Before attending law school, Kate Gladson, now a Staff Attorney in LAF’s Children and Families Practice Group, worked as a middle school teacher in Kansas City. During the summer after her first year of teaching, her school district closed nearly half of its 61 schools. “Seeing how that impacted my students—especially those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans—that was a huge source of inspiration for me to pursue a career in education law,” Kate says.
School closings are a familiar topic among Chicagoans. In 2013, Chicago Public Schools closed 50 schools—the largest one-time school closure in US history—despite extensive backlash. Kate joined LAF as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in 2014, shortly after the mass closings, to focus on protecting the educational rights of the thousands of low-income students who were impacted. “When a school is closed, a large number of students’ educational experience is disrupted,” she says. That disruption can have lasting consequences—particularly for students with special needs. “Records can go missing, there can be delays in implementing IEPs, and sometimes students are assigned to a school that doesn’t have the resources to meet their needs.”
That’s where LAF comes in. Whether it’s advocating for changes to a student’s IEP if their needs aren’t being fully addressed or representing children in foster care, LAF attorneys like Kate are committed to fighting for appropriate educational programming for all children in Cook County. “We are trying to ensure that students make educational progress and eventually become self-sustaining adults. It is one of the best, most proactive ways to improve life outcomes for young people.”