WilmerHale recently joined with firm client Staples to co-sponsor an Equal Justice Works fellowship, which provides the opportunity for lawyers to positively impact vulnerable communities across the United States. On November 12, a group of attorneys gathered in the firm's Boston office to learn about current participant Elizabeth McIntyre's plan for her two-year fellowship.
McIntyre, a 2014 graduate of Boston University School of Law, began her fellowship at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) in September, and is spearheading the School to Prison Pipeline Intervention program.
Through the program, McIntyre hopes to protect the educational and mental health rights of low-income and homeless students with disabilities in the Boston Public Schools through direct representation, community legal education and policy advocacy using a newly enacted Massachusetts school discipline law that addresses access to educational services and exclusion from school.
During her presentation, McIntyre explained that children who are suspended or expelled are three times more likely than others to drop out before the 10th grade, and that dropping out triples the likelihood that a child will be incarcerated.
Since establishing the program at GBLS, McIntyre has supported students and their families by attending due process disciplinary hearings, arranging access to services offered through the Children's Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI)—a product of the Rosie D settlement, which was handled by the firm—and providing access to alternative educational services. She is also providing Know Your Rights training for parents and students at Department of Youth Services sites and homeless shelters, focusing on improved coordination between schools and CBHI services, and pushing to ensure meaningful implementation of the new Massachusetts law.
McIntyre—who counts more than 30 children and families as clients—is the sole attorney assigned to this program. She says she'll continue to take on new clients as long as she is able to provide the best possible representation for them. Ultimately, she wants to see a decreased percentage of children with untreated disabilities who are suspended or expelled, an increase in the percentage of CBHI-eligible children who are actually receiving the services they are entitled to, and more effective coordination between special education services, Medicaid (which administers CBHI) and Boston Public Schools.
McIntyre has applied her tenacity to other impactful projects as well, including one with ties to WilmerHale. While serving as a law clerk at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), she worked on the Mobile, Alabama school matter, which WilmerHale co-counseled with the SPLC, and her current project supports the firm's work on school-to-prison pipeline issues and its longstanding relationship with GBLS. In addition, McIntyre is a recipient of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's Adams Award for excellence in providing legal services to the poor, an honor she shared earlier this year with Counsel Seth Orkand.
"We are thrilled to be supporting such a vital program, and to know that Elizabeth's work is already making an impact in our community," says Corporate Practice Chair Mark Borden, who is the relationship partner for Staples. "We look forward to receiving updates on this important initiative over the next two years."
(Pictured above, from left: Staples Senior Counsel Kevin Jones, Equal Justice Works Fellow Elizabeth McIntyre, and WilmerHale Corporate Practice Chair Mark Borden.)