Attorney at Duane Morris from 1995-2007
Currently Senior Staff Attorney at the Education Law Center
Q: What made you decide to work for the Education Law Center (ELC) after practicing at Duane Morris for 13 years?
A: In 2007, I was a Special Counsel in the Trial Practice Group and was referred to a pro bono case by (Chief Diversity Officer) Nolan Atkinson and (Pro Bono Counsel) Nicole Friant. It was an appeal in federal court on behalf of a parent who wanted to obtain special-education services for her child. I worked with Nicole on that case and consulted with the Education Law Center. We were able to obtain a successful settlement for the child who had been overlooked and lost in school. In fact, I'm still in touch with him. He emailed me this year to tell me what courses he was taking in a community college where he also works. It felt great doing that type of work. When a position opened at the Education Law Center that year, I felt it was the right move to make.
Q: Describe your role at the Education Law Center.
A: The Education Law Center represents educationally at-risk children and seeks to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public school. As Senior Staff Attorney, I represent children who are in the child welfare system and children who are homeless. They are very vulnerable kids. For example, only one-third of kids in the child welfare system graduate from high school on time. We take on a variety of cases on behalf of these children and also engage in policy advocacy at the local, state and national levels. For example, we were involved in a class action lawsuit on behalf of 60 children living in a group home who were denied equal access to a local school district. Rather than attending the regular high school or middle school, they were placed in a "transition classroom" that offered a limited education program. Now all these children attend a regular school. In another recent case, I represented a child whose home burned down. Despite a federal law that allowed him to continue to attend his home school, he was denied enrollment in that school and he was turned away from the school district where he lived doubled up with another family. By the time his grandmother called ELC, he had been out of school for six months. We filed a preliminary injunction in federal court, and the court ordered the school district to enroll him.
Q: Why is this the right role for you?
A: In this job, I am always struck by the enormous chasm between the education that we can give our children and the kind of education a child receives in a poor, underfunded school district. When I enter a school and meet with clients in these schools, I realize that the overwhelming message to children is: You don't matter. You will fail. Some of the schools even look and operate like prisons. It is so difficult to believe that you are destined for something great when this is where you are each day. I had a client who said to me one day, "Why did you pick me to help? There are thousands of kids like me. You should help them too." And it's true. The Education Law Center does that. They take on cases that help lots of kids. They also collaborate with school districts and state agencies to improve schools. They understand the importance of collaborating to get results for kids and litigating when it is necessary.
Q: What skills did you hone at Duane Morris?
A: I learned so much in the litigation group, including how to manage a case and how to think strategically about remedies, and also improved my legal skills through different experiences. Now that I'm in a position to call on private law firms for help in litigation matters, I know how to effectively delegate assignments and utilize the skills of both new and seasoned attorneys in the private bar.
Q: What do you want other attorneys to know about this work? What can they do to help at-risk children?
A: They can make an incredible difference in the life of a child. Improving a child's education changes the trajectory. A child who drops out of school is eight times more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to be homeless, etc. Especially for a child in foster care, education is often the only opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. It changes communities. We need to focus on it.
To learn more, visit the Education Law Center online at http://www.elc-pa.org.