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Janeen Steel Announced as the 2018 Diane Lipton Award for Outstanding Advocacy Recipient

Friday, February 16, 2018   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall
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The COPAA Board of Directors is pleased to announce Janeen Steel as the recipient of the 2018 Diane Liptonpicture of woman with dark hair and glasses, smiling Award for Outstanding Educational Advocacy on Behalf of Children with Disabilities. 


The award is given each year during the COPAA Conference at the awards luncheon to an individual or group of individuals who have made a particularly exceptional and outstanding contribution to COPAA's primary mission: obtaining high-quality educational services for children with disabilities, and honors the memory of Diane Lipton, a tireless advocate for children with disabilities for over two decades, who began as a parent-advocate on behalf of her own daughter, Chloe, who had been placed in a segregated school, separated from her peers without disabilities by a chain link fence.  Diane Lipton became an attorney for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), where she championed the civil rights of children with disabilities. She was on the Board of COPAA for many years.

We always receive many worthy nominations for this prestigious award. This year the Board chose Janeen, the Co-founder and Co-Executive Director of Learning Rights Law Center, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization which seeks to ensure that all students are provided with equitable access to the public education system and focuses on low-income students who have disabilities, face discrimination or are involved in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.  Learning Rights includes among its constituents the students, as well as parents, service providers, educators and legal professionals who impact the lives of these young people.

The extraordinary work Learning Rights Law Center does today resulted from Janeen’s vision that in a world where there are huge shortages of legal services for the poor, lawyers should be doing (formal) legal advocacy, hearings and litigation. Janeen has been counsel on numerous impact litigation filings which advance civil rights for students. These filings include M.S. v Los Angeles USD (defending rights of foster children), S.L. v. Downey USD (defending rights of children with medical issues), and Jocelyn B. v. CDE (defending rights of foster children with disabilities), among many others.

Meanwhile, her vision for systemic education change has resulted in Learning Rights’ unique approach to education advocacy: lawyering while simultaneously educating and empowering parents to become their own advocates for their children. Learning Rights has seen that in many situations, parents who understand their children’s education rights can advocate quite successfully. Janeen was instrumental in developing the award-winning Training Individuals for Grassroots Education Reform (TIGER) Program which effectuates this through an intensive year-long, hands-on learning curriculum. So far TIGER has graduated over 700 parents – many of whom are now parent leaders throughout Los Angeles’ various school districts, PTAs and Community Advisory Committees (CACs).

Janeen has never shied away from a challenge, and she is committed to ensuring that low-income families receive the same type and quality of legal representation as children of means. Janeen’s vision does not stop in the courtroom: she is a frequent guest-speaker at numerous conferences discussing legal issues in the public education system, as well as describing her personal experience growing up with an undiagnosed learning disability.  Janeen shares her story openly to create an atmosphere of respect and hope for other students with learning differences. In this way, Janeen is also a mentor to the next generation of disability rights advocates. “With proper treatment,” she says, “I found my intellect and, for the first time, confidently pursued my studies. The diagnosis [in my twenties] was an epiphany revealing my life calling: to make sure that those in similar situations receive the proper assistance they require. The only way to achieve this was to become a lawyer. Education, the most difficult thing in my life, actually became my calling.”

The TIGER Program is becoming increasingly popular and is growing at an unprecedented rate: in 2017, Learning Rights benefitted more than 2,000 parents, children with disabilities and other family members through the TIGER Program.

The TIGER Program is available at no charge to parents whose children, birth through age 22, have disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorders, specific learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities. More than 70% of participants are Latino and reside in economically-marginalized communities throughout Los Angeles County. In July 2014, Dr. Terese Aceves, Associate Professor of Special Education at Loyola Marymount University and her team conducted the first Beginning TIGER effectiveness study and concluded that there is a statistically significant difference between pre and post-test scores that parents took. The Study establishes that the TIGER Program prepares its participants to become better advocates for their children and thus validates Beginning TIGER’s impact.

Janeen has advocated on a legislative level for students with disabilities on numerous occasions on bills that make a huge difference in the education of at-risk students in the State of California. She has been an adjunct professor at a number of prominent institutions including the UCLA School of Law, Loyola Law School and the USC School of Law. She currently teaches a course on special education law at Claremont Graduate University.

Since entering UCLA, Janeen focused all of her efforts on realizing this calling. While there, she received the UCLA La Raza Alumni Association Cesar Chavez Summer Fellowship (in 1998) which she used to create the blueprint for her future: “The Learning Rights Manual”, an education advocacy guide for parents of students with disabilities. In 1999, she received an Echoing Green Fellowship, the prestigious and highly-competitive award given to emerging leaders working to bring about positive social change. The fellowship enabled Janeen to launch the Learning Rights Project and in 2005, she took the project independent and founded a separate nonprofit, Learning Rights Law Center.

The award is being presented at the 2018 COPAA Conference in Monterey, CA, March 10, 2018 at the Hyatt Recency Monterey. 


Carla Lehmann (Correa de Melo) says...
Posted Friday, February 16, 2018
Janeen was my teacher last year in the Tigers Advanced Program. She is an amazing teacher, she knows so much and I learned a lot from her. I felt really empowered to fight for my son's rights after going to her classes. Congrats Janeen!!! You really deserve this recognition! And thank you so much for all you and the Tigers program do for our community! Carla Lehmann

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