For the last three years, Rutgers Law School student Ruby Kish RLAW’20, has been advocating for children with special needs in the education system of her home town of Secaucus. She started a volunteer organization for parents of special needs children in her town, to help them navigate the special education system. To further her own skills, she took a 9-month Special Education Training Program, but realized she wanted to do more.
“If a child with a disability ends up tangled in the juvenile justice system, as is so often the case, a lawyer with an understanding of special education law can provide the advocacy necessary to create an alternative path, allowing these vulnerable youth an opportunity to escape a future of continued justice-involvement,” she said.
Kish enrolled in Rutgers Law and began working with the Education and Health Law Clinic, which advocates for children in New Jersey schools. She also interned with the Office of the Public Defender.
It is this advocacy work—which she began eight years ago when her son needed an educational advocate—that led Kish to be selected for a prestigious Skadden Fellowship. She was one of 28 winners nationwide, chosen from more than 200 applications.
The fellowship will enable her to work at Advocates for Children of New Jersey for two years, after she graduates from law school in May, helping children who are at-risk or who are already involved with the juvenile justice system. In her law school personal statement, Kish shared that showed 85 percent of children in the juvenile justice system have a disability and that children with emotional disturbances are three times more likely to be arrested before they leave school.
“I came to law school to do this type of advocacy work,” she said. “I really wanted to help the most vulnerable population of students.”
She was recommended for the Skadden Fellowship by her supervisor at the Public Defender’s office who talked about Kish’s skill representing children at detention hearings, meeting with clients, negotiating with prosecutors, and interviewing parents. “She is creative, dedicated and passionate,” wrote Kristina Kersey, First Assistant Deputy Public Defender of Kish.
Professor Esther Canty-Barnes, who oversees the Rutgers Education and Health Law Clinic, said of Kish’s work, “Her unique research, writing and analytical skills allowed her to handle many more complex cases than her peers. She is able to quickly analyze documents and case files with extraordinary accuracy and precision, with the maturity of an attorney admitted to the bar.”
During her fellowship, Kish will work with youth from Newark and Essex County, providing students with disabilities legal representation, particularly in special education matters. She will ensure that youth in the juvenile justice system have appropriate education programs and mental health services and help educate parents and other professionals about special education law and processes.
Kish said she was shocked and delighted when she found out she had been awarded the fellowship and will get to continue her advocacy work, “This work is exactly what I came to law school to do. The stakes are so much higher for justice-involved students who also have disabilities. Educational advocacy is absolutely imperative if we want these young people to have better life outcomes."
Rutgers Law School is proud to have had numerous students chosen for Skadden Fellowships, including Joanna Gardner RLAW '19.