2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Alyssa Wilson

The Project

Alyssa (she/her/hers) will challenge classroom censorship policies to advocate for equitable education by empowering students and community advocates with self-advocacy tools and training.

Widespread classroom censorship policies, particularly anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) legislation, gained traction following calls for racial reckoning during the summer of 2020. Across the country, classroom censorship policies exacerbate racial inequities in schools and disproportionately affect marginalized students by fostering racially hostile school environments, perpetuating exclusionary discipline, and limiting equitable access to educational resources. This issue impacts students of color, students with disabilities, and other marginalized groups due to the systemic discrimination embedded in classroom censorship policies. Alyssa’s project seeks to combat this issue by providing effective tools and advocacy strategies to empower students and community advocates to challenge these policies.

Alyssa’s background as a former public-school teacher and student drives her dedication to addressing educational gaps and disenfranchisement caused by incomplete and unrepresentative teachings. Her passion for promoting equity in education is fueled by the memory of her former students and a strong desire to prevent any students from feeling excluded or minimized due to systemic educational failings.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Alyssa will support community advocates by developing Action Kits and training materials to build the capacity of communities to address identity-related discrimination in schools resulting from censorship legislation. Additionally, she will create Know-Your-Rights guides tailored for students and families affected by education censorship policies. Alyssa will further contribute by developing civil rights complaints and drafting model affirmative policies that codify requirements for teaching representative history and humanities courses. Lastly, Alyssa plans to publish a guidance report and present her findings and recommendations for future advocacy promoting equitable education practices

Since beginning law school, my goal has been to advocate on behalf of students combatting inequity in education. I am grateful for the opportunity to leverage my legal skills to empower marginalized students.

Alyssa Wilson /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Brenda (she/her/ella) will work alongside the community to challenge the school pushout of students of color, immigrant students, and English Language Learner students, with a focus on eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, through direct representation, impact litigation, policy advocacy, and community education in the Inland Empire.

San Bernardino and Riverside Counties (“Inland Empire”) in Southern California have historically struggled and continue to struggle with the school pushout of Black and Indigenous students, immigrant students, and English Language Learner students. School districts in these counties disproportionately discipline and criminalize public school students in these and other protected classes. Grassroots organizations in the region have worked to challenge the school pushout of these students for years, but have lacked sufficient resources, especially given the region’s size and population.

Brenda’s educational experiences exposed her to the disparities and systemic issues in the public education system. Through these experiences, she realized access to education was a rare opportunity for many of her peers, all of whom had the potential to pursue higher education but were continuously pushed out. This ignited her commitment to challenging systemic issues leading to student pushout so that historically excluded students can access an equitable education and pursue higher education.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Brenda will represent students and parents in school discipline proceedings and will advocate for less punitive, supportive, and restorative measures. Through this direct representation, she will identify systemic issues disproportionately affecting students of color and immigrant students that can be challenged through impact litigation. In addition, she will work with community organizations to develop and advance campaigns to eliminate harmful policies disproportionately affecting students of color and immigrant students. She will also conduct Know Your Rights trainings in English and Spanish to empower the community and give them the tools to identify issues and enforce their rights.

Media

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As a first-generation Chicana and proud daughter of Mexican immigrants, I’m passionate about working towards transformative justice for students of color and immigrant students. I’m proud to work in the Inland Empire, a region that mirrors my own community.

Brenda Rosas /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mariana’s (she/her/hers) project, hosted by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, will focus on mitigating health and safety hazards in predominately Latinx schools and empower Long Island communities to fight against environmental injustice.

School facilities in low-income, heavily Latinx communities make children sicker, leading to health problems and lower academic performance. Lead pipes, inadequate air filtration near incinerator ash, “forever chemicals” in drinking water, and other toxins threaten the health of Long Island schoolchildren. Mariana will work with children in under-resourced “sick schools” who suffer severe concentration issues and higher rates of asthma, cancer, and other ailments due to environmental harms in their schools and communities. Mariana’s environmental justice project will reach underserved communities in New York.

Mariana’s background has inspired her to pursue this project with LatinoJustice at the intersection of immigration, environmental health and safety, and education in her home state.

Fellowship Plans

Mariana will use community education, litigation, and policy advocacy to reach her project’s goals. She will conduct Know Your Rights sessions that help community members identify environmental justice issues in schools and empower them to advocate for harm mitigation. Mariana will explore New York state law opportunities to challenge inadequate school facilities and assert Latinx students’ rights to a safe and healthy learning environment. Finally, in partnership with low-income communities who are fighting for legislation, she will work with community leaders and organizational partners to identify policy solutions that will best serve the interests of Long Island schoolchildren.

Growing up in an LGBTQ and Latinx household taught me how systems of oppression intersect and compound to create insurmountable barriers for many who immigrate to the U.S., especially people of color. This understanding motivates my commitment to racial justice.

Mariana Lopez /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Expanding Texas Appleseed’s ongoing work in studying, reporting, and advocating for the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline, Crystal advocates on behalf of K-12 students and their families to keep students in class and out of court through direct representation, education, and policy reform.

As chronic absenteeism intersects with compounding factors such as poverty, disabilities, and race, a Texas student who is chronically absent in any year between eighth and twelfth grade is 7 times more likely to drop out of school. Although Texas decriminalized student truancy and required schools to apply truancy prevention measures, these proceedings occur instead in justice of the peace and municipal courts, where students do not have the right to counsel, and parents can face fines, fees, and even criminal prosecution for their child’s truancy charges. A truancy charge is often the first interaction many children, especially from communities of color, have with the justice system, collateral consequences that can follow the family for years after the fact and foreshadow future criminal legal involvement.

Crystal’s commitment to education equity stems from both her personal experiences as a first-generation American and college graduate, and her students’ experiences from her tenure as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Taiwan’s rural, indigenous communities. Recognizing the longstanding obstacles of systemic racism and poverty to educational access, she is determined to leverage the skills and expertise she has gained through her J.D./Master’s in Public Affairs education to confront these issues.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Crystal will observe and represent K-12 students in civil truancy proceedings in major metropolitan cities around Texas. With an eye towards the upcoming 2025 state legislative session, she will build coalition and engage directly with stakeholders including school districts, state agencies, and community advocates, to draft statewide and local policies to uplift students at risk of chronic absenteeism. Additionally, she will document fines and fees associated with truancy proceedings in Texas and shed light on how they affect impacted families.

“The underlying value is simple: keeping kids in school disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline. Keeping kids in school breaks cycles of court involvement and poverty. Through this fellowship, we champion their right to education—to be in class, not in court.”

Crystal Tran /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rose (she/her/hers) will provide direct representation and systemic legal advocacy to prevent the unlawful and disproportionate pushout of underserved preschool children in Philadelphia, with a focus on Black and Brown children, children with disabilities, children experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care.

Children’s experiences in their first five years are critical to brain development, and access to high-quality early education is associated with positive academic and life outcomes. Often due to subjective and racially discriminatory school rules and enforcement, underserved preschoolers are excluded at significantly higher rates than their peers. Without quality preschool, underserved children enter kindergarten academically behind and may never catch up. When children are suspended or expelled from preschool, their risk of later justice-system involvement increases significantly, pushing them into the preschool-to-prison pipeline.

Rose’s experiences working in elementary education, education research, and juvenile justice motivate her commitment to disrupting inequitable cycles, especially for the youngest learners.

Fellowship Plans

Rose will work to prevent early education pushout by directly representing underserved preschoolers in due process hearings, IEP meetings, school negotiations, and potential administrative complaints, among other avenues. Rose will also seek to improve access to high-quality early education and increase awareness of the education rights of young children through “know your rights” and informational trainings. Rose will work to identify and dismantle barriers driving preschool suspension and expulsion in Philadelphia by collaborating with stakeholders and creating a cross-system working group to address preschool exclusion in Philadelphia moving forward.

Media

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Early education is critical for all children, and all children deserve high-quality early education. Through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship, I will work to dismantle the preschool-to-prison pipeline and set students up for success.

Rose Wehrman /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Maleeha (she/her/hers) will advocate for low-income New York City high school students with mental-health-related disabilities who are experiencing school avoidance, ensuring their right to services needed for graduation and post-school success.

Mental health challenges among students with disabilities have reached a crisis point after the COVID-19 pandemic and have created unprecedented levels of school avoidance, a condition where students strongly fear school and are unable to attend class. School avoidance is typically driven by anxiety, depression, and mood disorders and is widespread in New York City, where chronic absenteeism was 36% from 2022-2023, and is highest among low-income students, students of color, and students with disabilities. Under federal law, students with mental-health-related disabilities have a right to services from their school districts to help them overcome school avoidance and return to class, but low-income students with disabilities in New York City systemically fail to receive these services. Students are left at risk of dropping out, which hinders access to postsecondary opportunities and increases likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system.

Maleeha’s project is inspired by her previous experiences of working with students in New York City and her advocacy on school avoidance issues in her law school’s Education Law Clinic. She is committed to making education systems more equitable on an individual and systemic level.

Fellowship Plans

Maleeha will represent students with school avoidance at special education proceedings and will advocate for their mental health, academic, and other services needed to help students return to school and transition to life beyond high school. She will conduct know-your-rights trainings and develop a guide to serve as a novel blueprint on advocating for students with school avoidance. Maleeha also plans to participate in coalitions to develop policy recommendations on how schools can best support students with school avoidance.

The post-pandemic youth mental health crisis is disproportionately affecting the most marginalized students. I am honored to be able to advocate for these students so that they can access their right to an education.

Maleeha Chida /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mide’s (she/hers) project will dismantle barriers to an equitable and inclusive academic environment for Black students in the deep South.

The majority of Black students suspended in the United States attend school in just 13 southern states. Since 2020, 10 of those 13 states have passed bills restricting the teaching of race-related concepts.        Millions of Black students across the country have had their educational journeys disrupted due to discriminatory educational policies and practices that push them out of the education system and erase the contributions and experiences of people of color.

Fellowship Plans

Mide will deploy a multi-pronged approach to combatting racial disparities in education and promoting a supportive school climate for southern Black students. This project will combine litigation, policy advocacy, and community education to protect the rights of Black students facing the dual harms of discriminatory discipline and exclusionary curricula.

At a time when Black students' education access is once again under attack, through this project I will protect and defend their right to receive the quality education every student deserves.

Mide Odunsi /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ross (he/him/his) will advocate for higher education students with mental health disabilities, using direct representation and other strategies to safeguard their rights against discrimination by public educational institutions.

Although existing laws are meant to protect students from discrimination on the basis of mental health disabilities, institutions of higher education are rarely held to adequate compliance standards. With these disabilities proliferating on college campuses in recent years, the need for legal responses is increasingly urgent—especially for students at community colleges and other public institutions, where there is currently little advocacy infrastructure. Such students deserve protection when their schools seek to exclude them or otherwise discriminate against them, threatening their educations.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Ross will assert the rights of individual students in administrative proceedings regarding reasonable accommodations and involuntary withdrawal from enrollment. He will also develop and distribute self-advocacy materials, and he will build a regional referral network in order to train and connect other advocates. Finally, he will design and begin to implement an impact litigation strategy, creating a model for ongoing efforts.

Media

WashULaw 2024 Equal Justice Works Fellows

I was lucky enough to continue and complete my education after mental health struggles led to a long involuntary withdrawal from my undergraduate studies. Now it’s time to pay that fortune forward.

Ross Layton /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Vanessa’s (she/her/hers) project will ensure academic success and future independence for low-income students with complex communication needs by expanding access to highly needed augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

Upwards of 91,000 students in Illinois have complex communication needs and would benefit from communication devices to express themselves to fully participate in their education. Despite federal and state laws that protect students who require communication devices, Illinois school districts systematically fail to appropriately evaluate and train educators to implement a communication device. For low-income families, school is often the only place they can turn to access a communication device for their children due to challenges with health care access.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Vanessa will provide direct legal assistance to families in both English and Spanish, including advocacy support, representation at Individualized Education Program Meetings (IEPs), mediations, and administrative due process hearings. Vanessa will conduct community outreach trainings to increase advocacy support and inform of legal rights to communication devices. Vanessa will also collaborate with community partners to develop a direct referral base for AAC throughout Illinois.

As a life-long Chicagoan and former CPS student, Vanessa is deeply passionate about quality public education for all. When she discovered special education law existed, she knew it was the path for her.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship is a personal mission, based on my brother’s lack of access to critical communication devices. Through my project, I want to uplift the voices of similar students who have been denied opportunities to effectively communicate.

Vanessa Aceves /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rachel’s (she/her/hers) project will provide advocacy and direct representation to low-income students in Washington, DC experiencing health-harming education in which their behavioral health needs are not being met.

One in five students in Washington, DC has a disability, and their education needs frequently go unmet by their schools. Students with disabilities in DC have lower academic success rates than their peers in other urban areas. COVID-19 has magnified this disparity, leading to insufficient solutions and leaving students with disabilities behind.

Fellowship Plans

Through the Healthy Together Medical-Legal Partnership, Rachel will provide accessible, on-site legal services to families of students with disabilities at the Shepherd Park Pediatric Primary Care and Complex Care Clinics and the Rare Disease Institute. In addition to directly advocating for the educational needs of students and their families, she will provide collaborative education and outreach to medical providers and community members about special education rights and best practices for identifying at-risk children.

Rachel’s ten years of experience as a public school teacher motivates her to advocate for all students to receive the educational foundation they are both entitled to and deserve.

As a former teacher, I have seen the power of education as well as the barriers created for the most vulnerable students. Students with disabilities, like all students, deserve a supportive and accessible educational opportunity.

Rachel Niegelberg /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow