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
Micaela is working to prevent the escalating unlawful displacement of Oakland’s low-income tenants of color by providing direct legal services to tenants and bringing affirmative lawsuits against non-law-abiding landlords.
Rapidly rising rental rates are causing widespread displacement of low and middle-income tenants of color throughout the Bay Area. This trend is particularly acute in Oakland, where 60% of the city’s over 400,000 residents are tenants and rents rank among the highest in the nation. Poverty, cultural and linguistic barriers, and the fear of immigration consequences often make tenants unlikely to assert their rights and particularly vulnerable to displacement. Oakland’s Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance prohibits evictions of law-abiding tenants, but dishonest landlords are turning to unlawful measures to remove low-income tenants in favor of affluent professionals. Landlords falsely use the owner move-in and owner-occupancy exceptions to evict tenants, and increase rent far beyond what is legal, knowing that low-income tenants are unlikely to enforce local rent control laws. Other landlords have begun constructively evicting tenants by harassing them, illegally locking tenants out without warning, or letting housing conditions deteriorate until tenants are forced to leave.
During the Fellowship period, Micaela has:
- Run a twice-weekly walk-in legal clinic for Alameda County tenants, providing brief service to 250 clients;
- Provided full representation to 10 tenants in responding to unlawful evictions, illegal rent increases, landlord harassment, and uninhabitable living conditions;
- Managed existing affirmative litigation cases against non-law-abiding landlords;
- Identified two new cases and managed the process of preparing and filing cases with the assistance of co-counsel, including client intake, investigation, drafting of complaints, discovery, and preparation for mediation.