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Defending Public Schools

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By Katherine Gladson, 2014 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the Albert & Anne Mansfield Foundation

Photo of Katherine Gladson
Photo of Katherine Gladson

I applied for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship because I knew that I wanted a career in public interest law, serving children and families in need. Unfortunately, openings for new staff attorney positions in legal aid can be few and far between, and I quickly discovered that getting a job in this area after law school would prove very challenging. I will always be deeply grateful to Equal Justice Works and my Fellowship sponsor, the Albert & Anne Mansfield Family Foundation, for making it possible for me to pursue my Fellowship project and to start my career at Legal Aid Chicago.

The goal of my Fellowship project was to serve students and families who were impacted by school closings and other forms of school district restructuring in Chicago. My Fellowship started in the fall of 2014, in the wake of the 49 school closings within Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Legal Aid Chicago already had several attorneys practicing education law, so I had the immediate benefit of working with and learning from experts in this area. However, being in a Fellowship position—as opposed to a staff attorney position—allowed me to exclusively focus my case work, research, and outreach on students and communities that were affected by school closings and expand Legal Aid Chicago’s work related to this issue.

My proudest experience at Legal Aid Chicago was being a part of the legal team that successfully represented students, parents, and community groups in challenging a CPS school closing decision. About a year after my Fellowship ended, we had the opportunity to work with parents and community members to prevent the closure of National Teachers Academy (NTA). NTA is—and was at the time CPS decided to close it—a high-performing elementary school that predominantly serves African American students and students from low-income households. CPS wanted to close NTA so that its building could be used to open a new high school. Legal Aid Chicago partnered with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Eimer Stahl LLP to file a five-count complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction, challenging CPS’s violations of the Illinois Civil Rights Act and the Illinois School Code. In December 2018, in a courtroom packed with NTA parents and supporters, we won the preliminary injunction. Better yet, that evening CPS wholly withdrew its plan to close NTA. The research, resources, and relationships that I was able to develop during my Fellowship were invaluable throughout this process. Ultimately, I would not have had the opportunity to be involved in this case if not for my Fellowship.

I recently joined the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center as a staff attorney. At the Children’s Law Center, I will continue working on education matters, but also expand to other practice and policy areas that impact children in need. I could not be more thankful to make this transition with the skills and experiences that my Fellowship experience gave me. Working for Legal Aid Chicago, with training and support from Equal Justice Works, taught me the foundational skills of being a legal aid attorney. I learned everything from the basics (how to conduct a client intake, analyze case acceptance decisions, manage my caseload), to the big picture (how to track and report advocacy outcomes, how to build relationships with community partners), and everything in between. Equal Justice Works also gave me a community of other new legal aid attorneys to learn from, collaborate with, and to lean on when things get stressful. I cannot imagine a better way to have started my legal career.

To learn more about Katherine Gladson’s project, view her Fellow profile.

The research, resources, and relationships that I was able to develop during my Fellowship were invaluable throughout this process.

Katherine Gladson /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow