Legal Aid Society

Projects, Units & Initiatives

Education Advocacy Project and Education Law Project

The Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project (EAP) and Education Law Project (ELP) provide Early Intervention, general education, special education, and suspension hearing advocacy for children and youth in New York City. ELP assists low-income families in New York City. EAP focuses more specifically on youth who are involved in child welfare and juvenile delinquency cases in New York City Family Court.

If The Legal Aid Society represents you or your child in a Family Court or Criminal Court case, you can reach out to the attorney for help with education issues.

If you are not involved in a Family Court or Criminal Court case, you can ask for help by calling The Legal Aid’s Civil Access to Benefits helpline at 888-663-6880.

COVID-19 Response

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated a number of issues and challenges, especially for students and families who did not have access to technology or internet service. EAP and ELP worked with the Department of Education (DOE) to ensure that children in homeless shelters and children in foster care would have first priority to receive DOE internet-enabled iPads. As it became clear that remote learning would be in place for a long time, LAS pushed DOE to consistently provide mandated special education services to students with disabilities, plan for transportation for students in blended learning as schools have gradually reopened, and prioritize students in homeless shelters and foster care for free childcare centers.

In November 2020, LAS filed a federal law suit against New York City for failing to provide internet service in homeless shelters, which deprived homeless students of their right to receive educational services during the pandemic. Within weeks, the City contracted with internet service providers and arranged for expedited installment. This allowed thousands of students to reconnect to their schools through remote and hybrid instruction.

In 2020, EAP partnered with Homework Helpers Inc. to distribute headphones, keyboard attachments and chargers to over 250 clients. This equipment helped facilitate clients’ full participation in remote learning. In 2021, EAP worked with Hearst Communications to provide 100 clients with “back-to-school” backpacks containing essential school supplies.

Direct Advocacy and Consultations

Each year, EAP/ELP represents over 600 children in matters pertaining to education. In addition, EAP/ELP provides brief consultations in over 1,000 cases. EAP/ELP advocates for appropriate special education placements and services, represents students at suspension hearings, protects students’ rights to school stability when they enter foster care, advises students about alternative schools and high school equivalency programs, troubleshoots problems with enrollment and registration, helps students secure school transfers, consults with students about promotion and graduation requirements, and enforces homeless student rights.


EAP/ELP offers trainings to community members, medical and mental health providers, parent groups, school staff, and players in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Frequent training topics include Early Intervention for children birth to age three, preschool special education, school-age special education, school suspensions, accessing student records, and school stability for children in foster care.

Policy Work

EAP/ELP engages in systemic advocacy to protect and define the educational rights of students, including those who are involved in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. EAP collaborates with city and state agencies to ensure the development of laws, regulations, policies and procedures that address the challenges that children and families face when trying to access educational services. EAP also participates in impact litigation to advance our clients’ rights.

Medical-Legal Partnership

ELP provides education advocacy to families and students who receive mental health services through Mt. Sinai-St. Luke’s Child and Family Institute. In collaboration with clinicians, we help ensure that students receive the emotional, behavioral and academic supports they need to succeed in school.

Our Impact

L was a nine year-old child on the autism spectrum. His parents had withdrawn him from school because they were afraid he was being mistreated during the school day. The Administration for Children’s Services charged the family with neglect for failing to send him to school. EAP helped the family by having the child re-evaluated through the Department of Education (DOE), advocating for an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP), and finding a more appropriate school placement. L began attending school again. As a result of EAP’s advocacy, the Administration for Children’s Services withdrew the case against the family.

JG is a bright student who was entering second grade when he was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. Even though he had been receiving special education services since kindergarten, JG still could not write his own name when he was in third grade, and his reading ability was stuck at a kindergarten level. At the end of third grade, the DOE agreed to place JG in a special education school specifically designed to teach children with dyslexia. EAP sued the DOE, alleging that the two years in which it failed to provide services specifically designed to remediate JG’s dyslexia and attention weaknesses violated his right to a free appropriate public education. After a hearing, JG was awarded 600 hours of private tutoring.

J was a fourteen year-old student who was suspended from school for allegedly throwing a snowball at his teacher’s back. EAP subpoenaed school security footage that showed J and several other students leave the school building unsupervised during the middle of the day, play in the snow, and return ten minutes later. Further video footage revealed that J did not throw the snowball in question. Citing J’s involvement, the school still requested a 90-day school suspension. The case was immediately dismissed by the hearing officer and J returned to school the next day.

In 2015, EAP was appointed to participate in two Working Groups convened by the Mayor’s Leadership Team on School Climate and Discipline. The group published two reports with sweeping recommendations for improvements.

In 2017, EAP/ELP participated as amicus curiae in the Endrew F. case, helping to convince the Supreme Court that school districts must be held to a higher standard for educating students with disabilities.

For years, EAP and other organizations have advocated for the Department of Education to create an office dedicated to supporting students in foster care. EAP and Advocates for Children of New York published a report setting forth the need for such an office. In 2021, the Department of Education announced that it would fund and staff a 9-person team devoted to improving policy and educational outcomes for students in foster care.

EAP/ELP frequently testifies before City Council and other governmental entities on topics affecting our clients, including deficiencies in the provision of special education services for students with disabilities, educational services for incarcerated youth, school stability and transportation for students in foster care, and school discipline policies.