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Headshot of Rebecca Raftery

Rebecca Raftery

  • Hosted by Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
  • Sponsored by Latham & Watkins LLP
  • Service location Washington, District of Columbia
  • Law school Harvard Law School
  • Issue area Disability Rights, Education/Special Education
  • Fellowship class year 2023
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Rebecca (she/her/hers) will advocate for Black and Brown students with behavior-related disabilities who are being excluded from the classroom in D.C. She will work towards her goal through legal representation, community outreach, and education.

In the wake of COVID-19—which exacerbated youth mental health and behavior needs in D.C. and across the country—many D.C. students with behavior-related disabilities are not receiving appropriate support and are instead being excluded from the classroom through shortened school days and placement in segregated educational settings. In fact, students with disabilities in D.C. are placed in separate schools at three times the national rate. Black and Brown students with behavior-related disabilities are particularly likely to be removed from the classroom and placed in separate schools, residential programs, or hospital facilities. For many students, this school pushout can have significant long-term consequences and may lead to academic difficulties, school dropout, and ensnarement in the juvenile justice system.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Rebecca will represent D.C. students with behavior-related disabilities in special education proceedings while seeking to secure access to education in the most integrated setting appropriate. Rebecca will collaborate with community-based organizations and stakeholders, including mental health providers, social workers, and parent advocates, to conduct outreach and provide training to families to promote self-advocacy in the special education process. Rebecca will also lay the foundation for systemic litigation to address the disproportionate exclusion of Black and Brown students with behavior-related disabilities.

Rebecca’s work is informed by her prior experience as a high school special education teacher in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She is dedicated to ensuring that students with disabilities have the opportunity to learn with their peers and receive the supports they need and are entitled to.

As a special educator, I witnessed the impact of exclusionary practices on my students. I am honored to have the opportunity to fight for all children—and especially those with the highest needs—to have access to quality, inclusive education.

Rebecca Raftery /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Rebecca

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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