide education advocacy to children with disabilities in Austin, Texas. Here, she hopes to prevent and correct misplacement in segregated special education programs, disciplinary alternative education programs, and juvenile justice facilities.

Widespread systemic issues impacting the Austin Independent School District’s evaluation system resulted in delayed evaluations of thousands of students in violation of federal and state laws. This delay resulted in the misplacement of students with disabilities in segregated schools, disciplinary settings, and the juvenile justice system for unsupported disability-related behaviors. Children with disabilities are already overrepresented in these settings. What’s worse, the physical restraint of students, which is inherently traumatizing, is far more likely to happen in segregated behavior settings and to students who have disabilities. Moreover, under-resourced families are disproportionately represented in these systems, yet, are the least likely to reach out to protection and advocacy organizations for help.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Lizzie will provide direct representation and advocacy to students with disabilities at risk of and currently navigating the juvenile justice system and provide advocacy coaching to their families. She will use Disability Rights Texas’ protection and advocacy access authority to monitor segregated special education placements in the Austin area for compliance with federal disability laws and advocate for youth who have been misplaced in those settings to be returned to the regular school environment. Additionally, she will develop relationships with juvenile justice system actors and educators to locate children in need of legal services and promote a lasting reduction in misplacement of children with disabilities.

Lizzie is determined to better serve children with disabilities through a legal career in special education advocacy.

Media

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As a speech-language pathologist in the public school setting, I repeatedly encountered situations where children were not served appropriately due to areas of disability that were unidentified, and therefore, unsupported. I realized that my therapeutic training was ineffective if my students were barred from accessing it.

Elizabeth Allen /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Hetali (she/her/hers) will pilot a two-pronged approach to improving special education service delivery in North Carolina schools, combining direct representation of students and families with community-based lawyering strategies.

In North Carolina, close to 80% of students with disabilities are not performing at grade level in math or reading. The achievement gap for students of color with disabilities is twice that of their non-special education peers. These students also face the most significant barriers to accessing appropriate educational services during the pandemic and are at the greatest risk of continuing to fall –or be pushed– through the cracks. While a robust network of legal and advocacy organizations focused on K-12 students exists in North Carolina, most special education legal advocacy focuses on individual cases. Often, the remedies won send students right back into the schools and systems that failed them initially.

Fellowship Plans

Hetali will represent individual students and families in Wake, Durham, and Robeson Counties in matters related to special education testing, identification, and service delivery. She will also engage with community-based organizations in these three counties to support them in identifying, articulating, and executing goals related to serving special education students, using tools like listening sessions, community workshops, and collaborative problem-solving frameworks. By developing expertise regarding the special education landscape in just these counties, she will be able to better serve both individual and organizational clients in achieving their goals.

All children deserve schools where they feel safe, welcome, and able to develop and go after their dreams. I am honored to serve North Carolina students, families, and community organizations as we build power in pursuit of what our state constitution promises: a sound basic education for all.

Hetali Lodaya /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brianna (she/her/hers) will provide legal assistance and support to children in the Allegheny County child welfare system with special education needs who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The goal of Brianna’s project is to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on dependency system-involved children who receive special education services. Since the pandemic crisis began in March 2020, these students have gone months without educational services or with insufficient supports and services resulting in long-term consequences. Without the stability of a secure family, these children are particularly susceptible to receiving an inadequate education, which has a lifelong impact as they transition to adulthood. 

Fellowship Plans

Brianna will advocate for recoupment and/or compensatory services based on the Pennsylvania Department of Education guidance to address the needs of special education students impacted by the extended school closure. She will research and advocate for best practices to be implemented in school districts for their benefit. Brianna will also provide consultations and technical assistance to attorneys and child advocacy specialists on individual special education cases, advocate for children at Individual Education Program (IEP) and other school meetings, and provide support to foster parents and other caregivers in their role as educational decision-maker. 

I am continually inspired by the resilience demonstrated by children facing difficult circumstances. It is a privilege to work toward creating transformative change for educational equity.

Brianna Bell /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Evelyn (she/her/hers) will empower families and children with developmental disabilities to access critical early childhood special education services through education, representation, and a medical-legal partnership.

Access to early childhood special education services can dramatically change the developmental trajectory of young children with disabilities. Yet, programming in Illinois is not meeting the needs of children with developmental disabilities from racially and economically marginalized communities where a lack of identification and disparities in services and programming are exceedingly common.

Families and children with developmental disabilities benefit from education and representation to have the knowledge and tools they need to access critical special education services starting in preschool.

Evelyn’s background in child development inspires her deep commitment to empowering families and increasing access to early childhood special education services.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Evelyn will provide education, advocacy, and direct legal representation. Her project will focus on the representation of children at risk of being excluded from special education or receiving inadequate services due to systemic barriers, racial biases, and a lack of resources within their communities. She will also build a medical-legal partnership and use tele-mentoring to educate and collaborate with medical providers who play a critical role in the education and advocacy process for families.

By ensuring access to services early on, we can not only improve outcomes for children in preschool, but also long-term outcomes and build a more equitable education system in Illinois.

Evelyn Ayay /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Kate (she/her/hers) will provide client-centered legal representation and systemic advocacy to ensure adolescents in foster care access personalized comprehensive services for their transition into adulthood.

The Massachusetts foster care system consistently fails to provide the children in its care with federally-mandated comprehensive services to support their transition into adulthood. This failure causes devastating harm to Black, Latinx, and disabled children who are disproportionately separated from their families and placed into foster care. Adolescents in foster care have the lowest high school graduation rates in Massachusetts and face increased risk of homelessness, poverty, and further trauma as adults.

The children in foster care deserve a lawyer who will advocate alongside them to ensure that the state implements policy and action so that every child in their care accesses the personalized community-based resources necessary for their transition into adulthood.

Kate’s project is motivated by her experiences working with resilient young people facing challenges from systems involvement, disabilities, and/or mental health issues. Kate is dedicated to disrupting the oppressive systems that harm young people by ensuring that systems-involved young people have their voices heard and are given the personalized community-based resources they need to achieve their goals.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Kate will work with teens in the foster care system to provide legal representation on educational matters regarding their rights to access tailored transitional services. She will survey young people previously or currently in the foster care system to understand the qualities of effective community-based resources that will inform policy advocacy, as well as build connections to resource providers in the under-served Springfield area. Kate will also train child advocates and pro bono attorneys on legal advocacy techniques for getting comprehensive transitional services for youth in foster care and/or with special education needs.

It is essential to center the expert voices of young people in foster care when making decisions about their lives so that they will receive the resources, community supports, and self-advocacy skills they need to thrive as adults.

Kate DiVasto /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through legal representation, impact litigation, and community advocacy, Travis (he/him/his) will work on behalf of Texas kids ensnared in the school-to-prison pipeline to ensure every child has a meaningful opportunity to thrive in school. 

Every year in Texas, over 16,000 kids are referred from the classroom to a police officer. Tens of thousands more are suspended, expelled, or pushed into alternative disciplinary schools. Growing up in the Texas public school system, Travis has seen firsthand the life-altering impact these punitive discipline policies can have on kids. The result is generations of disproportionately Black and Brown kids who are deprived a chance to succeed because for every instance of exclusionary discipline, a student becomes less likely to graduate and more likely to become incarcerated. Today, Texas’ school-to-prison pipeline operates in violation of both state and federal law, but no dedicated affirmative litigation effort currently exists to address the needs of kids, their families, or their community. 

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Travis will work together with those most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline through legal representation, litigation, and community advocacy. Impact litigation will generate an important accountability mechanism to make systemic change and force schools to reinvest in students’ education. Additionally, “Know Your Rights” trainings, self-help legal materials, and collaborations with community organizations will help empower those directly harmed by school discipline to reclaim children’s educations. 

Media

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Fighting To End School Policing

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

As a Texan and former teacher, I believe schools should treat students with patience and compassion, not handcuffs and pepper spray.

Travis Fife /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Andy (he/him/his) will expand a community-based education advocacy program into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, providing special education and school discipline legal services to low-income families in the community.

Disparities in educational resources and the school-to-prison pipeline have long created barriers to a meaningful education for many children in Rogers Park, Chicago. But in the midst of a pandemic and with an eye toward its aftermath, these barriers have and will continue to become more widespread. And with only two legal aid agencies providing direct, comprehensive educational advocacy in Chicago, there is a significant need for community-based educational advocacy in Rogers Park. It is crucial that Rogers Park youth are returning to school, receiving the educational services they need to be successful in school, and learning in a restorative and trauma-informed environment.

Through advocating for students in school discipline hearings, Andy learned the transformative power of educational advocacy, and the tools a lawyer can use to keep kids in school and to ensure they are receiving the support and services they need to be successful and connected to their school community.

Fellowship Plans 

During his Fellowship, Andy will represent Rogers Park youth with special education needs as well as students confronting school exclusion. To expand the reach of his project, Andy will empower parents and caregivers to advocate for their children in school through Know Your Rights trainings. And through partnerships with community organizations, Andy will work collaboratively with the community to advocate for Rogers Park schools to transition from punitive disciplinary approaches towards more inclusive and restorative practices.

Media

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I believe comprehensive and community-based education advocacy provides one of the greatest tools a community has to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

Andy Froelich /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow