Abigail Adkins

The Project

Abigail’s Fellowship served to improve school safety by advocating for the provision of comprehensive school- and community-based mental health services for at-risk students.

Children with behavioral health challenges are often identified as disciplinary problems or safety threats, rather than provided with the types of educational support services that would allow them to remain in the classroom. This project sought to advocate for students to receive nonpunitive interventions that prevent the escalation of risky behaviors and ensure schools are safe, supportive learning environments for all kids.

Prior to law school, Abigail worked with children in out-of-home care who had mental health needs and developmental disabilities, seeing the difference made by behavioral health services inspired her to advocate for systemic reforms to make school a safer, more welcoming place for all students.

Fellowship Highlights

  • Advocated for students with mental health needs to receive accommodations for their emotional wellbeing, thus reducing class time lost to ineffective disciplinary measures or crisis interventions.
  • Won settlements for young children who experienced repeated restraint, removal, and involuntary psychiatric examination without the consent of their parents while in school.
  • Prevailed at an administrative due process hearing for violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on behalf of a student who cycled through hospitals, juvenile detention centers, and different schools because of her disability, but was not receiving consistent, non-confrontational behavior interventions services as required by her IEP.
  • Collaborated with state and national civil rights organizations to challenge policies that criminalize rather than provide behavioral services to youth for conduct related to their disabilities.

Next Steps

After the fellowship, Abigail will continue advocating for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities to get necessary services at school and in their communities. Abigail will join Southern Legal Counsel as a full-time attorney with the Children’s Legal Services Keep Kids in School Project.

Media

Helping Students Back to School Amid Uncertainty

FAMU Law Graduate Selected for Equal Justice Works 2019 Class Of Fellows

Too many children are perceived as merely “bad,” when a complex set of environmental and biological variables may impact their ability to function at the same levels as their peers.

Abigail Adkins /
Equal Justice Works Fellow