2013 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Aimee Rodriguez

Aimee Rodriguez

Name of Host Organization: Equip for Equality
City, State: Chicago, Illinois
Issue area: Education/Special Education
Sponsors: Aon Corporation; Kirkland & Ellis LLP

The Project

Aimee represented students with disabilities who are required to participate in court diversion programs (court-diverted students) to address their educational needs in order to prevent school exclusion, increase academic achievement, and decrease recidivism.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project: 
Students with disabilities are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system and are in critical need of representation to obtain the educational services necessary to prevent recidivism. Student suspensions often lead to expulsions and court referrals, so it is particularly alarming that Chicago Public Schools suspended 42 percent of all students with disabilities at least once in 2010, as compared to the national rate of 13 percent. It is also troubling that there were 11,225 school-based arrests in Chicago from 2009-2010 because students with disabilities are more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system when they are suspended, expelled, or arrested. Intervention is critical at the early juncture when students with disabilities are diverted from court so as to ensure they receive the educational supports they need to remain in school and out of the court system.
Fellowship Highlights: 
During her Fellowship, Aimee has:
• Provided 220 families of students with disabilities and others calling on their behalf with self-advocacy assistance or direct legal representation to prevent expulsions; place students in their appropriate least restrictive environments; evaluate students’ eligibility for special education services; and create appropriate Individualized Education Programs, 504 Plans, and Behavior Intervention Plans
• Shared information with 347 attendees at 16 outreach events on her project and the special education rights of court-diverted students with disabilities
• Trained 312 attorneys, paralegals, probation officers, mental health professionals, disability and educational advocates, community service providers, and teachers at 16 training events focused on the special education rights of students with disabilities involved in school-based discipline incidents
What's Next: 
Where are they now?: 
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Aimee continues to work at Equip for Equality's Special Education Clinic, ensuring that all students have access to the educational opportunities they need to succeed.

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