CCA’s educational attorneys advocate to ensure that all of Connecticut’s most vulnerable children receive equal access to an education and appropriate supports and programming whether those children have disabilities, are homeless, are committed to the Department of Children and families, are confined due to justice system involvement.
Systemic Advocacy for Educational Equity and Equality
Sheff v. O’Neill is a landmark civil rights lawsuit that seeks educational equality. The Center for Children’s Advocacy serves as lead counsel for the plaintiffs to advocate for Connecticut to uphold the constitutional rights of children in Hartford to an equal educational opportunity. Click for legal documents and history.
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities
CCA’s educational team represents countless students with disabilities in Hartford, Bridgeport and across to ensure that they receive access to appropriate services and programs. This individual representation leads to systemic advocacy efforts to foster change to benefit the most vulnerable students throughout the entire state.
- Bridgeport Public Schools failed to provide FAPE to students as a result of violations of Child Find obligations under the IDEA. Child Find requires that at the beginning of each school year, districts must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in effect for each child with a disability. The Center filed two complaints with the State Department of Education against Bridgeport Public Schools to assure delivery of services to special education students, accusing Bridgeport of failing to provide individual plans for its most vulnerable students, asking the state to intercede. The Complaints detailed numerous examples of neglect. Both were ruled in CCA’s favor.
- Norwalk Public Schools failed to provide FAPE to students as a result of violations of Child Find obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Center for Children’s Advocacy, Norwalk Attorney Robin Keller, and SEEK (Special Education Equity for Kids of CT), filed a complaint with the State Department of Education alleging systemic and pervasive violation of federal and state law, which resulted in findings favorable to the children.
- Students with disabilities in Connecticut’s adult prisons: In 2021, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CCA negotiated a settlement with the Connecticut Dept. of Corrections on behalf of the youth at the state’s adult correctional facility Manson Youth Institution (MYI) to ensure that in person educational programming was being offered to the fullest extent possible and that a virtual technology based education option was available to these students. The US Dept. of Justice later found that youth at the were being denied a free and appropriate education in terms of adequate access to services and programming. CCA remains committed to following up on the DOJ’s recommendations to ensure all students with disabilities even those who are incarcerated, are receiving appropriate services.
- English Language Learner Students with disabilities: CCA is working with the Department of Justice to ensure that families of English Language learners are receiving meaningful and appropriate access to programming and services by ensuring translation and interpretation is facilitated
- Alicia B. v. Malloy et. al: CCA negotiated a settlement agreement with the state on behalf of Black expelled children who were receiving a substandard alternative education to ensure that Tate guidance was issued to require an adequate minimum number of hours of education and appropriate supports during their expulsion period.
Reducing Exclusionary Discipline in the form of Out of School Suspensions and Expulsions in Connecticut
CCA remains committed to minimizing the use of exclusionary discipline, especially against students of color. In CCA’s settlement in Alicia B. v. Malloy, filed against the state of Connecticut as well as 3 local school districts, on behalf of Black students who are disproportionately expelled, the State committed to monitoring the use of exclusionary discipline by local school district, establishing a tiering system to identify those districts and offer supports and interventions to them. Find more information about the tiering system here.
- New Visions: Hartford Public Schools systematically and pervasively denies expelled special education students their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by failing to provide special education and related services to confer meaningful educational benefit.
Discrimination in Admissions
- CT Technical High School System; Center for Children’s Advocacy and Greater Hartford Legal Aid filed a complaint against the Connecticut Technical High School System alleging that CTHSS applied admissions policies in ways that discriminate against students with disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Alternative Education programs disproportionately serve children of color. Working with education officials, legislators, teachers and families, the CCA spearheaded reform, writing and securing passage of legislation that requires state evaluation and monitoring of programs.
CCA attorneys work with children and youth of all ages to be sure they are treated fairly and receive the supports they need for academic achievement. Every child must have the opportunity to stay in school and graduate.
Children who need special education and related services must be identified early so they get the support they need. Exclusion from school, or inability to access the curriculum, has tremendous negative impact on a child’s academic career.
The exclusion of our youngest learners, from preschool through grade 2, continues to be a particular concern in Connecticut and nationwide. In many cases, disproportionality is even more pronounced in this age group. Young boys of color tend to be excluded at rates much higher than their total representation.
We must create an environment where educators recognize trauma that can cause misbehavior. CCA works to confront cultural bias and promote mental wellness because we know that childhood experiences like violence and family dysfunction can predict academic failure.
We advocate for new laws to improve systems and policies. Connecticut law written by the Center for Children’s Advocacy includes:
Seminars and Webinars
The Center’s seminars present statewide experts on important educational issues.
- Truancy Prevention Project: Holistic Intervention
Center for Children’s Advocacy, March 2016
- Truancy Intervention: National Models and Connecticut Initiatives
Kathryn Meyer, Esq and David Goldman, Center for Children’s Advocacy, December 2015
- Blind Spot: Impact of Missed Early Warning Signs on Children’s Mental Health
Andrea Spencer, PhD, Educational Consultant to Center for Children’s Advocacy, 2012
- Truancy and Education Reports
Andrea Spencer, PhD, Educational Consultant to Center for Children’s Advocacy
– A Closer Look: Link between unmet educational needs and truancy, 2006
– Las Niñas Silenciadas: Broken links between language, culture and learning, 2009
- Views from the Inside – The Need for Systemic Review and Reform in Connecticut
Leon Smith, Center for Children’s Advocacy, Jan 2014
- Students First: Ensuring Excellence and Opportunity for Students in CT’s Juvenile Justice System Alexandra Dufresene, Marisa Halm, Leon Smith, Kathryn Meyer, Martha Stone, Center for Children’s Advocacy, Jan 2016
- Setting Young Children Up for Success: Decreasing Suspensions by Investing in Social and Emotional Development, Center for Children’s Advocacy, CHDI, Office of the Child Advocate, February 2018
- In Our Language Please: English Language Learners and Language Access in Bridgeport Public Schools; Policy and Practice Recommendations from Parents and Advocates, Center for Children’s Advocacy, Make the Road Connecticut, Yale Law School Civil Rights Project, 2017
- Stay in School: truancy prevention videos from The Village and Center for Children’s Advocacy, 2016
- Expulsion and Suspension in Early Education as Matters of Social Justice and Health Equity, Shantel E. Meek, PhD, Department of Health and Human Services, and Walter S. Gilliam, PhD, Yale University Child Study Center, October 31, 2016
- Connecticut Education Laws, Connecticut State Board of Education, January 2015
- Education vs. Incarceration: The Real Cost of Failing Our Kids
- CPTV documentary featuring Center for Children’s Advocacy executive director Martha Stone. Examines the state’s alarming incarceration of children
- US Dept of Health and Human Services and US Dept of Education – Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension Policies in Early Childhood Settings
- Charter Schools, Civil Rights, and School Discipline: A Comprehensive Review, Civil Rights Project, UCLA, March 2016
- Supportive School Discipline, Communities of Practice
- US Dept of Education and US Dept of Justice “Dear Colleague” letter on the Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline, Jan 2014
- Guidelines for Alternative Education Settings
Connecticut State Department of Education, October 2016