Environmental Justice in Education Project
July Program Highlight
A young girl looks on at unsafe lead practices that took place on her property. The renovation materials in the background were not properly handled, and have a high chance of containing dangerous lead or other known contaminants. Without proper procedures, residents can be exposed to toxins that can harm development in children.
"Sadly, our schools are not doing anything to identify, assess or provide special education services for children who are at risk for learning disabilities as a result of any type of toxic exposure—including the thousands of children living in high risk areas such as East Los Angeles and Oxnard."

- Learning Rights Environmental Justice in Education Project Director, Patsy van Dyke
With funding from the State Bar of California, Learning Rights established the Environmental Justice in Education project in 2017 – a groundbreaking effort to address the impact of children’s exposure to environmental toxins on their ability to succeed in school. The initial goal of the project was to identify toxic “hot spots” in Southern California, reduce children’s exposure to toxins, and help affected children obtain special education and related services through both litigation and legislative advocacy. More than a year of research and outreach yielded some unexpected and alarming results.

Contrary to expectations, lead poisoning from deteriorating paint in older housing and exposure to lead-contaminated dust and soil is by far the most significant environmental justice issue impacting school-age children in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties today—not exposure as a result of living near a known “hot spot.” Unfortunately, most “hot spots” also are located in areas with a high percentage of older (often substandard) housing, so children living near hot spots are at even greater risk for developing a learning disability than originally anticipated, because they are also exposed to lead dust at home.

Sadly, our schools are not doing anything to identify, assess or provide special education services for children who are at risk for learning disabilities as a result of any type of toxic exposure—including the thousands of children living in high risk areas such as East Los Angeles and Oxnard. In East Los Angeles, thousands of children who reside within a 1.7-mile radius of the former Exide battery plant have been exposed to lead, arsenic and other industrial toxins, yet none appear to be receiving special education as a result. In Oxnard, thousands of children have been exposed to pesticides, yet the school district has no policies or procedures to identify, assess or provide special education for these children. Many of these children face a “triple whammy” of toxic exposure: 1) exposure from living or going to school near an industrial or agricultural site; 2) exposure from living or going to school in close proximity to a freeway; and 3) exposure from living in housing or going to school in buildings constructed prior to 1978. Although these children are known to be at a very high risk for lead poisoning, our schools are not prepared to address their needs.
Paint peeling like the above is often a sign of high lead content in the paint.
In light of what we have learned, the actions we have taken to date, and recent legal developments relating to lead poisoning, Learning Rights adjusted the Environmental Justice in Education Project to focus primarily on lead-related issues. Our suggested strategy for engaging schools in the process of lead exposure prevention and intervention includes incorporating information about educational rights into existing community-based Healthy Homes programs, using targeted advocacy to promote lead-safe work practices, and increasing funding to remediate lead contamination
in all homes and schools.

Although there is no safe level of lead exposure, and no cure for lead poisoning, substantial research indicates that early educational interventions are very effective in mitigating the brain damage caused by lead. Thus, it is imperative that we enlist schools in the efforts to address lead poisoning before another generation of children is consigned to a life of low expectations.

The above is an excerpt from Learning Rights' white paper, Lead Poisoning: An Enduring Toxic Legacy and Ongoing Educational Crisis (July 2018) on the intersection of environmental hazards and education. You can read the entire paper here .
Thank you to Winston & Strawn, Nixon Peabody, Morrison & Foerster, Akerman, Skadden, and King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano!

Attorneys from these five firms donated over 100 hours volunteering and collected hundreds of school supplies for our families! They also donated over $50,000 to Learning Rights! We are beyond grateful for their generous support.

Special thanks to Boomtown Brewery for donating the event venue!
Marisol Chianello

I graduated from law school 13 years ago eager to serve my community and make a difference in the lives of children with special needs. 

At Learning Rights I am part of a team that helps to ensure all children have access to an education and I am able to develop pro bono relationships that multiply our ability to serve students and their families. 

For me, it’s a wonderful fit!   
Legislation Update
This year Learning Rights is supporting four bills in the California Legislature and we have good news -- all four have passed their first major legislative hurdle!

The four bills we support have each been approved by either the Assembly or the Senate. This means we are getting closer to passing laws that would:
- make college funding more accessible for foster youth (SB 940); 
- develop new programs to serve homeless youth (SB 918);
- end overuse of seclusion and restraints (AB 2657);
- allow for easier transfers for bullied, migrant, foster, and homeless youth (AB 3086).

Read up on these bills here .

How much lead in the bloodstream is dangerous?


There is NO safe amount of lead in the bloodstream. Any lead exposure from water or building materials can have detrimental impacts on childhood development.
Stat sources: 
Learning Rights Law Center seeks to achieve education equity for low-income and disadvantaged students in the public education system in Southern California. We change the lives of at-risk students who have disabilities, face discrimination or are involved in the foster care or juvenile justice systems by providing free legal services, education advocacy, and community training.