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Headshot of Mary Merkel

Mary Merkel

  • Hosted by The Bronx Defenders
  • Sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP
  • Service location Bronx, New York
  • Law school University of Virginia School of Law
  • Issue area Children/Youth, Education/Special Education
  • Fellowship class year 2023
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Mary (she/her/hers) will work to prevent inappropriate school discipline and suspensions for students with disabilities in the Bronx. She also aims to ensure better outcomes in juvenile court and to advocate on behalf of incarcerated youth at Rikers Island who do not receive proper educational services or support.

Many of the adolescent clients at The Bronx Defenders are students with disabilities who have not received the services and support to which they are legally entitled. As a result, these students are pushed into segregated settings where they face higher rates of inappropriate school discipline, including police referrals, restraint use, and suspensions. Students who face suspensions are not guaranteed representation in the often-complex disciplinary hearings which can have serious and lasting effects on the student’s education and any criminal legal charges they may be facing. If these students are ultimately incarcerated, they are actively discouraged from attending school and are highly unlikely to receive the education they are legally mandated to receive.

Mary’s experience as a teacher and her time interning in special education law in New York City shaped her desire to advocate for better outcomes for students with disabilities in the Bronx.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Mary will provide individual representation to adolescent clients with disabilities at The Bronx Defenders, including clients who are incarcerated at Rikers Island. She will represent students at every stage of special education hearings, as well as at suspension hearings. Further, Mary will provide Know Your Rights trainings and materials for parents of students in the Bronx so that they are able to advocate effectively for their children.

As a former elementary school teacher, I understand the critical difference that proper special education services can make for students, and I am proud to work to dismantle the school to prison pipeline.

Mary Merkel /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Mary

View All

Christina Campbell

Host: Center For Educational Excellence In Alternative Settings

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Paul Easton

Host: Children's Law Center of Massachusetts

Sponsor: Biogen, Mintz

Sarah Bellinger

Host: Advocacy, Inc.

Sponsor: Texas Access to Justice Foundation

Photo of Kate Divasto

Kate DiVasto

Host: Youth Advocacy Foundation

Sponsor: Baker Botts L.L.P., Dell Technologies

Current Fellow