LAF’s Education Law team are a quiet group, but they are dedicated champions for the rights of children. They work every day to demand that children in Chicago’s public schools – including charter schools – receive the quality education they deserve. Members of the Ed Law team recently shared the story of Isaiah, a student for whom LAF’s services ensured he can succeed in a supportive school environment.
After his kindergarten year, Isaiah’s neighborhood public school was closed by the district. His mother enrolled him in a charter school for the next year, and requested an evaluation for special education services to help with some emerging behavioral issues related to his diagnosis of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She received no response. In a new environment and with no support, six-year-old Isaiah’s behavior only got more disruptive and dangerous. The school held multiple conferences with his mother, but never began an evaluation for special education services for the first grader. The charter school ignored every warning sign that Isaiah had a disability and needed special education help. Instead, the school repeatedly called emergency mental health support services from the State, which ended up sending him to three different psychiatric hospitals in four months, and they refused to let him return to school.
That’s when Isaiah’s family came to LAF for help. LAF’s attorneys filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which sided with Isaiah on every count: the charter school had failed to identify Isaiah’s need for special education services, and failed to provide the special education services that Isaiah had every right to receive due to his disability. OCR ordered a full independent evaluation that resulted in a robust individualized education program (IEP) for Isaiah and required that he attend a specialized special education school focused on emotional disabilities. OCR also required the staff at his old charter school be educated on the laws surrounding special education..
Two years later, Isaiah is in third grade at his specialized school. Just last week, Isaiah’s mom called LAF and shared that he made the honor roll. He is doing well in school, his behavioral issues are under control, and he is thriving. Hopefully, he will be able to transition to a neighborhood school soon. LAF is proud of the progress Isaiah has made in the new supportive environment he is entitled to have. We are committed to standing up for the rights of all students with disabilities in our education system, and to ensuring that everyone has a fair chance to succeed in school.
LAF stands up to bullies.
Every day, the attorneys, paralegals, and staff at LAF work tirelessly to defend people living in poverty from those who would prey on them. We have protected seniors from scheming contractors looking to take advantage of them. We have faced down slumlords refusing to provide adequate and safe living conditions for their renters. We have litigated against abusive spouses and murderous boyfriends trying to hurt or kill. We have fought back against overworked government offices discriminating against the poor, the minority, and the disabled. And we have stood with immigrants and victims of human trafficking as they have sought their fair share of the American Dream – and you can read more about one of those immigrants’ stories in our January eNewsletter here.
In a world where it may seem like the bullies are winning, LAF is still here to make it a fair fight. We are committed to ensuring that justice doesn’t depend on financial influence. We are committed to proving that the lives of people living in poverty matter. We are committed to showing, every day, that standing up to bullies at every level is what makes America great.
Thank you for your standing up with us.
Chicago’s local NPR station, WBEZ, aired an hour-long story and reflection this morning about an elementary school in North Lawndale, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Many of LAF’s clients live in that neighborhood and others that face similar challenges. The story is called The View From Room 205, and it paints a picture of the poverty and danger that one classroom of fourth graders live in every day. Linda Lutton’s reporting brings some context to the myth of education as the great equalizer between rich and poor. It weaves a tapestry of standardized testing, Martin Luther King, Jr, education reform, gentrification, gang killings, school closings, food deserts, and ultimately asks whether even the most well-intentioned schools are enough to help people pull their families out of poverty for good.
Check it out in its entirety here: http://interactive.wbez.org/room205.
From an early age, LAF’s IT Supervisor Eric Fong knew he wanted to work with computers. “I like being able to teach people new ways of doing things that will save them time,” he says. “I try to be a force multiplier—so that people are able to do their jobs more efficiently.”
He first became familiar with civil justice issues during college, when we worked on a project for Illinois Legal Aid Online. “I knew I wanted to work at a place where I’d be excited to contribute, and LAF’s mission really spoke to me,” he reflects. “And even though I’m not a lawyer, I can put my skills to use helping lawyers. And I think that’s important.”
In Eric’s more than ten years at LAF, he’s worked hard to ensure everything runs smoothly and efficiently so LAF can increase its capacity to serve people in need. He describes the staff’s sincerity and dedication as what keeps him excited to come to work each day. “I see people when they’re at their most frustrated. But no matter how much they’ve been worn down by a difficult case or whatever it is they’re dealing with, I know it’s all because they care so much about the work. And that means I never have a bad day here.”
Like Eric, your support keeps LAF up and running—so that more people can get the legal assistance they need to protect their homes, families, and livelihood. Make your tax-deductible donation for 2016 today at www.lafchicago.org.
On top of physical and emotional trauma, victims of violent crimes are often burdened with overwhelming financial costs. Through the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Program, victims and their families can apply to be reimbursed for expenses accrued as a result of a violent crime, such as medical costs and loss of earnings. However, many victims aren’t aware that such a program exists, forcing them to bear the full financial burden themselves as they try to heal physical and emotional wounds. “Information on the Compensation Program is in a small box on the back of the police report. Without advocacy and community outreach, a lot of victims don’t even know the program exists,” says Denise Davis, Crime Victim Advocate at LAF.
In her nearly 25 years at LAF, Denise has provided support to countless victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other violent crimes. From writing letters to creditors on behalf of her clients so they’ll put collection efforts on hold, to reaching out to doctors and dentists to see if they’d be willing to provide their services, Denise goes above and beyond to make sure her clients get what they need to be able to rebound from their victimization. “It’s about doing what we can to help them be whole again.”
Individual contributions enable Denise to continue supporting crime victims as they fight to get their lives back on track. Help LAF start the new year strong by making your tax-deductible donation for 2016 today at www.lafchicago.org.
Shortly after graduating college, Ian Jackson and his roommates ran into an issue with their landlord. Frustrated and unsure how to proceed, they reached out to student legal services for guidance. After meeting with a legal assistant, they took the issue to small claims court and won their case. “That experience inspired me to go to law school,” Ian says. “That feeling of empowerment was something I wanted to be able to offer to other people—more agency in their own lives, facing their own challenges.”
As a Fellowship Attorney in LAF’s Housing Practice Group, Ian now works directly with people in poverty to ensure they have a safe, affordable place to live. “Having a decent, stable place to live is one of the basic foundations of life,” he says. And with a stable foundation, individuals and families can build better, healthier lives. “It’s often a stepping stone for people to move in a different direction with their lives or recover from a setback, or take steps to move forward with various goals for themselves and their families.”
Your support helps LAF move forward, so that attorneys like Ian can empower more people to build better lives for themselves and their families. Make your tax-deductible contribution for 2016 at www.lafchicago.org.