Learning Rights Law Center: Parents Get Help for Students
By Dianne Anderson
Parents of children with special needs or suffering inequities are invited to learn what it takes to fight discrimination in education, and get the right services for children.
Through the Legal Rights Law Center TIGER program (Training Individuals for Grassroots Education Reform), parents can access advocacy tools, receive templates for how to write a complaint, and learn to contest inequities that their children are facing in the system.
“We want to empower parents to have the tools and confidence to fight for their own students. However sometimes the parents cannot do enough, and need a lawyer to help them get what they want,” said Randi Sunshine, Executive Director of the Learning Rights Law Center.
To qualify, clients must live at or below 250% of the federal poverty line.
Free webinars are available. Now into the new school year, she said they are helping families understand the impact of school closures, and what to expect through the reopening.
Another issue their organization sees a lot of is that parents are not accessing services because they are unaware that their children qualify for benefits. She said many programs fall outside the scope of standard education programming.
Accommodations are not just limited to learning or intellectual developmental disabilities. One example of a special education need may be a student with cerebral palsy that doesn’t have the physical coordination to draw a circle in geometry class. They understand math and can conceptualize geometry.
“She may need an accommodation. She might have to do her homework in a different way that shows that she understands the concept, but not have to draw the circle,” Sunshine said.
Their center got involved when they looked at the census data, and realized there was a great local need for legal assistance. Previously, she said programs were geared more toward Latinx needs, but recent funding has allowed them to bring best practices serving Orange County and other gateway communities.
The organization wants families to learn how the best steps for their children’s education.
“Parents will come to sit down one on one with the legal professional, who will tell them specifically what they need to do to move their case forward. Or, take the problem to their legal department to see if the family can qualify for direct representation,” she said.
Sunshine said it is troubling to see how Black children are disciplined in school more harshly and more severely than non-Black students. Through their Racial Equity in Education Program, the center approaches the school system first, showing the inequity and, if they can’t get it resolved, take it to the next level.
“If it’s too severe, we look at the whole district and say that your Black students are 2-10 times more likely to be suspended than the average student. First, we’d fight for the student to make sure they could return to the school,” she said.
The center puts the school on notice that they need to look at how their discipline is being meted out. In Orange County where there are predominantly white school districts, she said they handle complaints and cases related to discrimination, and unfair expulsion and suspensions of Black students.
“We are aware of it, that’s why we’re taking our steps into it right now, but we’ve just started,” she said.
In the next academic year, they expect to set up education rights clinics, and hope to partner with local law departments at Orange County colleges and universities who have expressed interest in helping with outreach.
Help is available for all qualifying parents or individuals that want to learn more about their rights and access to resources related to all areas of educational inequity.
“Within that program, we have started a racial equity in education project, because history has shown us that there are racial inequalities in education going on. We knew we needed to do more outreach to African American families,” she said.
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