Elisabeth Lambert

The Project

Elisabeth challenges systemic racism in Wisconsin public schools through direct representation of students in nondiscrimination proceedings; training of students, families, and educators; and advocacy and litigation aimed at shaping state nondiscrimination law.

Across Wisconsin, BIPOC students face challenges at school that their white peers do not face, including peer harassment, disproportionately punitive discipline, and inequitable allocation of resources. Though state laws require school districts to have a policy for responding to complaints of racial discrimination, many districts’ procedures are confusing, inaccessible, ineffective, and lacking in transparency. Elisabeth holds districts accountable through direct representation of individual students, allyship training for teachers and community members, and litigation and advocacy to push the state of Wisconsin toward more robust and transparent regulation and oversight of racial equity in schools.

Prior to her Fellowship, Elisabeth taught English for several years in a racially diverse public high school near Milwaukee, where she witnessed firsthand how exclusionary discipline impacted students and the learning community. She left the classroom for law school to become a stronger advocate for young people facing injustice at school.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Elisabeth has:

  • Won an appeal before the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in which DPI found that a district had discriminated in the discrimination process and tolerated a racially hostile environment and ordered the district to take corrective action.
  • Won a second appeal in which DPI found that a district’s investigation of a hostile environment complaint was deficient and ordered corrective action.
  • Negotiated a resolution agreement with a school district that suspended a student for attempting to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), in which the district committed to form the GSA and to provide staff training on creating a safe school environment for LGBTQ+ students.
  • Trained families, teachers, and community organizations in more than 25 school districts around the state of Wisconsin to navigate their local school discrimination complaint procedures and use them to improve conditions for students with protected status.

Next Steps

In the next year, Elisabeth plans to:

  • Work with residents of districts across the state to promote the adoption of robust, accessible district-level nondiscrimination policies in response to changing state requirements.
  • Continue training teachers, families, and community members to use the nondiscrimination process to improve the school climate for BIPOC and LGBTQ students.
  • Continue representing students in high-impact appeals to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Media

Racial Harassment Case Involving Cedarburg School District and DPI Reopened

Community Shares of Wisconsin Will Honor Local Social and Environmental Justice Leaders With Community Change-maker Awards

ACLU of Wisconsin Commends Court Decision Requiring DPI and Cedarburg School District To Include Complainant in Settlement Negotiations

Community Shares of Wisconsin will honor local social and environmental justice leaders with Community Change-Maker Awards

ACLU appeals ruling in CF school case

Taking a Stand Against Discriminatory School Policies in Wisconsin

Legal groups issue dueling letters to school districts over critical race theory

DPI: Burlington School District has not addressed racism, orders district to take further action

ACLU lawyer seeks to hold Wisconsin school districts accountable for discrimination

Wisconsin virtual school allows teenager to form LGBTQ+ club after ACLU intervention

This 6th grader was suspended for starting a gay-straight alliance. What happened next is amazing.

Current, Former Chippewa Falls Students Allege Pervasive Discrimination In Complaint

Students find each other, build discrimination case against Chippewa Falls schools

State calls Cedarburg school's racial harassment probe 'deficient'

DPI: Cedarburg School District racism investigation deficient, corrective action must be taken

La Crosse students challenging school district to take on racial justice

ACLU files complaint against CFAUSD, former Chi-Hi student shares experience of being outed

Online charter school says 6th grader can’t start LGBTQ club

Burlington coalition wants to be at the table when school district drafts plan for battling racism

DPI finds that Burlington schools failed to address ‘racially hostile environment’

ACLU joins sixth grader in saying online-only Wisconsin school should allow students to form LGBTQ club

The Project

I am working in Milwaukee’s Metcalfe Park neighborhood to mitigate the harm from foreclosures on the community. Metcalfe Park is one of the poorest areas of Milwaukee and also one of the areas most impacted by foreclosures. When we began the project, I anticipated litigating foreclosure defenses, but it has become clear that most Metcalfe homeowners have already lost their houses. Now, the goal is to mitigate the harm from abandoned homes while defending the few homeowners left in the neighborhood.