The Law-Medicine Center’s support of my summer internship at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights enabled me to work on cutting-edge issues in disability law. I gained valuable legal experience while working in an area that ignites my passion.
I would recommend summer placement with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights to any student interested in disability law, gender equality, race discrimination, or other aspects of civil rights. Interns deal with legislation that has significant impact in educational settings, and previous exposure to application in educational settings is helpful, but not required.
The office provided an ambassador to interns. This was helpful in getting started, as I immediately knew who to reach out to as a point of contact and as a mentor to help with legal questions and in assessing and managing the workload. However, project work came from various attorneys throughout the office. The office did a nice job of dividing up project work among the interns, and regular check-ins ensured effective communication with the attorneys involved.
The Department of Education offered extensive organized training sessions as well as ample real-world opportunities ranging from phone contact with parties to writing experience to data analysis. Even outside training opportunities were offered to interns as well as employees. I learned a great deal over the course of the summer.
It is worthwhile to note to a student that might be interested that parking is unpaid, so plan for this in your budget.
My experience with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights in downtown Cleveland this summer was very valuable in introducing me to the law in a field in which I am very interested. I began my summer by gaining training in the functioning of the office as well as in the location of resources and a general outline of cases I might work on. I was assigned an ambassador who proved to be an invaluable resource throughout the summer. I began by sitting in on interviews with various parties involved in the cases that the office had opened. By simply sitting in on the interviews I was able to learn the types of questions that were asked, the manner in which they were asked, and the information the office found relevant to the legislation that applied in any particular scenario. After multiple interviews, I began writing interview memoranda, which required me to sift through the information and summarize that which might be relevant to the case. These summaries were added to official case files and accessed by attorneys.
I quickly began to communicate with parties via phone. The first step in addressing complaints was to determine if the issue fell under the office’s jurisdiction. Sometimes, even if law was on point, something else in the facts, such as the setting being outside an educational institution, prevented us from having jurisdiction. Other times the point of law fell outside the laws we enforced. Further, we had to determine if the educational institution was a recipient of federal funding. After this analysis a case was either opened or dismissed. I wrote several dismissal letters for cases that did not fall under our jurisdiction and/or to which the laws the office enforces did not apply. At this point, I officially closed some case files.
An issue I became immediately involved with was the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act in internet-based education (tools or institutions) as applied to people with visual impairments or other disabilities. I became involved in related research, data compilation, and data analysis. I had to thoroughly understand the Titles under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in order to ensure my legal approach was on point, and my work was done under Title II, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public entities. I learned the cases that are influencing this still-evolving area of the law. The basic position of student advocates is that because all students deserve an equal opportunity to participate in and receive the benefits of an education at an institution that receives federal funds, the use of technology must be integrated in a way that is accessible to all students.
I created a spreadsheet guide to extensive amounts of data including data on students with disabilities and technology data that would help investigators and attorneys analyze this issue. I also created spreadsheets that divided substantive issues according to the applicable legal point. In addition, I researched the applicable law and reported my findings to an attorney.
Early on in the internship we also received extensive training in the legislation and case law that impacted the office’s practice. We had sessions on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Special Education Limited English Proficiency, Lau, and Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act.
We also received training in the Freedom of Information Act and in internal controls and security.
I was also involved in a case that examined issues of equity in school sports programs for female athletes. I pored over hundreds of pages of interviews and created reports for case files to summarize data. I also sat in on several interviews and wrote memoranda for this topic.
I was also involved with a pro-active that sought to gage school climate as related to sexual harassment. In this case I also compiled interview data.
Near the end of my time I gained some exposure in a race discrimination case that falls under the Civil Rights Act.
One of the highlights of my summer was the opportunity to attend a Federal Government diversity training entitled “Perception Isn’t Always Reality.” This training was off-site and delved deeply into issues of race and identity, treatment of veterans and the disability of post-traumatic stress disorder, bullying and harassment, homophobia, and other current issues in civil rights law. Interacting with professionals from multiple federal agencies as well as from other venues, while exploring these topics, expanded my understanding of these current issues and allowed me the opportunity to grow and develop as a future lawyer and as a person.