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Headshot of Maleeha Chida

Maleeha Chida

  • Hosted by Advocates for Children of New York, Inc.
  • Sponsored by Anonymous
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Disability Rights, Education/Special Education
  • Fellowship class year 2024
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

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

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Amanda Glass

Host: Arizona Center For Disability Law

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Teresita Ramos

Host: Disability Law Center

Sponsor: Equal Justice Works Text-to-Give

Margaret Wakelin

Host: Equip for Equality

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Sarah Bellinger

Host: Advocacy, Inc.

Sponsor: Texas Access to Justice Foundation