Projects, Units & Initiatives
The Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project (EAP) and the Education Law Project (ELP) provide Early Intervention, general education, special education, and suspension hearing advocacy for kids in New York City. ELP primarily assists parents of kids with disabilities who are not getting the supports and services they are entitled to under the law. EAP does similar work, but 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 an attorney for help with education issues.
If you have a pending school suspension hearing, and were arrested as a result of the incident for which you are being suspended, please call our Suspension Hotline at 718-250-4510.
If you are not involved in a Family Court or Criminal Court case, and your child has been suspended or if you have other concerns regarding your child’s education, you can ask for help, by calling The Legal Aid’s Civil Access to Benefits helpline at 888-663-6880.
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, ELP 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.
EAP also submitted a brief as amicus curiae in the case of ZQ, a case currently pending before the Second Circuit, which seeks to compel the DOE to create a system to ensure that all students with disabilities who did not receive their mandated services during Covid-19 are provided with compensatory services.
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.
In 2022 EAP/ELP collaborated with community organizations to provide new immigrants to New York City with information about the educational rights of students, including enrollment and registration, rights of homeless students, language access, and more.
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/ELP 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/ELP also participates in impact litigation to advance our clients’ rights.
ELP provides education advocacy to families and students who receive mental health services and/or evaluations through a variety of clinics and community partners such as the PROMISE Program at NYP/Columbia, Mount Sinai Morningside’s Child and Family Institute, Lenox Hill and Montefiore’s Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation & Rehabilitation Center. In collaboration with clinicians, we help ensure that students receive the emotional, behavioral and academic supports they need to succeed in school.
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 (ACS) charged the family with neglect for failing to send him to school. EAP helped the family by having the child re-evaluated through the 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, ACS 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. EAP requested an impartial hearing against the DOE, alleging that the DOE had violated JG’s right to receive a free appropriate public education for years during which it had failed to provide services to remediate JG’s dyslexia and attention weaknesses. After a hearing JG was awarded 600 hours of private tutoring to help bring him up to a grade appropriate reading 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.
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 advocated for the Department of Education to create an office dedicated to supporting students in foster care. In 2021, EAP and Advocates for Children of New York published a report setting forth the need for such an office. In 2022, the Department of Education began staffing a 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.
Last Updated: 6 October 2022
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