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DRM’S Leslie Margolis Featured in ABA Journal

Leslie Seid Margolis, managing attorney at Disability Rights Maryland (DRM), was featured in the ABA Journal last week for her role in the passage of the American Bar Association (ABA) Resolution 103, which urges government bodies to establish and enforce legislation and educational policies that prohibit school personnel from using seclusion and restraints on students in preschool through 12th grade. She worked with the ABA Commission on Disability Rights over the past year to draft and edit Resolution 103 and was invited to speak in favor of the resolution at the ABA’s Annual Meeting on August 3, 2020. Leslie shared the story of a 7-year-old child in foster care who was restrained more than 147 times by his school’s staff—a story she “wished that she could say [was] unusual,” but one that continues to affect children across the county at high rates, particularly students with disabilities and students of color. Thanks to the vigorous efforts of Leslie and other advocates, the ABA House of Delegates expressed overwhelming support for Resolution 103 by passing it with a vote of 358-19.

Every child has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. No child should ever be subjected to abusive treatment under the guise of providing effective educational services. DRM continues its efforts to hold school systems accountable for their over-reliance on these traumatic and potentially deadly interventions and is profoundly thankful to the ABA for passing Resolution 103 and, by doing so, acknowledging that what happens to so many children across the United States is unconscionable and inhumane.

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Meet DRM’s 2020 Summer Interns

Summer is here, and so are DRM’s newest batch of interns!

This month, DRM welcomed 5 incredible interns for this summer. They are all a vital part of our organization, with each intern bringing something unique to the table. Continue reading to learn more about Jack Starobin, Emma Barbato, Jillianne Crescenzi, Ella Schaltenbrand, and Ruby Elbert!


Jack Starobin, Communications Intern for the Development and Communications Team

Rising freshman studying PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics) at University of Pennsylvania

An avatar portrait of Jack Starobin, a communications intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I’ve been passionate about social justice for as long as I can remember. Everyone has a right to a good education, a supportive healthcare system, and all other aspects of a dignified life. I’m interested in disability rights because I want to live in a world where every person has access to the full extent of those rights. I haven’t learned as much about the history of the disability rights movement as I have about the history of other civil rights movements, so I’m eager to learn this summer.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

In this time of global health crisis, institutionalized inequality, and profound social distress, it’s easy to feel helpless in the pursuit of change. I’m excited to work at Disability Rights Maryland because I know that with DRM, I can make a tangible contribution to a better world.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I hope to learn about the history, progress, setbacks, and goals of the disability rights movement. I also hope to learn how to produce a professional newsletter, plan events for large groups of people, and manage all the moving parts of an effective communications team.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I look forward to working with DRM!


Emma Barbato, Legal Intern for the Housing and Education Team

First-year law student pursuing her Health Law Certification at University of Maryland, School of Law

An avatar portrait of Emma Barbato, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I got interested in disability rights during my time as a special educator in Baltimore County. I wanted to continue serving underrepresented populations with my legal education.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

I’m excited to learn about the different realms of disability law and expand my understanding of the resources available.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I want to learn more practical ways to participate in disability rights and advocacy.


Jillianne Crescenzi, Legal Intern for the Housing and Voting Team

Rising second-year law student pursuing a Juris Doctorate degree at University of Baltimore

An avatar portrait of Jillianne Crescenzi, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

My interest in disability rights developed through working with children with special needs and the unique educational and social challenges they encounter. I want to help remove the systemic barriers that prevent children and adults with different needs from accessing the same panoply of privileges the rest of the population benefits from. I want to advocate for more holistic approaches to solving problems by recognizing that effective policies need to incorporate healthcare, education, social, and mental health considerations. Our policies should be intentionally designed for everyone to succeed, especially our most vulnerable populations.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

What excites me the most about interning with DRM is working with an organization full of people that truly care about making a positive impact on the disability community, which in turn, positively impacts us all. I look forward to being exposed to all the different ways that DRM challenges our change-resistant systems in its effort to create a more equitable society.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I look forward to learning about the solutions available to help the disability community have greater access to stable housing. I am also excited to learn and explore solutions to the barriers the disability community faces in exercising their right to vote. Finally, I would like to learn more about education law and the continued use of overly broad diagnostic codes such as an emotional disability that can pave the way for impersonal and ineffective accommodations for students with disabilities. It is not enough to have a system that not causes our children to fail, our systems must be designed for their success.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I am thankful for the opportunity to intern with Disability Rights Maryland this summer. Legal interns rely on their internships to teach them the practical skills necessary to become a lawyer and I couldn’t have picked a better organization to learn these from.


Ella Schaltenbrand, Legal Intern for the Mental Health Team

Rising third-year law student studying Public Interest Law at William & Mary Law School

An avatar portrait of Ella Schaltenbrand, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I went to law school because I wanted to be able to help people whose rights were being violated and who needed an advocate. I became interested in disability rights specifically while interning with the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary last summer. I had the opportunity to assist local veterans with their VA disability benefits appeals, which was a very rewarding experience and expanded my knowledge on the need for advocates for those with disabilities.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

I am very excited to have the opportunity to assist the Mental Health Team with legal work related to investigations and monitoring in state mental health facilities.

What do you hope to learn this summer?

I hope to learn as much as I can about Protection and Advocacy organizations and the many ways they work to advance the rights of people with disabilities in different areas of life.

Is there anything else we should know about you?

I am passionate about animal welfare and have two rescue cats.


Ruby Elbert, Legal Intern for the Mental Health Team

Rising sophomore student studying at William & Mary Law School

An avatar portrait of ruby Elbert, a legal intern for DRM's 2020 Summer Intern Program.Why are you interested in disability rights?

I’ve had an interest in disability rights for pretty much as long as I can remember. Disability is too often left out of history, education, and the conversation around civil rights issues. It’s important to me that everyone has access to mainstream society and the chance to live their life with autonomy and equal opportunity.

What excites you about being able to work for Disability Rights Maryland?

I worked with DRM last spring, and I’m incredibly excited and grateful to be back! It’s a really unique opportunity to be surrounded every day by so many dedicated people working to make sure people with disabilities have their needs met and voices heard, especially during the pandemic when this work is more needed than ever. I’m glad to have the chance to be part of that.

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“The Leaders of Tomorrow:” DRM’s Amity Lachowicz on the Maryland Youth Leadership Forum

Young people with disabilities have more opportunities and more challenges than at any other time in our nation’s history. With the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they have unprecedented opportunities to fully develop as constructive, contributing members of our society. However, many need encouragement and information about resources to develop as leaders in their communities.

The Youth Leadership Forum is an educational training program designed to empower students with disabilities and equip them with the additional skills needed to become leaders by example. Initiated in 1992 by the California Governor’s Committee on the Employment of Disabled Persons, the program quickly spread across the country and is now conducted annually in more than 33 states. Maryland held its first Youth Leadership Forum (MD-YLF) in August 2000 and integrates state agencies, community advocates, and approximately 30 students who serve and represent the diversity of people with developmental disabilities in the state. The forum is held annually with events scheduled at Towson University—however, in light of current circumstances, this year’s forum will be completely virtual.

Amity Lachowicz, a Representative Payee Project Manager for Disability Rights Maryland, will be volunteering for the MD-YLF for a second term this year and says that the 2020 MD-YLF will be “unique,” but certainly no less exciting and important for young people with disabilities.

Disability Rights Maryland's Amity Lachowicz poses with other staff and students of the 2018 Maryland Youth Leadership Forum.

Disability Rights Maryland’s Amity Lachowicz (bottom left) poses with other staff and students of the 2018 Maryland Youth Leadership Forum.

What is the purpose of the Maryland Youth Leadership Forum? Why is it needed?

YLF teaches leadership and advocacy skills to students with disabilities in their last two years of high school. Traditionally, participants spend four days/nights in the dorms at Towson University to gain a college experience. Due to COVID-19, YLF is being hosted virtually this year. Almost all of the staff at YLF are individuals with disabilities, which creates a unique dynamic with the students.

YLF is unique in that it allows students with disabilities to come together in a safe space to discuss their challenges, successes, hopes, and dreams with people who share the experience of navigating life with a disability. Many of them might have never learned about disability history or the disability community while in school. We believe it’s important for students to learn about how people with disabilities have historically been treated and to see how far we’ve come as a society and the work that still needs to be done. Connecting participants with the larger disability community shows them that they have support behind them and access to resources they might not have known about before.

We host many sessions for participants ranging from disability history & pride, the legislative process, advocacy in relationships, assistive technology, IEP vs college, STEM, and much more. Through these sessions, participants learn more about themselves and how to become better self-advocates. They also learn about resources available to help them succeed as they transition out of high school into the next phase of their lives. We explain to participants how important it is for them to be able to ask for what they need, when they need it. Traditionally in the school setting, students are provided with the tools to help them succeed without necessarily having to ask for it themselves. As they leave high school and move onto college or the workplace, it’s important for them to understand that they will be required to speak up for what they need and get accommodations in place.

Throughout the entire YLF program, the staff are continually providing peer mentoring to the participants. We also host a mentoring session and invite working individuals with disabilities to share

their experiences with college, training, and career success. Participants get the opportunity to ask the mentors any questions they have and discuss their own personal career goals and receive advice from people with lived experience.

Who do you think the forum benefits the most?

The participants are definitely the ones who benefit the most. They learn more about themselves and feel more confident in accomplishing their goals. They gain the skills needed to advocate for themselves and their peers with disabilities. They know that their disability might make accomplishing those goals a little more challenging, but they learn how to ask for accommodations and speak up for what they need.

Our communities’ benefit on a larger scale from their participation in the program. We’re helping to equip our youth, the leaders of tomorrow, with the skills they need to be successful. Through YLF they learn more about the legislative process and how to advocate for change in their communities. It’s important for us to continue to build communities where the voices of people with disabilities are at the table and valued.

Disability Rights Maryland's Amity Lachowicz and other staff members of the 2018 Maryland Youth Leadership Forum pose for a group photo in matching red shirts on a lit bridge during nightfall.

Disability Rights Maryland’s Amity Lachowicz and other staff members of the 2018 Maryland Youth Leadership Forum pose for a group photo.

What do you like most about participating?

I think the most amazing thing about YLF is seeing the students come in on the first day, most of them shy and still in their shell, and by the time they leave they’re more confident in who they are, they have pride in their disabilities, and they’ve made connections with other students and adults with disabilities that they can rely on for support as they transition into their next journey. It means so much to me to be able to share my personal experience of navigating life with a disability and helping them to realize that having a disability isn’t a bad thing. While having a disability might mean that sometimes you have to do things a little differently than others, it doesn’t mean that you still can’t accomplish your goals and live a life you love. YLF has been the most rewarding volunteer experience of my life and I like to think that it’s a life-changing experience for those who have the opportunity to patriciate.

Do you have anything else you want to share in regards to the MD-YLF?

YLF is hosted through Independence Now, which is the Center for Independent Living that serves Montgomery and Prince George’s County. The program is open to students with disabilities throughout the state of Maryland in their last two years of high school. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, with the program being hosted annually in June. Any questions can be directed to Damon Walker, YLF Coordinator, at 240-898-2189 or dwalker@innow.org.


If you’re interested in participating in this exciting and educational training program which includes the opportunity to meet with Maryland leaders with or without disabilities, participate in legislative activity in Annapolis, build new skills for the future, experience a college campus and make new friends, go to Independence Now or http://www.innow.org/ylf.html.

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Psychiatric Hospital Patients Are At Risk During the Pandemic

Statewide closures complicate the plight of some people with mental illness


Restrictions implemented in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are largely intended to protect the public from the spread of the disease. Maryland’s statewide closure of schools, child care programs, and nonessential businesses, for example, was enacted to support limitations on large gatherings and social distancing to prevent exposures and transmissions, and reduce the threat to vulnerable populations. However, many don’t realize the unintended consequences these restrictions have in jeopardizing the lives of involuntarily-committed patients in Maryland’s psychiatric hospitals.

Emily Datnoff, a staff attorney in Disability Rights Maryland’s mental health unit, discusses the challenges patients face to effectuate their discharge and how those challenges can be addressed during the pandemic in a recent Baltimore Sun editorial.

Discharge from state hospitals and residential centers becomes virtually impossible when facilities stop evaluating patients, courts no longer conduct proceedings necessary to effectuate discharge, and community providers stop accepting patients. This is the dilemma many patients at state hospitals currently face. These problems are urgent and need to be addressed to protect patients from the inevitable spread of the virus.” – Emily Datnoff, the Baltimore Sun

Disability Rights Maryland is working to have efforts made to discharge patients to maintain their health and safety. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are available to provide information, referrals, technical assistance, and limited representation during the pandemic.

For legal assistance, our intake line is open at 410-727-6352 or MD relay. Please leave a message and we will return your call as soon as possible. Please note that return calls may be made from blocked numbers since staff is working remotely.

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Maryland School District Continuity of Learning Plans

See How Your School District is Continuing Education During the COVID-19 Closure Period


Last Wednesday, Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon provided an update on school closures during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. She announced that “after lengthy discussions with health experts around the State,” she and other officials with the State Board of Education made the decision to extend closure of all public schools for an additional four weeks through April 24, 2020.

Dr. Salmon also provided information about the continuity of leaning of all students across Maryland:

“We are already working very closely with every school system to address issues affecting their ability to provide educational services to all of their students. It should also be noted that we will be diligent in providing educational services to our students with disabilities.

Local superintendents have provided me with their plans for the continuity of learning during the additional closure period. My staff at the Maryland State Department of Education has been reviewing the plans and determining what supports and resources the State can provide where needed.” Dr. Karen B. Salmon, School Closure Update

We understand that as a parent of a child with a disability, you have more questions than answers about the state’s special education services. As advocates for all Marylanders with disabilities, we want to do whatever we can to help.

Your child’s school should be reaching out to you to schedule an IEP meeting by telephone or by an online platform to determine what services can be provided to your child during this period of time when schools are closed. To find out generally how your school district is addressing continued student instruction during the closure period, please visit “Maryland School District Continuity of Learning Plans,” a resource guide created by Decoding Dyslexia’s co-founder Laura Schultz.

In addition to checking the Continuity of Learning Plans website frequently for updates, Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) suggests that you do the following:

  • Review your child’s individual education program (IEP) and pay particular attention to the goals and objectives.
  • Starting today, start keeping a log or journal of your child’s present levels of performance for each goal and objective. Feel free to video, take notes, or keep a record in whatever form is easiest for you. This will help you determine if your child is making progress, staying the same, or regressing.

This information will be helpful when it is time to discuss extended school year services for your child. It will also be helpful in determining if your child is entitled to compensatory services to make up for what your child does not receive during the closure period.

There is a lot of uncertainty and confusion about how students with disabilities in particular will receive continued educational services during the COVID-19 crisis. We hope that this information is helpful in mitigating those feelings.

 

Staying Updated


Consult our COVID-19 dedicated webpage for relevant news and guidance. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are available to provide information, referrals, technical assistance, and limited representation during the pandemic. For legal assistance, our intake line is open at 410-727-6352 or MD relay. Please leave a message and we will return your call as soon as possible. Please note that return calls may be made from blocked numbers since staff are working remotely.

Thank you and stay safe and healthy!

Disclaimer: This information is provided as a public service and is not intended as legal advice.

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