Jailed students in Massachusetts sue Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over special ed access (Boston Herald)

 

On April 17th, the Boston Herald’s Rick Sobey wrote about the lawsuit against DESE filed by three incarcerated students. The students argue that they are not being provided special ed instruction and services in houses of correction. Read the excerpt below, which includes a quote from Phil Kassel of Mental Health Legal Services.


A group of jailed men have sued the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over special education access for incarcerated students.

The three men between 18 and 22 on Tuesday filed the class-action lawsuit against DESE for reportedly not providing special ed instruction and services in houses of correction — which they’re entitled to under state law.

“DESE’s failure to uphold its legal obligation to provide adequate education to incarcerated youth is unacceptable,” Phil Kassel of the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee said in a statement.

“Every student, regardless of their circumstances, deserves access to a quality education that meets their individual needs,” Kassel added. ““We are committed to fighting for the rights of these vulnerable individuals and holding DESE accountable for its failures.”

The three men are being represented by the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee and the EdLaw Project of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

Read more at the Boston Herald.

MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker Testifies at Joint Ways and Means Hearing for FY25 Budget

BOSTON, March 19 2024 – Today, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Executive Director Lynne Parker will testify before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means in support of MLAC’s FY25 budget request. In her remarks, Parker will request $55 million for MLAC’s line item (0321-1600), emphasizing the tremendous need for civil legal aid services across the Commonwealth.

MLAC is the largest funder of Massachusetts civil legal aid programs. Individuals and families with an annual income at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for civil legal aid funded through MLAC’s line item. In 2024, that threshold is $39,000 for a family of four and $18,825 for an individual. 13% of the state population meets these eligibility requirements.

“Unlike in criminal cases, people do not have a constitutional right to an attorney in most civil legal cases,” Parker says. “The civil legal aid organizations MLAC funds help people with low incomes solve serious legal problems that impact their most basic needs, including housing, domestic safety, economic stability, employment, health care, education, and more.” By promoting equal access to legal representation and resources, civil legal aid helps ensure that a person’s income does not determine the outcome of their case or impact their ability to stay safely housed, employed, retain access to health care, or access other vital services.

“In recent years, increased investments in MLAC’s line item have helped legal aid organizations turn away fewer qualified people who seek their help,” Parker says, noting that this proves the legislature’s ongoing support is having a tangible impact. “Still,” she continues, “about 50% of people who are eligible and seek help cannot be represented due to funding limitations. While progress is admirable, significant need for civil legal services remains.”

Parker explains that demand for civil legal aid has increased across many issue areas during the past three fiscal years (FY20-23), including housing, employment, income maintenance, family law, and consumers’ rights.

In FY23, MLAC-funded legal aid organizations resolved 26,458 cases, and their work benefitted more than 95,600people. In total, civil legal aid secured an estimated $100 million in economic benefits for the Commonwealth and its residents – including benefits secured for clients and savings obtained for the state (including shelter costs).

“To meet demand, increase and retain staffing, and expand partnerships and outreach, our state’s legal aid organizations need more funding,” Parker states.

Legal aid is a vital service and essential part of the state’s safety net. Residents in 95% of cities and towns across Massachusetts were assisted by civil legal aid. MLAC will continue to advocate for the House and Senate to fund its $55 million line-item request in their respective budgets. Governor Healey’s budget proposal, released in January, allocated $50.5 million for civil legal aid.

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Intake Specialist/Paralegal – VRLC

Organization:

Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC) is a nonprofit law center that provides free legal representation to victims of rape and sexual assault in Massachusetts and Oregon and national training and support for lawyers and advocates on the civil legal needs of rape and sexual assault victims. VRLC’s mission is to provide legal representation to survivors of sexual violence to help rebuild their lives; and to promote a national movement committed to seeking justice for every rape and sexual assault victim.

All applicants must support VRLC’s mission and philosophy regarding our commitment to improving the response to sexual violence, empowerment, and inclusiveness. This position will be filled by someone with a strong work ethic, a passion for mission-driven work, and a commitment to addressing the needs of marginalized communities.

VRLC strives to build and strengthen a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This includes building a team that reflects the diversity of the communities and professionals we serve. Research suggests that qualified women, Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color may self-select out of opportunities if they don’t meet 100% of the job requirements. People of color, LGBTQIA2S+ individuals, survivors, immigrants, and people with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply for this position. The VRLC will gladly assist applicants in need of accommodation. For assistance, contact humanresources@victimrights.org.

Description:

The Intake Specialist/Paralegal is the first contact clients have with VRLC. The specialist will conduct phone screenings with sexual assault survivors seeking legal assistance and provide support to attorneys representing sexual assault survivors.

Responsibilities:

  • Conduct initial phone screenings with sexual assault survivors seeking civil legal assistance and/or criminal justice advocacy in Massachusetts
  • Assess potential clients for eligibility for services and provide referrals
  • Assist attorneys with legal casework and other administrative tasks related to direct client representation such as:
    • Drafting client correspondence
    • Using DocuSign to secure client signatures on legal documents
    • Requesting audio recordings of court hearings
    • Drafting and filing court pleadings
    • Conducting legal research using LexisNexis
    • Drafting legal memoranda as assigned, and
    • Compiling reporting data for state and federal funding
  • Assist clients in gathering assault-related information and documents for their legal cases in the areas of housing, education law, employment, immigration, privacy hearings, protection orders, benefits, and victim compensation
  • Work collaboratively with the direct services team focused on meeting the legal needs of survivors
  • Attend outreach events, meetings, and trainings virtually and throughout the Commonwealth related to addressing sexual violence to build relationships with organizations working with survivors in Massachusetts
  • Other duties as assigned

Required Qualifications:

  • Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite
  • Highly motivated, organized, and able to handle several tasks at once
  • Attention to detail and follow-through
  • Fluency in Spanish or Portuguese

Preferred Qualifications:

  • B.A./B.S. and/or relevant work experience
  • Experience working with trauma survivors and/or underserved communities
  • Experience working in a law office

Salary Range: A salary within the range of $40,000-$45,000 (+ language use stipend) will be provided to the successful candidate. The salary within this range will be determined by the years of relevant experience they bring and with consideration given to VRLC’s internal compensation matrix.
Please note that this range has been established within an internal salary matrix.

Benefits:

  • 19 paid vacation days
  • 12 paid holidays per year
  • Week-long office closures week of July 4th and year’s end
  • Generous sick time
  • Paid parental leave
  • Health, Dental, and Vision insurance
  • 403b Retirment plan with employer match
  • Organization-sponsored life insurance
  • MBTA Pass
  • A fun, caring, and innovative work environment

Hybrid Work: VRLC has a Hybrid Work Policy. “Hybrid Work” is a flexible workplace model that is supportive and inclusive of employees fulfilling their job responsibilities in-office, remotely, or at another location (partner agency) for all or part of their regularly scheduled work hours. Employees have a choice in selecting a working environment that helps them be most productive while meeting the needs of VRLC and prioritizing both a survivor-centered approach to work and survivor privacy. The ideal candidate for this position would be expected to be in the office at least twice a month.

To Apply: Please fill out the form below. If you cannot fill out the form, please email your cover letter and resume humanresources@victimrights.org. Use your last name and “Intake Specialist” as the subject of the email. Incomplete applications will not be considered. Please indicate where you saw this posting in your application. No phone calls please.

Who is supposed to clear snow from MBTA bus stops? The answer isn’t so simple. (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an article published by GBH on February 13 detailing the inequitable experiences of MBTA transit riders during the winter months. Greater Boston Legal Services’ Taramattie Doucette is quoted.


Joanne Daniels-Finegold sometimes carries a shovel on the back of her wheelchair because she’s never quite sure what conditions she’ll find at bus stops.

Sometimes, she finds ice and heaps of snow blocking her path to a bus shelter, which leaves her with a few unfortunate choices to get where she needs to go: drive her wheelchair into the street near traffic, or dig out the bus stop herself.

The MBTA is responsible for removing snow and ice from all MBTA properties. But when it comes to the thousands of bus stops across the Boston area, which are mostly located on municipal sidewalks, it’s a shared responsibility. The MBTA clears snow from 15 of its busiest routes, but the duty is less clear for the more than 100 other routes. Those bus stops often fall under different snow removal ordinances, and clearing them may be the responsibility of the state, city, town, private property owner or business owner.

Advocates say this lack of uniformity can lead to snow and ice not being properly removed at bus stops, and disabled riders don’t know who to contact to complain.

Read more at GBH.

Many former prisoners are on parole indefinitely. One year into new rules, it’s finally ending for some. (GBH

Below is an excerpt from an article published by GBH on December 27, revealing positive trends for formerly incarcerated people as they navigate the parole termination process. Prisoners Legal Services’ James Pingeon is quoted. 


Harold Adams spent more than half a century in the state’s criminal justice system — 31 years in state prison, and then another 22 years out on parole in the community.

He spent those two decades checking in with a parole officer at least once a month, restricted from free travel, wary of random searches and, until recently, paying $85 a month in monthly parole fees. Some people in his situation spend the rest of their lives on parole.

But in October, Adams received the good news that his parole had finally been terminated.

“It didn’t sink in immediately,’’ Adams told GBH News in a recent interview. “It was sort of surreal. Thinking in terms of the things that I can now do.”

Adams is one of 13 formerly incarcerated people who had their parole terminated in 2023 by the Massachusetts Parole Board, according to state data obtained by GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting. This is a dramatic increase in the state where only one person received a parole termination since 2018, according to state data.

Read more at GBH.

Plymouth County extends its contract with ICE for the only county detention center left in Mass (GBH)

Below is an excerpt from an article published on September 20 by GBH describing the inhumane living conditions in Plymouth County’s newly re-contracted immigration detention center. Prisoners Legal Services’ legal fellow Leah Hastings is quoted.


The Plymouth County sheriff’s office on Wednesday confirmed to GBH News that it has extended its federal contract to detain immigrants. The same day, advocates reupped their calls to end to the program, alleging longtime civil rights abuses.

document shared with GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting shows that a contract initiated with the agency in September 2008 had been extended several times, most recently until Sept. 21, 2023.

“Our contract has not expired and is extended to January 2024,” said Karen Barry, director of external affairs for the county sheriff’s office. She said in a message that there are 92 immigrant detainees at this time. Barry said there’s a provision in the contract for extension.

Plymouth is the only county in Massachusetts that still has an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants. Similar agreements ended in Franklin and Bristol counties in recent years.

Read more at GBH.

 

Advocates seek further eviction protections (The Eagle Tribune)

In a March 21 article, The Eagle Tribune reported on a letter signed by representatives from 100 advocacy groups to extend Massachusetts’s Chapter 257 law, which blocks eviction proceedings for tenants who are seeking public assistance to pay their rent. Among the letter signers were leaders from Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services. An excerpt from the article is below.

BOSTON — With pandemic-related eviction protections set to expire at the end of the month, advocates are pushing for an extension to give state lawmakers more time to make the rules permanent.

In a letter to legislative leaders and Trial Court officials, a coalition of 100 social welfare, public health and legal aid groups called for a more than year-long extension to the Chapter 257 law, which blocks eviction proceedings for tenants who are seeking public assistance to pay their rent.

The protections, which were approved by the state Legislature in 2020 and extended twice, are set to expire March 31. The coalition wants Beacon Hill leaders to extend the law’s sunset date until July 31, 2024, “to allow more time for a permanent solution to be put into place.”

“Allowing this critical tool to expire now could result in evictions where tenancies could have been resolved with rental assistance, pushing many families and individuals into homelessness,” they wrote. “There is broad agreement among policymakers that residents across Massachusetts are experiencing a housing crisis.”

The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, Greater Boston Legal Services and several United Way chapters, said the law “ensures that tenants are not needlessly displaced and maximizes rental assistance payments to landlords.”

The law also requires landlords to upload notice-to-quit letters to a state tracking system, the coalition wrote, “enabling agencies administering rental assistance to conduct outreach to landlords and tenants to prevent evictions.”

“While not perfect, Chapter 257 has been an essential protection for tenants waiting for rental assistance applications to be processed,” they wrote.

Read the full article in The Eagle Tribune. 

This story was also covered in The Salem News on March 27.

State finds Boston Public Schools transportation issues violated students’ right to special education services

In a March 1 article, The Boston Herald reported on an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that determined Boston Public Schools had violated students’ rights to special education services. Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children filed a joint complaint about the issue on behalf of several families last year. An excerpt of the article is below.

In a letter sent to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper on Friday, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said an investigation found the district’s transportation issues violated students’ rights to special education services.

“The findings in the preceding sections of this letter indicate that the District did comply with some of its obligations under federal and state requirements,” DESE officials wrote in the letter.

Several families issued a joint complaint with Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Advocates for Children in October, outlining incidents in which the district failed to provide students with one-on-one and specially trained bus monitors, families notification of transportation issues, or just any transportation at all — in effect denying the students their right to a free appropriate public education.

In many of these incidents, “students’ families are required to (provide transportation), causing financial and other burdens,” the letter states, and systemic failures have “deprived many students of their education due to ongoing absences and late arrivals resulting from lack of or delayed transportation.”

The state reviewed parent reports of bus issues in the last year, finding 3,469 coded “Missed Stop,” 775 “Late Bus,” 736 “Stranded Student,” 721 “Bus Monitor,” 597 “Other,” and 236 “Blown Route” or “Uncovered Route.”

In the fall of the 2022-23 school year, an average of 16.4% of buses were still dropping off students late or not at all, the letter states.

These wide-scale issues had an especial impact on students with disabilities, the investigation found, including the “key deficiency” of bus monitors.

“The District reported that approximately 35–40% of monitor-required routes have not had a designated monitor assigned to the route during the 2022-2023 school year,” the letter reads.

Read more in The Boston Herald.

How Beacon Hill could expand abortion care for pregnant teens in Mass.

In an article published on February 24, MassLive.com reported on a movement to change the law that currently requires minors under 16 who seek an abortion to either obtain parental consent or go to court and request permission from a superior court judge. Jamie Sabino, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), is quoted in the article, which is excerpted below.

For nearly four decades, a cohort of Massachusetts lawyers have wrangled Beacon Hill lawmakers to remove hurdles for young people seeking abortion care independently, without involving their parents.

The ROE Act, which the Legislature passed in December 2020, expanded access to 16- and 17-year-old individuals, who no longer need parental consent to get an abortion or circumvent their parents by going to court and receiving permission for the procedure from a superior court judge.

But in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, Jamie Sabino, co-chair of a panel of lawyers that helps minors navigate the judicial bypass process, said there’s heightened urgency to reform what she says is a fraught system that punishes a small fraction of Bay Staters who are younger than 16 and desperately want an abortion.

Sabino, deputy director of advocacy at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, estimates that about 20 individuals younger than 16 are forced to go to court annually to avoid backlash from their parents or guardians. Other teens may cross state lines, such as those who live in Springfield and can receive an abortion in Hartford without needing to involve their parents, she said.

Read the full article on MassLive.com. 

States Scramble to Replace Ripped-Off SNAP Benefits (Pew Trusts)

In a February 13 article, The Pew Charitable Trusts reported on the sophisticated electronic theft scam that left many Massachusetts residents without critical Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Betsy Gwin of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is quoted. An excerpt from the article is below.

Last September, when Baltimore resident Tzu Yang went grocery shopping for his intellectually disabled daughter with a food benefits card that he thought was worth about $300, he discovered at the checkout that the card had no value left. The same thing happened in October, November and December.

The benefits meant for Hawlie Yang, age 37 but with the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, were being systematically stolen.

Tzu Yang contacted local authorities but never got the money back. The stolen electronic benefits were used locally and as far away as New York, he discovered. But neither he nor police could find out who filched them, and the state agencies involved provided no help or reimbursement.

They told him there’s no returning of benefits stolen from electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards, Yang, a retired businessman, said in a phone interview.

Yang is not alone. All over the country, state agencies and people who receive aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, are reporting the theft of millions of dollars in benefits. And unlike regular credit or debit cards where refunds are often available when thieves poach funds, EBT cards don’t have those protections. That leaves many victims with no recourse.

Read the full article on the Pew Charitable Trusts Stateline blog.