“It is incredibly important that the most vulnerable among us are not shouldering the brunt of the pandemic. Despite the challenges brought on by COVID-19, schools need to do their part by providing meaningful and individualized education programs to children with disabilities.”
-Connor Cory, KIDS LEGAL attorney 

Distance learning during the pandemic has been difficult for many students. But for Loki, a 4th grader with autism, ADHD, and significant developmental delays, it was a nightmare.
Stacy Noel began fostering Loki 4 years ago. At the time, he was enrolled at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders, a day treatment program that specializes in the unique needs of children with developmental disorders. Eventually, the school district stopped paying for the day treatment program and Loki joined the mainstream students at the local public school.
Since Loki started at the public school, Stacy has been fighting hard to get adequate programming for Loki’s level of need. Previously, Stacy worked with KIDS LEGAL, a specialty unit within Pine Tree that is exclusively focused on addressing the unique needs of low-income children and youth in Maine. Our KIDS LEGAL team helped Stacy advocate for more robust and necessary programming for Loki, including an applied behavior analysis (ABA) program at his elementary school, supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Last fall, Loki moved up to the intermediate school and began 4th grade. Stacy noticed that he was regressing and losing speech. The school wasn’t able to provide a level of support and education that met his needs. As Loki grew in size and behaviors, the school wasn’t keeping up. They stopped pushing him academical to avoid triggering behaviors related to his disabilities. He was not learning anything new or more because they could not handle the behaviors.
When COVID-19 spread to Maine and schools moved to distance learning, it got worse. “COVID-19 made an already bad situation 1,000 times worse. I continuously worked with the school to try to make it work for him but, it never really did to the point that he needed. That is why specialized schools for kids with autism is so important.” said Stacy. 
As difficult as distance learning is for everyone, school districts have a responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. But because of Loki’s disabilities, he was not able to engage in remote learning, resulting in very significant educational and functional regression.
Loki suffered both academic regressions as well as serious behavioral and emotional challenges while out of school. Without the educational services and supports he needed, he experienced an escalation of behavioral issues, including an incident when he broke through the window in his bedroom (which has safety locks) and went up on the roof of the house. By the end of the school year, Loki needed to be hospitalized.
Stacy advocated on behalf of Loki to try to get him moved back to the same treatment program at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders. At the Center, Loki would have the opportunity to continue his education in-person, around peers, with trained staff and individualized attention.
Stacy reached out to KIDS LEGAL again for help. Our KIDS LEGAL team, paralegal Claire Nacinovich and attorney Connor Cory, partnered with Stacy to advocate on behalf of Loki. Working with the school district, they were able to reach an agreement that Loki needed more support and one-on-one attention, and that in order for him to access a free and appropriate public education he should be allowed to attend a day treatment program.
Loki is now enrolled at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders and is thriving! 

Maine has so many great organizations that work with parents and youth to support kids in school. One of them is Maine Boys to Men. Maine Boys to Men is a non-profit with the mission to end all forms of male violence and self-harm and advance gender equity by supporting the development of self-aware, empathetic boys and men. Their tremendous work is shifting attitudes and causing action to stop violence before it happens. Take a listen to their recent podcast to hear from young people discussing important community issues and join us in supporting this valuable work.
“We believe that high school education is a right – and not merely a privilege. . . Having to yield to overbearing dictatorship in order to get an education is not right.” 
- Leon Woodbury, 1969 
Asserting a child’s right to an education has been a priority for Pine Tree Legal Assistance from the beginning. In 1969, Pine Tree Legal Assistance filed a federal lawsuit asserting that students have a constitutional right to free speech and expression. Pine Tree represented the father of a 17-year-old Belfast student after his son was suspended from school for sporting a beard. The suit sought to have the student’s record cleared so that his chances of gaining a scholarship would not be impacted. The photo to the right and the quote above are from the October 16, 1969 edition of Belfast’s Republican Journal.  

Which TV show helped to launch Pine Tree’s KIDS LEGAL project in 2004?

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Pine Tree Legal Assistance is a non-profit, is a 501(c)(3) organization incorporated on June 14, 1966. Our tax ID number is 01-02 79387. Pine Tree Legal Assistance is funded in part by the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”). As a condition of the funding received from LSC, Pine Tree Legal Assistance is restricted in certain activities in all of its legal work, including work supported by other funding sources. Pine Tree Legal Assistance may not expend any funds for any activity prohibited by the Legal Services Corporation Act, 42 U.S.C §2996 et. seq. or by Public Law 104-134. Public Law 104—234 §504(d) required that notice of these restrictions be given to all funders or programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation. For a copy of these laws or any further information, please contact: Executive Director, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, PO Box 547, Portland, Maine 04112; Tel. 207-774-4753.