Every child deserves an education.
Success in school is a crucial building block to success in life. Legal Aid works to remove barriers that keep children and families from enrolling and excelling in school. Staff and volunteers protect the rights of students with disabilities, prevent expulsions for students with behavior problems, ensure stable housing to support consistent attendance, and preserve public benefits to provide the necessary resources to help families thrive.
This work is possible through Legal Aid’s partnerships with Cleveland Metropolitan School District, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland, and the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association.
Bullying in Schools: Know Your Rights and Your Public School’s Obligations
This brochure explains Ohio’s anti-bullying laws, which apply to all public school and charter schools. Bullying is defined broadly as mental harm, physical harm, harm within a dating relationship or harm by an act done through an electronic device. Schools are required to make a safe, bully-free learning environment. Parents can protect their child by knowing their rights, reporting abuse, and communicating with their child. This brochure also explains how parents can seek legal advice if a school has failed to protect their child or comply with state laws.
More information is available in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Bullying in Ohio Schools
This brochure is also available in Spanish: Intimidación en las Escuelas de Ohio
Access to Education for Homeless Students and Students Living in Temporary Housing
This brochure explains the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which is a federal law that requires school districts to provide an education to homeless students. This law protects students rights to enroll in school or continue attending school despite lacking necessary documents, and to transfer and be transported to a school that is convenient to them. Public school has a liaison who assists homeless students and their families. This brochure also explains how families can seek legal help if a child’s school is not fulfilling these obligations.
More information is available in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Access to Education for Homeless Students
This information is also available in Spanish: Acceso a la Educación por Alumnos Sin Casa y Alumnos que Están Viviendo en Viviendas Temporales
School Discipline: Know Your Rights
If your child has been suspended or expelled, you should be aware of your rights. This flyer outlines some of them. They include your right to receive written notice of a school’s intention to suspend or expel your child, your child’s right to have a lawyer at an expulsion hearing, your right to get copies of all documents that will be used at an expulsion hearing, and your right to appeal an expulsion decision.
More information is available in English and Spanish at: School Discipline: Know Your Rights/Disciplina Escolar: Conozca sus Derechos – Expulsiones Escolares
Special Education: Know Your Rights
If you think your child has learning problems, you may ask the school to test your child for special education. This flyer outlines some of the rights you and your child have. They include the right to request an individualized education plan (IEP) meeting at any time, extra rights and protections for suspensions and expulsions, and your right to request a re-evaluation of your child once a year.
More information is available in English and Spanish at: Special Education: Know Your Rights/Educación Especial: Conozca sus Derechos.
Special Education Glossary of Terms
Ohio Department of Education. The state agency that enforces IDEA.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law that governs special education.
free and appropriate public education. Public school districts must provide special education services that meet the individual needs of the student at no cost to the parent.
multi-factored evaluation. The test to determine if a student qualifies for special education (broader term for the ETR).
evaluation team report. The report that contains the scores and results of the special education evaluation.
individual education plan/program. Determines what special education services the student will receive, where the student will receive those services, and what goals the student is trying to achieve that year.
The plan for students identified as having a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; describes what accommodations will be provided to help the child have the same access as regular education students to an education.
least restrictive environment. The team decides where the student will receive special education services.
extended school year. When special education services need to be provided over the summer.
speech language pathologist
manifestation determination review. When a special education student is facing a suspension or expulsion of over 10 days, the team must decide if the student’s behavior is related to the student’s disability.
functional behavior assessment. The report created by an intervention specialist using data collected about observations of the child before, during and after incidents that lead to trouble in school.
behavior intervention plan. The plan put together by school staff and parent to address behaviors of child and the factors leading up to these behaviors in an effort to prevent them or reduce them.
What is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a new education law. It replaces the No Child Left Behind Act. President Obama signed this new law on December 10, 2015. ESSA gives state and local governments more control over education in their communities. The goal of ESSA is to create more opportunities for all students, close achievement gaps, improve teaching quality, and reach better outcomes for students.
The U.S. Department of Education and Ohio are working together to create a plan for how ESSA will work here. Ohio’s plan must address help for struggling schools, standards and testing, and school and district accountability. Ohio has the 2016-2017 school year to create this plan. Ohio’s plan is set to start in the 2017-2018 school year.
ESSA requires states to continue to follow the McKinney-Vento Act. This helps students stay in school if their family loses housing. Students who become homeless may either stay in their home school or attend the school closest to where they are temporarily living. Students who are homeless can also receive transportation to help them stay in school. ESSA increases the duties of the school district liaison. This person helps families that become homeless access services.
ESSA also protects children in foster care from having to move schools when they enter foster care or change foster homes. If it is in the child’s best interest to stay in his or her home school, the child has a right to transportation to that school. If it is not in the child’s best interest to stay in the same school, ESSA requires the child to be enrolled immediately in a new school.
Ohio is working to develop its plan. The Ohio Department of Education expects to have a draft plan open for public comments by the end of 2016. More information about ESSA in Ohio can be found at http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Every-Student-Succeeds-Act-ESSA.
By Jessica Baaklini
I’m on Medicaid/Child Health Insurance Program – How Do I Apply for Federal Student Aid?
Resources are available to help Medicaid / Child Health Insurance Program recipients apply for federal student aid.
To access the $180 billion in Federal student aid available, students must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at FAFSA.gov. Beginning October 1st, students will be able to access the FAFSA for the 2017-2018 school year. Given Medicaid/CHIP eligibility requirements, it is expected that most beneficiaries and their families would qualify for student financial aid.
- To find a program that fits specific needs, see the new College Scorecard with data on college costs, graduation rates, earnings, and student debt at colleges and universities across the United States. This video shows how the College Scorecard can help with finding a good-value school.
- To access step-by-step support and additional information, the First Lady’s Up Next texting tool provides advising for FAFSA completion, the college search, and student debt repayment. Text COLLEGE to 44044 to get started.
- For additional information and support, the Financial Aid Toolkit has ready-made materials for counselors, students, and families to answer the most common questions.
Why should I seal my juvenile records?
Ohio law makes sealing juvenile records easier than sealing adult criminal records. Nonetheless, a person with a juvenile record may deny employment, benefits or enrollment based on the record.
Juvenile records do not automatically seal. A juvenile may request their record be sealed as soon as six months after completing their sentence, or immediately when they turn 18, as long as they are no longer under an order from juvenile court, such as probation. A “sealed record” only can be seen by the Court. Once a record has been sealed, a juvenile may petition the court to expunge it, which means to permanently destroy it.
The Court does not automatically grant a request to seal a juvenile record. The burden of proving a record should be sealed can be hard for a young person to meet, especially without the support of a mentor or representation by an attorney. “For youth without a support network, it’s totally upon them to demonstrate they are sufficiently rehabilitated,” says Attorney Ponce de Leon. If a prosecutor objects that a juvenile petitioner must demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and productive plans for the future to successfully seal it.
The process of applying to have a juvenile record sealed can be empowering for young adults, by teaching them about the justice system, explained Legal Aid Society Attorney Danielle Gadomski Littleton. Most people mistakenly believe that a juvenile adjudication is a conviction. But when an employer asks if you have a criminal conviction, if your only offense is a juvenile record, you can honestly answer “no.”
Another important lesson is that court costs can be waived. Before the Court can seal a juvenile record, a petitioner must pay any outstanding court costs and fees. Attorney Gadomski Littleton advised that petitioners can always ask the Court to waive these fees after petitioning to seal their records but it’s up to the court whether to grant that request.
More information about sealing juvenile records can be found at this link. To apply for help from Legal Aid with sealing a juvenile record, call 1-888-817-3777.
By Rachel Kalayjian
How can I get my child extra support in school?
A pre-school, elementary or high school student with a disability may need extra support in school. Some disabilities keep students from participating in school in the same way as other students, like deafness or being unable to walk. Other disabilities, like dyslexia or low IQ, may keep a child from learning in the same way as other students. Disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiance Disorder may keep a child from controlling their behaviors. Children with disruptive behaviors may miss a lot of class time or have trouble paying attention in class.
If a student can learn the same way as other students, but is not succeeding in school, that student may need accommodations. Examples of accommodations are a wheelchair ramp, a sign language interpreter, and extra breaks for a student with ADHD. Accommodations should be recorded in a 504 Plan.
If a student is not learning in school, the school should try interventions. Interventions may include tutoring or a special reading group. If interventions do not help, a student with a disability may need an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP records the plan for helping a child meet goals specific to that student. Examples of IEP goals are learning math facts, improving speech skills, and developing coping skills.
Both a 504 Plan and IEP are legal documents created by a team at the school that must include the parent. If a school does not follow a 504 Plan or IEP, a parent can file a complaint.
A parent can request that a 504 Plan or IEP be created for a child by writing a letter to the school. Date the letter and state that the child has a disability which contributes to struggles in school. Give the letter to the school district office but be sure to keep an additional copy of the letter. If the school does not respond or denies the request, contact the Ohio Department of Education at 1-877-644-6338. For more information about requesting special education, see https://lasclev.org/i-think-my-child-needs-special-education-classes-what-is-the-process/
This article was written by Danielle Gadomski Littleton and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
Do Children Have a Right to Enroll in School?
All children in the United States have a right to enroll in school regardless of the child’s or parents’ citizenship or immigration status. School districts that prohibit or discourage children from enrolling in school because they or their parents are not US citizens or are undocumented immigrants are in violation of Federal law. For example, school districts may NOT require:
- a state ID or driver’s license as proof of residency,
- a birth certificate as proof of age, or
- social security number for child or parent
Alternative documents may be provided to establish residency and age. Please read more on the rights of children to enroll in school from the US Department of Justice at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/edu/documents/plyler.php where you can find a fact sheet, dear colleague letter, and Q and A for states, school districts, parents and community members.
What is a homeless student and what are their rights in school?
Too many children in Ohio are homeless. A special law, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, gives homeless students in public or charter schools special help.
Homeless: This law broadly defines who is homeless to include:
- students who live in a shelter, in a car, or on the street,
- students doubling up with family or friends or who couch surf, and
- students living in a home with problems like bugs, mold, leaks, etc.
Enrollment: Homeless students do not always have access to important papers like birth records. This can cause a problem when enrolling the student in school. This law helps students enroll in a public or charter school even if they do not have all the things normally required to enroll, like birth records, shot records, or utility bills.
Transportation: Homeless students frequently change schools and miss days of school when they change. When staying at the same school is best for the student, this law makes public and charter schools provide transportation to keep the student at her last school. The school must provide transportation even if the student no longer stays close to that school or even if the student is outside the school district.
Liaison: Every public and charter school has to have a person in charge of finding and helping homeless students. The person is often called a homeless liaison and sometimes works in the pupil services office. If you need help for your homeless student, ask the school or district who the homeless liaison is. If additional help is needed, call Tom Dannis from the Ohio Department of Education at 614-466-4161. For more information, see also the Legal Aid brochure, “Access to Education for Homeless Students” at http://lasclev.org/accesstoeducationbrochure/.
This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Megan Sprecher and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.
I am an immigrant. Am I eligible for in-state tuition?
In-state tuition is a lower tuition rate charged to students at public colleges and universities in Ohio who qualify as Ohio residents.
Some immigrants, including permanent residents (“green card” holders), qualify as Ohio residents and are eligible for in-state tuition for public colleges and universities in Ohio. Starting in the Fall of 2013, a person with a U Visa (victim of serious crime or family member of victim), T Visa (victim of human trafficking or family member of victim), or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) may be eligible for in-state if she meets the other requirements set by the Ohio Board of Regents.
People with other types of immigration status may also qualify for in-state tuition. You may contact your school’s admissions office or the Ohio Board of Regents to find out if people with your immigration status qualify for in-state tuition in Ohio.
My child has an IEP but I do not get regular reports. What can I do?
A child getting special education at a public or charter school has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This IEP is written at least once a year and lists goals for the child in their areas of need. An IEP Progress Report, talking about the child’s progress on each goal, must be mailed to the child’s caregiver regularly. The child’s IEP will say how often the IEP Progress Reports must be mailed.
Legal Aid recently filed a complaint against the Cleveland Metropolitan School District because caregivers of children with IEPs were not getting IEP Progress Reports as often as they should. The Ohio Department of Education told the school district it must regularly send IEP Progress Reports to caregivers of students getting special education.
If your child has an IEP and you are not getting regular IEP Progress Reports, you should talk to your child’s teacher and/or principal. If that does not help, you may file a complaint with the Ohio Department of Education. You may get the complaint form at their website, www.education.ohio.gov, or by calling Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777.
This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer Kolie Erokwu and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.
I think my child needs special education classes. What is the process?
Getting special education for a child requires a team effort by parents or guardians (“caregivers”), teachers and the school district. Both public and charter schools must provide special education to students with disabilities who need help learning in school. A caregiver should take the following steps when seeking special education services:
1. Ask for an Evaluation
If you think a child needs special education, write a letter to the principal asking to figure out if the child has a disability. Write the date and explain the child’s problems in school with learning, paying attention or acting out. Keep a copy of the letter. If the child has a medical condition, think about including a letter or document from the child’s doctor. The school has 30 days to answer a caregiver’s letter in writing and say whether or not it will test the child.
2. School Agrees to Test Your Child
If the school district agrees a child may have a disability, they will ask the caregiver to sign a consent form. The evaluation may only start after the school receives the signed forms and permission to test. The school must finish the testing within 60 days of consent. After the evaluation is done, the school must meet with the caregiver to talk about the testing and decide if the child needs special education.
3. School Will Note Test Your Child
If the school tells a caregiver that the child will not be tested, and the caregiver disagrees with the decision, s/he has options to appeal. It is a good idea to ask for help with an appeal. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is able to help in some of these cases.
4. Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
Children found to need special education services will have an IEP with the school. The IEP services can include things like help with math or reading, plans for addressing behavior problems, speech, language, or occupational therapy, and other services to help children learn. The services are free to families, and can be provided in school or in the home.
5. Signing Forms
If at any time the school asks a caregiver to sign a document and the person does not agree with the document, either (1) do not sign it or (2) write on the document to indicate disagreement.
Additional information about special education is available from the Ohio Department of Education at: 614-466-2650 or 877-644-6338 (toll free). If you need help with a special education problem, please call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to find out if you are eligible for assistance.
This article was written by Legal Aid volunteer Kolie Erokwu and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.
What should I do if my child is being bullied at school?
Too often, the news reports stories about kids being bullied at school. In Ohio, there is a law that tells schools what they must do to protect their students from bullying. “Bullying” refers to any written, spoken, or physical acts that are threatening or abusive to another student and happens more than once. Parents and caregivers need to know what schools should be doing and what they can do to help their children.
Every school district in Ohio must have an anti-bullying policy. A copy of the district’s policy should be available from the school. The anti-bullying policy covers any acts of bullying at school, on the school bus, or at any school event. It also includes acts of electronic bullying such as bullying through the internet or by cell phone.
The policy will tell parents and students how to report bullying. Reports should be made in writing to the school. This letter should include enough information about the problem so the school can investigate. Put the date on the letter and make a copy to keep before giving it to the school. On your copy, write down the name of the person you gave the letter to at the school. School staff must also report any bullying they know about at school.
Once the school learns about a bullying problem, the school must investigate the bullying. When the investigation is complete, the school should make a plan to keep the student safe who is being bullied.
If the school does not adequately respond to the bullying report, you can contact the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, to decide if a complaint against the school should be made. Their phone number is 216-522-4970. In order to make a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, the bullying must be related to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. For more information, see also the Legal Aid brochure “Bullying in Ohio Schools” at https://lasclev.org/bullyinginschoolsbrochure/.
This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Katie Feldman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 3. Click here to read the full issue.
How do I handle a meeting with my child’s school?
Every child has a right to attend school. You have an important role as an advocate for your child’s success in school and in life. You have information to share about your child. You are an equal partner with the school in supporting your child’s success.
This worksheet can help you plan and prepare for meetings with your child’s school:
My child has an IEP, but she is still having problems in school. Do I need to have the IEP changed?
If your child is still having problems in school, the school may not be following the IEP or your child’s needs may have changed.
- You can request an IEP meeting at any time.
- Your child must be re-evaluated every three years.
- IEP’s must be reviewed by the IEP team once every year.
*If your child is on an IEP he or she has extra rights and protections for suspensions and expulsions.
**If your son or daughter is on an IEP and has been removed from school for more than 10 days total in any school year, the school must hold a Manifestation Determination Review hearing before that child can be removed from school. If a child on an IEP is removed from school then he or she is still entitled to receive an education, usually in the form of home instruction.
School Discipline: Know your Rights – School Expulsions
Pro se Forms
Glossary of Education Terms
You may be able to find an attorney who can help you by contacting:
Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service
I believe my child needs Special Education Services, such as an IEP, what should I do?
If you believe your child needs special services in school because of a physical, learning or emotional disability, you can request the school evaluate your child. Schools are obligated by law to identify and provide services to students who have disabilities that affect their learning in school. Be sure to:
- Put the request in writing. Put the date on the letter and keep a copy for your records.
- Keep all letters from the school.
- Attach any letters or evaluations to the request from your child’s doctor regarding a medical diagnosis.
- Keep copies of all important documents such as disciplinary notices and report cards.
- Write down a summary of all telephone calls you make, voice mail messages you leave and meetings you have.
- Do not sign anything you do not understand or do not agree with.
If your school will not test your child, talk to a lawyer about it.
You may be able to find an attorney who can help you by contacting:
Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association
Lawyer Referral Service
Path Cleared for Family, Access to Education Secured
Rematha Grayson first noticed her daughter’s problems with focus and reading in kindergarten. She asked the school for help and they offered to monitor Makayla. Between first and second grade, young Makayla switched school buildings. This change caused a lack of continuity and a confusing paper trail. While the school continued to “monitor,” Makayla continued to have behavioral challenges in school and continued to fall behind.
Makayla has several medical conditions, including asthma, sleep apnea, allergies and eczema. She is up during the night and her medication makes her sleepy. Robert Needlman, her MetroHealth pediatrician, thought her medical issues indicated that she had special needs.
Ms. Grayson requested the school district evaluate her daughter. She made this request for three years, but no action was taken. Then the school told her Makayla was not ready for fourth grade.
Needlman wrote to the school requesting a full special education evaluation. When the school district didn’t reply, the pediatrician referred the family to a Legal Aid lawyer who is part of the team at MetroHealth, Danielle Gadomski Littleton. Before they received the attorney’s request, the school did initiate a full evaluation, but Ms. Gadomski Littleton was now watching the results.
The tests showed Makayla qualified for special education services. Ms. Gadomski Littleton requested compensatory education and the school agreed to provide two summers at The Help Foundation.
Thanks to her Legal Aid lawyer, Makayla is now thriving in school – and has the protection of a
plan for services that will help her graduate and succeed in life.