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School Justice Project Removes Barriers for Students Who Are Incarcerated

The DC Bar Foundation is proud to fund legal services organizations in DC that help residents during times of crisis. School Justice Project (SJP)—a DC Bar Foundation grantee partner—uses special education law to ensure that older, court-involved students with disabilities can access a quality education.

In this story, we highlight the work SJP does to remove barriers for students with disabilities who are incarcerated so they can complete their education and have greater opportunities for success.

Sophie Thackray, staff attorney at School Justice Project, first met Lionel in March of 2022. Lionel had been incarcerated at the DC Jail since July 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. For much of that time, students at the jail did not receive any live lessons or teacher instruction. Although this stalled his academic progress, Lionel remained committed to earning his high school diploma.

Unfortunately, Lionel faced additional barriers to graduation. He was 22 years old, in the 10th grade, and his anticipated graduation date was not until 2024. With this timeline, he would age out of eligibility for special education services in February 2023, when he turned 23. 

After collecting Lionel's records from the five high schools he attended, Sophie discovered that three core courses Lionel already completed were not on his transcript. She also noticed that there were three other courses that he was eligible to complete through credit recovery instead of retaking completely. Sophie provided these records to the high school at the jail, and the school moved up Lionel's anticipated graduation date to June 2023.

Throughout the next year and a half, Sophie continued her work with Lionel and participated in his final IEP meeting to help prepare him to transition from high school to post-secondary education. Lionel graduated from high school on June 15, 2023. A high school diploma significantly increases Lionel's likelihood of success upon re-entry. He is pursuing college courses and hopes to earn a college degree before his release date.


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