SchoolWorks Successes


Kristin Hajny, LCSW, is one of our SchoolWorks advocates. She represented two sisters, "Lisa and Andrea," who had been in foster care since 2006.  Their parents struggle with alcohol and other substance abuse. Visits are very stressful for the girls, but they live with a family friend who provides stability for them.

Lisa and Andrea are students in east Multnomah County, Oregon. Lisa was eligible for special education and had an Individual Education Program (IEP) in middle school but was re-evaluated for special education and was found ineligible by her school at the beginning of eighth grade. Lisa struggled with depression and anxiety, and her grades plummeted. Her academic struggles continued into high school.

Kristin Hajny  and the DHS case worker requested a meeting with the school to discuss the possibility of having Lisa re-qualified for Special Education. Unfortunately, it took three meetings before a Special Education teacher was present.  The school psychologist and special ed. case manager also began attending meetings.

Kristin met a great deal of resistance from the psychologist and case manager. They accused Lisa of being capable of succeeding in school and blamed her struggles on a lack of effort. They did not seem to consider her depression and anxiety, nor her family situation. There was also a lot of commotion around the house due to the other children living there, making it difficult for Lisa to focus on her schoolwork. She and her sister attempted study at the library instead of at home, but it was impossible for Lisa to finish everything during the time she could spend at the library.

Kristin asked Lisa what was helpful about being in special education. Lisa responded by saying that having a case manager to help with organization, prioritization, and study skills by having meetings on a weekly or sometimes even daily basis was invaluable.

One day Lisa was caught coming onto campus with a knife in her bag. She explained that she had to go somewhere by herself the previous day and didn't feel safe, so she brought the knife with her. The school began the process to expel Lisa from school for possessing a knife.[1] Due to Lisa's anxiety over this possible expulsion, she became suicidal and was hospitalized. Unfortunately, this is what it took to finally convince the school officials that her  anxiety was significant.  Kristin worked with SchoolWorks attorney Brian Baker to represent Lisa at the expulsion hearing.  They established that Lisa's behavior was a manifestation of her disability, and the expulsion was dismissed. The school also re-evaluated Lisa and finally put her on a new Individual Education Program.

Within weeks of finding a new case manager that Lisa liked and felt comfortable with, she was already doing much better in school. She was more responsive, doing all of her work, and attributed this drastic improvement to feeling like her case manager cared about her and wanted her to succeed. Without Kristin to advocate on Lisa's behalf to be re-evaluated and re-admitted to Special Education, she would not have had this support from her case manager. In the bimonthly meetings held at the school as a result of having an IEP, Lisa's teachers encouraged her by telling her how much she has improved and that she is doing extremely well. Without the support provided by her SchoolWorks advocate, Lisa would not have had this chance to stay in school and resume the success she had experienced previously.

While she was faring better, Lisa's older sister Andrea was significantly behind on high school credits.  Kristin helped her to access credit retrieval support through her school, and Andrea graduated high school in June!

[1] Under current Oregon law, cases like these are automatically referred for expulsion, however, this will change in 2014, as a result of HB 2192, which was written by Youth, Rights & Justice!


"Juan" was a 5th grader last year when the SchoolWorks program first came to assist him.  He was normally a good student and liked to learn -- the kind of student that teachers enjoy having in their classes. He was receiving help for a learning disability. He has been living in foster care with his grandmother. Juan's mother battles drug addiction, and may disappear for months at a time.

When she is not around, Juan misses his mother and becomes very concerned about her. Juan's teacher became concerned about him and referred him to the mental health counselor at his school. While there were many warning signs witnessed by adults at his school, there had been very little communication among them, and their response was slow. He wrote statements about harming himself in his journal. One day, he brought a tool with a sharp point that he found in his garage to school with him - something that boys his age do. Another boy reported that Juan talked about harming others. The school immediately suspended Juan and started the process to expel him.

Through the course of investigation and at the expulsion hearing itself, Juan's SchoolWorks attorney, Brian Baker, discovered that Juan had unmet mental health needs and that the school had been aware of these problems for some time. But very little had been done so far. He had only seen a counselor twice before he was suspended.  And he would not continue seeing her as long as he was excluded from school.

Juan's attorney argued that he should be assessed for an emotional disability, in addition to his learning disability. Not only would this explain his behavior, but it would also likely protect him from being expelled. Everyone agreed that Juan should attend a local alternative school while the additional assessment was done.

Not only was Juan found eligible for special education services, which prevented his expulsion, but he also began doing much better in the alternative school setting. In planning for Juan's transition to middle school, his attorney advocated for Juan to return to his neighborhood school. When his depression is being managed and treated, Juan is a bright and engaged student, and it was important to him to return to school with his peers. Juan started middle school this year, and he is thriving. He is earning As and Bs in all of his classes and likes to recite poetry.

When Mary Kane, his YRJ attorney who represents him in court, visited Juan September, he recited this poem, by Shel Silverstein, to her:

If you are a bird, be an early bird

And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.

If you are a bird, be an early, early bird

But if you are a worm, sleep late.

Brian Baker just attended Juan's annual IEP review in December.  His teachers described him as a "rock star." He is nothing like the student they read about in his records.  He has someone to talk to each morning and afternoon.  He is no longer the student who was anxious, depressed and disengaged. According to Brian, "He has found his place, his voice and community. He loves poetry and wrestling and works on reading at home with grandmother. He is all business and loves middle school."


"Annie's story"

Hi, I'm Annie.  I've been in foster care for seven years.  My attorney, Lynn, has been my advocate the whole time.  I've had a rough time and lived in 24  different foster homes.  My life wasn't very stable even before I was in foster care. My dad left me with a neighbor, and she took care of me for more than a year. 

I've gone to 9 different schools.  I didn't attend the same school for an entire  year until the 6th grade.  Lynn made sure that I stayed at that school for the 7th and 8th grades, too, even though I moved foster homes at least six times while I was there.  Lynn had to go back to court one time because DHS wasn't obeying the judge's order that said I could stay. That was the best time in my life.  I had  really good grades and I was a teacher's aide.

While the rest of my life continues to be up and down, I've stayed in school and still get good grades.  I'm a high school senior now.   I'm not sure what I want to do yet. I like both art and medicine, and I plan to go to college next year  after I graduate.   Through all of the foster parents, case workers and other adults who have changed, Lynn has been the one I could count on.  She helped  make it possible for me to do well in school.

"Owen's story"

Hi, I'm Owen.  I have this thing called ADHD.  It makes school harder for me.  In middle school I got extra help, which made it easier.  But when I went to high school, they said I couldn't get extra help anymore.  My parents tried to get them to keep me in special ed.,  but my school wouldn't do it. My parents didn't have any insurance then either, so I couldn't get my medicine for a while.  Things got bad after that. I got in a lot of trouble at school, and even got arrested.

I don't like telling people I'm in special education, but it really helps me.  After I was arrested, I got two lawyers - one for court and one to help me with school .  One of my lawyers, Brian, went to the school and had them test me again. They didn't listen to my parents, but they listened to Brian!  He knew what to say to my teachers.

My parents and me had to move before the testing was finished, so I had to transfer to a new school. Brian got my new school to finish the testing, and I got back into special education.  My mom and dad were amazed cuz it only took Brian like a week to get my new school to do everything.  

I have my medication again and my school helps me get my work done.  I'm not getting in trouble like I was for a while, and I'm almost finished with my probation, too.   Getting in trouble wasn't the best way to get help, but we got Brian, who  helped make things right again.

"Eddie's story"

My name is Eddie. I've had a hard time in school. Moving around just made it worse. I went to four different schools in two years.  When they put me in a "special" school, I didn't like it, so I stopped going. My parents are immigrants who don't speak much English.  They didn't know how to help me.  I got some help from my lawyer, Whitney, last year, when I was getting expelled after another kid started hitting me and I fought back.  She represented me at the
hearing, and I got to stay in school.

I called Whitney for help again because I wanted to go to school, just not the last one they put me in. She called and got me back into my neighborhood school.  I couldn't believe it! 

They were supposed to call me, but when they didn't, I went and registered myself anyway.  It was great.  Now that I'm in a regular school, I have the chance to play football again, too. Whitney helped me get back into school twice, and she helped me start counseling so that I could deal with my problems, too.

"Kenny" is a 12 year-old who began 6th grade this past fall at a new school.  Kenny is a student with a disability and on an Individual Education Program (IEP) for a psychiatric condition, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Even though he arrived at the school with a current IEP that included special instruction in the core academic areas of math, reading and writing, the new school did not provide him any of the services or accommodations he was supposed to receive.  The school, in fact, did not even have a special education teacher for the 6-8 grades. 

Kenny was at least three grades behind academically, but he was placed in regular classes with no support.  When his foster mother realized Kenny was struggling in school, unable to do his homework and becoming reluctant to even go to school, she called the SchoolWorks program for help.  She knew that SchoolWorks could help because it had helped other foster children in her home before.  A meeting with the school was requested and the information about the lack of educational support for Kenny came out.  Kenny's SchoolWorks attorney worked with the school to get Kenny's schedule modified and to obtain more support and instruction at his academic level until a special education teacher was assigned to their school.  She then approached the school district with a request for compensatory education to provide the instruction Kenny had not been provided earlier in the school year.   Kenny's attorney negotiated additional services from the district to help make up for the support he had not received.


"Ralph" is in foster care and in the process of being adopted, but his adoptive mother had been struggling to get his school to provide an appropriate education for him.  Ralph has a history of many behavior problems, and his school had relegated him to spending his days in a small room, removed from other classmates.  He saw his teacher for only brief instances each day.  Most of
the day, he had an aide watching over him.

For Ralph, this was a recipe for failure.  He became easily frustrated.  The school was also physically restraining Ralph unnecessarily and in ways that violated state policies, adding to Ralph's toxic experience at school.  This pattern repeated over a period of months.  SchoolWorks became involved and demanded that the school come up with a better plan for Ralph.  The district agreed to obtain training for its staff in Collaborative Problem Solving.  Ralph's SchoolWorks attorney also persuaded the school to use physical restraints only in instances where Ralph's behavior might pose a risk to his safety or the safety of others and to implement a behavior plan that focuses on positive interactions and incentives. 

After the plan was implemented, the use of physical interventions with Ralph dropped by 93%. His attorney also convinced the school to allow Ralph to spend part of the day in a special education classroom with other students.  While the school staff feared that this would have disastrous results, instead Ralph thrived in his new class.  By the end of the school year, Ralph was successfully attending classes with other students and the school plans to continue to transition Ralph to more mainstream classes in the fall.