Paula Knudsen

The Inspiration

The Project

Darlene advocated and litigated on behalf of students with disabilities ages 14-21 in the Philadelphia region for appropriate transition services.

Darlene worked to ensure that students with disabilities ages 14 and older were receiving appropriate transition services as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Transition services are a coordinated set of activities designed to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including further education, employment, and life skills. Transition services are critical because people with disabilities are almost three times less likely to be employed as people without disabilities and students with disabilities are half as likely to enroll in a four-year college as compared to students without disabilities.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Darlene:

  • Educated over 620 students and their families about transition services
  • Trained 214 other professionals about transition services
  • Held the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Pennsylvania Department of Education accountable by publishing reports about the data they produced as required by the Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act
  • Represented parents in IEP meetings and in a due process complaint, successfully obtaining transition services such as tutoring, resume writing, and participation in extracurricular activities
  • Selected as one of 16 dynamic people under 40 shaping Philadelphia in education as part of the online publication Billy Penn’s 2019 “Who’s Next” series

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Darlene plans to continue her work at the Public Interest Law Center as a staff attorney, where she will represent more students in special education cases and expand the range of issues for representation. Darlene will also continue to develop a class action lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia for failure to provide appropriate transition services.

Media

My Impact: A Conversation with 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow Darlene Hemerka

Advocates say too many Special Ed students are not prepared for life after school

Who’s Next Education: 16 young educators helping make Philly’s future bright

Good Law | Bad Law #80 – PA Supports People with Disabilities