Elizabeth intervened in the school-to-prison pipeline for poor children with disabilities in Boston schools by advocating for their educational and mental health rights through direct representation, community legal education, and policy work.
Education is vital to escaping poverty. Unfortunately, far too many children are suspended or expelled from Boston area schools and thus deprived of a meaningful education. Students who are suspended or expelled from school are three times more likely to drop out than their peers, and students who drop out are three times more likely to be incarcerated. Students with disabilities are disproportionately funneled into this school-to-prison pipeline. Although students with disabilities are only 16 percent of the Massachusetts student body, they account for 47 percent of the disciplinary removals. Massachusetts, however, has new laws protecting the education and health care rights of these students. This project is designed to make these rights meaningful, so poor children with disabilities receive the education and health care to which they are entitled.
In the past two years, Elizabeth has:
- Protected 111 students in 73 schools from being unlawfully suspended, preventing 507 days of illegal school exclusion
- Successfully advocated for new guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education prohibiting schools’ routine practice of suspending students with disabilities without due process required by law
- Trained 742 clinicians, social workers, and health care providers on new school discipline law and special education rights, creating a system for home-and-community based mental health care clinicians to join school-based IEP Teams
- Created press attention around and filed numerous complaints regarding the suspensions of kindergartners at the Boston school with the highest number of kindergarten in the state, resulting in that school announcing it would no longer suspend kindergarten and first grade students
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Elizabeth plans to:
- Continue developing the School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project at Greater Boston Legal Services, with goal of institutionalizing educational advocacy and children’s work within this antipoverty organization
- Build on the successes over the past two years, specifically with respect to ending suspensions for very young children (ages 4-8) who have experienced trauma and/or homelessness