by Tanya Franklin
Tanya Franklin is UCLA School of Law’s inaugural Education Law Public Service Fellow at MHAS.
It was August 19, 2013 – my first day on the job and the first full week of school for many students in Los Angeles. When I walked into my office, I saw a 2-inch stack of papers on my desk and a note from my supervisor: “This is an education concern in progress from one of our summer law clerks. Feel free to call the parent and introduce yourself. The facts need clarification before we’re ready to take next steps.”
I started reading.
M was a student who had been out of school for several months since being involuntarily hospitalized for suicidal ideations. He was just an elementary school student.
M had a history of school-related depression and anxiety and had been in outpatient therapy for two years. When M was assessed for special education he was asked to complete an exercise called “Draw-a-Person,” and he drew a tiny person who was called “loser” and felt worried because he did not know math. His character was sometimes chased and beaten up. M had so much trouble with reading that his reading speed was below 20% of the goal for his grade level. He said he did not want to live because he could not read and was doing poorly in school.
M’s mom came to Mental Health Advocacy Services looking for someone to help M get the educational services he needed. Though he had been receiving limited home school instruction since being removed from school, he desperately needed to get into a school that was prepared to support his social-emotional needs as well as deeply remediate his struggling academic skills. I examined all of his educational records, interviewed M’s therapists and case worker, and attended several school meetings to encourage the district to offer a package of special education and mental health services that would meet M’s unique educational needs.
After three months of advocacy and three months after most kids started school, M finally had his first day at his new school. He is in a small, therapeutic environment with other students who have similar academic, emotional and behavioral needs. His school work is assigned at his individual level and his therapist can visit him any time.
M has always had his family and his therapeutic team for support, but at his new school with other students who are more similar to him, M finally feels like he is not a loser.
I’m UCLA School of Law’s inaugural Education Law Public Service Fellow. At MHAS, I have the honor of advocating for kids like M every day. I look forward to sharing some of their stories.