CRC Newsletter
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CRC Newsletter

Advocating for Equitable Education

By Caitlin Whalan, Council for Children’s Rights and in collaboration with Laura Leftwich, CRC Member

During the 2019–2020 school year, about seven million students nationwide received some measure of special education services. While this number is staggering, it still only accounts for those students whose needs have actually been identified. Council for Children’s Rights has worked on behalf of these students for years, in and around Mecklenburg County, in various capacities. However, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to reimagine the ways in which they serve. It intensified the pre-existing inequities in the public school system and created additional new concerns for students with disabilities.

In response to these new needs and challenges, the Education Law Program (ELP) was created. Through ELP, the Council for Children’s Rights has expanded their services and opened the door for free legal representation to even more students. The services are divided into four distinct areas of advocacy: education advocacy for individual families, education navigation for court-involved youth, systemic work, and trainings.

ELP accepts referrals from individual families in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties in need of education advocacy. They seek to help the parents/legal guardians of students who have special education, Section 504, or school discipline-related issues and may need legal representation. The nature of the representation will vary depending on the needs of the family but may include things like assisting with a school suspension appeal or attending school meetings alongside the parent/legal guardians.

Education navigation supports students involved in the Mecklenburg County juvenile court system facing educational challenges. For example, take a student with a disability that has just entered foster care. Their foster family may have no experience with special education generally, let alone that student’s specific needs. The navigator would interview the student, foster family, and any other individual with knowledge of the student’s needs, review relevant school and medical records, and develop a written report intended to help the student and their foster family understand and support the student’s education needs and rights.

Through the Council for Children’s Rights’ systemic work, they are able to strategically elevate issues that affect some of the most vulnerable students. As a small team, they cannot individually assist every family that needs support with education advocacy. Addressing these issues at a systems-level allows their work to have a greater impact in the community.

Beyond these specific advocacy efforts, they also offer free trainings to community partners, parent groups and other interested individuals. The trainings cover a range of topics related to education advocacy, such as special education evaluations and eligibility, Section 504 Plans, school discipline and bullying. A deliberate effort is made to engage with the community as it is a learning experience for us all. Nobody knows what the community needs better than the community itself. By centering their efforts on the actual people they intend to help, the Council for Children’s Rights can ensure their services remain relevant and achieve practical, meaningful outcomes.

For education advocacy for individual families, contact: GetHelp@cfcrights.org or 704.943.9609

For education navigation, contact: ELP@cfcrights.org or 704.943.9611

For training opportunities, contact: ELP@cfcrights.org or 704.372.7961

The Council for Children’s Rights recently presented information about their programs to the CRC Education & Young Leaders subcommittee. The CRC continues to seek opportunities to partner with organizations serving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community.

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