Justice for Students with Educational Barriers

By Giving List Staff   |   October 12, 2021

The Learning Rights Law Center exists for a singular purpose: To ensure that no child will suffer from the tragic yet avoidable consequences of having an undiagnosed disability or being discriminated against in an educational setting. The organization is the brainchild of Janeen Steel, a lawyer, who herself suffered from an undiagnosed learning disability that almost derailed her academic career.

“She realized her story was not unique, and that there are so many people in Los Angeles that were falling through the cracks,” says the Law Center’s Executive Director Randi Sunshine. “In addition to that, there are thousands of families in L.A. that are made up of immigrants and many of them do not speak the language. They really don’t know how to navigate the complexity of the special ed system.”

More than 10 percent of all students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are estimated to have disabilities, according to the school district’s own estimates. And 93 percent of youth in the county’s juvenile justice system have open mental health cases, according to figures provided to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors by the county’s health department. 

“There were a lot of kids who were not getting services within the school district and then ending up in the system,” Sunshine says. “For far too many children, it’s a school-to-prison pipeline.”

Founded 16 years ago, LRLC now represents and supports students and families throughout Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, with a staff that includes full-time attorneys, paralegals, and educational outreach advocates. Besides disabilities, the Center also takes on cases of gender and sexual discrimination, as well as racial discrimination and bullying. 

“Everything we do is family by family,” Sunshine says. 

The organization’s Training Individuals for Grassroots Education Reform, or TIGER program, Sunshine adds, was started in 2005 to support low-income and immigrant families as they help themselves and each other navigate the challenges of their county’s educational bureaucracy.

“Parents take classes in special ed law at a level they can understand,” Sunshine says. “We give them documents they can work with, templates they might need to write to a school and request documentation. The parents that are selected to be in the TIGER program are extremely impoverished, at 125 percent or below the federal poverty line, and the majority are Spanish speaking. In our TIGER program, 100 percent of the staff is bilingual.”

The Center’s Education Advocacy program provides direct representation to help families enforce their right to a free and appropriate public education for their children. It has helped resolve conflicts within individual schools, in conjunction with agencies like the California Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, and Office of Administrative Hearings Special Education Division, without having to resort to litigation.


Learning Rights Law Center

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(213) 489-4030
Executive Director: Randi Sunshine


Learning Rights Law Center fights to achieve education equity for underserved families in Los Angeles and surrounding counties.  We provide free and low-cost legal representation, advice, advocacy and training to families and communities whose children, as a consequence of disability or discrimination, have been denied equal access to a public education.

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My son was diagnosed with a developmental disability at age two. My understanding of his special education rights was limited. I left IEP meetings feeling hopeless. I knew what my son needed, but not how to advocate for him. The tools I acquired through Learning Rights go beyond special education. I completed TIGER trainings and began to make assertive decisions after my first class. I obtained the tools to advocate and the confidence to make a change for my son, family, and community. Thank you Learning Rights for the tools of empowerment to create paths for individuals to a better quality of life!
Learning Rights TIGER Parent

Secure Educational Equity for Underserved Students

We provide free legal and advocacy services to low-income students with disabilities who face discrimination and are denied equal access to education.

Our TIGER program educates hundreds of parents each year, giving them the tools to navigate the special education system and advocate for their children. This intensive, year-long program empowers parents to be voices for education equity and reform in their own communities. 

Your support will enable us to reach our annual fundraising goal of $270,000 and continue our work to achieve educational equity and justice for low-income students who are denied equal access to education. 

Every $500 donated is another client that we can secure quality education services and support for. Your generosity will ensure that we will continue our vision for all children to receive a meaningful and equitable education which empowers them to grow into happy, productive, and independent adults.