CCH started the Law Project in 1997 under the direction of Laurene Heybach, the first recipient of the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Thomas Morsch Award for Public Service. Following Ms. Heybach’s retirement, the legal aid program has been led by Patricia Nix-Hodes, a 2018 recipient of the CBF’s Morsch Public Service Award.
Homeless Chicago students continue to benefit by settlements in the Law Project’s 1999 case against the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The Salazar case resulted in a significant 2000 ruling that required CPS to create a homeless education program, with services that include a trained liaison in every city school. Since then, our attorneys have met monthly with CPS to collaborate on the oversight of this program. Since 2014, CPS has identified more than 16,000 homeless students a year.
The Salazar class action case was reopened from 2004 – 2007 to negotiate on behalf of homeless students being displaced by school closings under Renaissance 2010. The Law Project negotiated improved services for 203 homeless children affected by the first wave of closings in 2004, and transfers to better-performing schools for 78 children affected by closures in 2005 and 2006.
Also key: CCH attorneys drafted and advocated an amendment to state law so that schools are required to appoint impartial hearing officers to decide dispute resolution hearings in homeless cases. Before the 2005 change, schools appointed as hearing officer the same school employee who alleged a homeless student was illegally enrolled. This rule change has had obvious, and significant, impact.
A CCH youth health attorney, Graham Bowman, also drafted and advocated for the 2014 adoption of a state amendment that allows unaccompanied minors, ages 14 to 18, to consent to their own non-emergency health care.
By 2016, the CCH Law Project and our Education Committee succeeded in persuading the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to adopt a strong homeless education policy in April. We spent 18 months advocating against watered-down CPS drafts, which if adopted, would have cut services and protections for almost 19,000 homeless students. This includes pushing CPS to drop a provision that would have barred students from appealing if denied enrollment or school services, which we contend is illegal under federal McKinney-Vento law. Education Committee parents and students testified at eight CPS Board meetings.
Each year, the Law Project runs trainings and lectures that reach over 2,000 professionals, including service providers, social workers, and other advocates. Our lawyers are nationally known for their expertise. This includes co-authoring all five editions of Educating Children Without Housing, published by the American Bar Association.
CCH represented a class action case affecting hundreds of state wards – the Kirkland & Ellis law firm worked pro bono with CCH attorneys when the 1994 Hill v. Erickson case returned to court in June 2009. Concluded by a mediated settlement in March 2010, the Hill case affects more than 1,300 pregnant and parenting teens and their children, all wards of the state. More than 90% African American, these wards faced losing all state-supported programs, including school services, due to budget cutbacks sought by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. CCH continues to represent the Hill class, after securing a mediated resolution that ensures access to school, childcare, medical and other services, and which instituted a class monitor to ensure services are delivered.