Advocacy Organizations Urge Biden Administration to Ramp Up Enforcement of Federal Civil Rights Laws in Schools Across the United States

WASHINGTON – Four member organizations of Appleseed, a network of justice centers, submitted public comments to the United States Department of Education on Thursday, July 22, concerning the national state of school discipline. By focusing on four questions posed by the Department of Education to the public, Texas Appleseed, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and Kansas Appleseed illustrate how school policing, gang databases, discriminatory dress codes, and classroom removals hinder millions of young people from achieving their full potential in classrooms across America.

“To remedy racial discrimination in the administration of school discipline, it necessitates more than data collection and analysis; more than investigating disproportionate representation of students of color in exclusionary discipline and law enforcement referrals; more than implementing intervention-focused discipline strategies to avoid perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Dr. Vicky Luna Sullivan, Esq, a senior staff attorney for the Education Justice Project at Texas Appleseed.

“It demands confronting the root causes of the discriminatory administration of the student discipline, attacking the systemic racial discrimination that occurs by implicit bias and deficit thinking in our schools, and valiantly activating a fundamental transformation that is free of racial discrimination,” she continued.

The public comments examine the detrimental impact of the “hardening” of schools, namely through increasing budget allocations to policing, security, and surveillance. The Centers also uplift some of the approaches highlighted in the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter, which clarified that a school district’s federal funding is contingent upon the non-discriminatory administration of school discipline. These methods of engagement include, but are not limited to, positive behavioral strategies, restorative justice, and multi-tiered systems of support. 

“The Biden Administration should use all available tools to address the rampant misuse of exclusionary discipline and school policing in our nation’s schools,” said Mike Fonkert, the director of the Just Campaign for Kansas Appleseed. “For instance, memos of understanding can be very helpful tools to clarify that school police officers should not be involved in routine discipline. By creating a robust model framework that can be consistently applied across the nation, the Office for Civil Rights would make progress on ending the school-to-prison pipeline, which systematically harms Black and Brown students in Kansas at higher rates than White students.”

“We’ve seen horrendous cases occur, when local and state investments in school policing go unchecked, including sexual abuse of young people at the hands of school police officers on their school campuses. We need to make sure children can feel safe in their own schools,” said Jennifer Rainville, the education policy attorney for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. 

The public comments also emphasize that inadequate data collection stands as a grave hindrance to education justice campaigns across the United States. 

“If we’re going to push for policy change that repairs the harms of racial discrimination and the school-to-prison pipeline, especially those that impact girls of color, we need local education agencies and state education agencies to vigorously collect and report this data,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

The comments conclude with a call for the Biden Administration to fully reinstate and strengthen the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter. Drastic action is needed to mitigate the ongoing detrimental impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the U.S. Department of Education could use several tools at its disposal to deliver long overdue equal educational opportunities to children across the nation. 

“We are proud to stand with these Appleseed Centers as they continually fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in their states and across the country,” said Benet Magnuson, the executive director of the Appleseed Network.

“These comments illustrate some key points for the Biden Administration to consider as the executive branch of the federal government maximizes its effort to end the pushout of so many children in the United States,” he concluded. 


About Appleseed Network

Appleseed is a network of 16 justice centers across the United States and Mexico working together to reduce poverty, combat discrimination, and advance the rule of law. Appleseed Centers unite research, organizing, policy advocacy, and impact litigation to build systemic solutions for their communities’ most pressing problems.

About Kansas Appleseed

Kansas Appleseed is a statewide advocacy organization dedicated to the belief that Kansans, working together, can build a more thriving, inclusive, and just Kansas.

About Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues.

About South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center

The South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center fights for low income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic, and legal injustice.

About Texas Appleseed

Texas Appleseed is a public interest justice center that works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential. Our nonprofit conducts data-driven research that uncovers inequity in laws and policies and identifies solutions for lasting, concrete change.

Media Contacts:

Sarah Pacilio
Appleseed Network

Angelica Maldonado
Texas Appleseed

Melanie Rush
Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice

Christina Ostmeyer
Kansas Appleseed

Brandon Fountain
South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center


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Save the Date!
October 14, 2021
6:00 PM

Following an extraordinarily difficult year and in the wake of unprecedented challenges, it’s thanks to our community of support that we’ve been able to expand our work to end the systemic injustices and inequities harming our most vulnerable families and youth.

Now, it’s time to come together and celebrate!

Please save the date for Massachusetts Appleseed’s 2021 Good Apple Award Reception on October 14th. This year, we are thrilled to recognize and honor Karen Morton, Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance and recipient of the 2021 Good Apple Award!

Join us for this virtual celebration in the fall, and see below for details on tickets and sponsorship opportunities!



Karen Morton, Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance

Karen Morton, Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance and recipient of the 2021 Good Apple Award.

As the Global Chief Compliance Officer, Karen and her team are responsible for the enterprise compliance strategy and policies, compliance training, Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, conflicts of interest, regulatory investigations, oversight of market conduct examinations, privacy, financial crimes and the operational risk assessment process. Karen leads a team of approximately 180 compliance professionals in 29 countries and economies around the world.

Prior to her current role, Karen was the Deputy General Counsel for the Litigation and Coverage Group at Liberty Mutual. In this role she was responsible for the management of a team of legal professionals who handled litigation brought against Liberty Mutual Group and its member companies, oversaw various regulatory investigations, provided enterprise-wide coverage advice and opinions, managed electronic discovery services in support of litigation and all third-party subpoenas for the enterprise.

During her career at Liberty Mutual, which commenced in 2006, Ms. Morton also served as Vice President and Counsel for Employment, Benefits and Executive Compensation and Corporate Real Estate.

Prior to joining Liberty Mutual, Ms. Morton was an attorney with John Hancock Financial Services, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Manulife Financial Corporation. She held the position of Vice President and Counsel, responsible for the management of the Company’s litigation and employment law functions. Ms. Morton previously held various legal positions in the public sector.

Ms. Morton is a member of the Board of Trustees for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, where she serves as the Chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee and is a member of the Board for Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a non-profit agency which serves homeless and at-risk youth.

Ms. Morton received her B.A. from Tufts University and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. She has also received numerous awards for championing diversity and inclusion.

We will also be recognizing Enrique Colbert, General Counsel of Wayfair and recipient of the 2020 Good Apple Award, following the cancellation of last year’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Join us for this virtual celebration and please contribute generously! Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened systemic injustices and sent Massachusetts families and youth spiraling further into poverty and crisis. At Massachusetts Appleseed, we’ve risen to meet this moment across multiple fronts – investigating inequitable access to the courts and educational opportunity, delivering know-your-rights resources and trainings, organizing to defend the legal rights of our most vulnerable communities, and more. 

The annual Good Apple Award Reception provides core funding for Massachusetts Appleseed’s work throughout the year, ensuring we can respond to urgent community needs and seize opportunities for action. Help us reach our $250,000 goal by sponsoring this event or making a personal donation.

Celebrate the good with us!


Please contact Madeline Poage, Development and Communications Associate, at with any questions.


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Boston, MA, July 14, 2021 – Today, Haitian-Americans United, the Greater Boston Latino Network, and Jane Doe, a mother and immigrant with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), filed a civil rights complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) in response to the agency’s failure to provide federally mandated language access to the LEP families they serve. The complaint, filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, asks the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to compel DCF to comply with legal mandates to provide language access services to Massachusetts families.

DCF’s failure to provide adequate language access to LEP parents directly results in the wrongful separation of non-English speaking families across the Commonwealth. As a recent report by Appleseed documents in detail, when DCF fails to prioritize language access, LEP parents are unable to comprehend or meaningfully participate in DCF’s processes. As a result, LEP families face an increased likelihood of separation compared to their English-speaking counterparts. In fact, Latinx families are more overrepresented in foster care in Massachusetts than in any other state.

“The level of harm we’re talking about is immeasurable,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “The wrongful and unjust separation of families leaves children traumatized and denies parents their fundamental rights. DCF must be held accountable and meet the needs of the non-English speaking populations they serve.”

DCF has been on notice of its civil rights violations for years and has had ample opportunity to remedy its discriminatory practices. In 2018, HHS investigated a Title VI complaint made by a Spanish-speaking person who had received inadequate language assistance from DCF. The investigation brought to light DCF’s woefully inadequate use of interpreters for LEP families. Following the investigation, HHS issued a set of voluntary compliance measures intended to bring DCF’s language access practices in line with federal law. But DCF refused to comply voluntarily. In the absence of ongoing monitoring and enforcement, DCF has continued to deprive non-English speaking families of meaningful language access, and consequently access to their children.

“Our foster care system has a long and disturbing history of separating families of color and immigrant families,” said Erin Fowler, attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “DCF’s failure to provide adequate language access is discrimination against immigrants and families of color. Federal intervention is critically needed to ensure that families are not wrongfully separated.” 

The complaint calls for immediate federal intervention and oversight to compel DCF comply with its federal obligation to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. Specifically, the complaint requests that HHS order DCF to adopt and implement a comprehensive remediation plan for meaningful access by LEP individuals. The remediation plan should:

  • require DCF to conduct a language access audit, create a meaningful language access plan, and hire Regional Language Access Coordinators, placing at least one Coordinator within each of DCF’s five regions;
  • set concrete targets for hiring bilingual caseworkers for languages frequently encountered, with a focus on the needs of individual area offices; 
  • require quarterly trainings for all caseworkers and contract interpreters on the importance of language access, tools and techniques for competent interpretation, the importance of confidentiality and impartiality, and DCF terminology and procedures; 
  • require that interpreters be present during all visitations, phone or video conversations, and interactions with LEP individuals;
  • expressly forbid the use of family members, relatives, friends, neighbors, and children as interpreters; 
  • require the translation of all vital documents into the preferred languages of LEP individuals;
  • require all community social service providers DCF contracts with to offer in-person interpretation services, or else allow providers access to DCF’s telephonic interpretation services;
  • require the creation of policies and procedures describing detailed steps for caseworkers to identify alternative social services for LEP families; 
  • require DCF to adopt more flexible protocol to acknowledge the difficulty many LEP families experience when attempting to receive non-English social services; 
  • require the creation of policies and procedures describing detailed steps DCF should take upon receipt of a language access complaint; and
  • require DCF to take any other steps that are necessary to achieve full compliance with federal law. 

“Due to DCF’s failures, we have been forced to try to do DCF’s job for them—by providing community interpreters or translating documents that members have received in English,” says Dieufort Fleurissaint, Chair of the Board of Directors of Haitian-Americans United, the lead complainant in the case. “This drains our limited resources and harms our LEP members. HHS must ensure DCF remedies these wrongs and complies with federal law.” 

Family separation is unfortunately not limited to our southern border—it happens right here in Massachusetts. DCF must provide adequate language access to LEP families and, put simply, stop tearing immigrant families apart.

The complaint is available here

About Massachusetts Appleseed

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The nonprofit researches and identifies the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies have systematically failed impoverished and vulnerable communities, challenges harmful public policies that perpetuate injustices and inequities, advocates for statewide policy solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (


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Massachusetts Appleseed’s office is closed today in observance of Juneteenth, the annual holiday marking the day that federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas and freed those who remained enslaved more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This act reminds us that freedom and justice are never easily given but must be fought for, and that the enforcement of legal rights is as essential as their mandate.

Once again, our commemoration of Juneteenth coincides with powerful, community-led demands for systemic change and renewed opportunities to dismantle the structures that fuel white supremacy and perpetuate racial injustice. As we confront the ways systemic, anti-Black racism has continually evolved and taken shape through destructive policies that deny access to justice, safety, and opportunity – from redlining, to the school-to-prison pipeline, and countless more manifestations – this Saturday serves as a reminder that America’s history is not past, but continues to inform our present inequities.

We are glad to see Massachusetts mark Juneteenth as an official state holiday this year, and there continue to be many ways to celebrate:

To our Black colleagues, leaders, and partners, we hope today and tomorrow are days of celebration, joy, and rest. To our white and non-Black colleagues of color, we invite you to join us in commemorating Juneteenth through education, reflection, and action by elevating and giving space to Black voices, engaging with Black history that too often goes untaught, and honoring and remembering the organizers and activists who have always pushed this country to live up to its foundational ideals. Together, we can take steps forward in our pursuit of a future where the full humanity of every person is protected and the promises of freedom, justice, and equity are realized.


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This spring, Massachusetts Appleseed joined over 250 companies, schools, community organizations, and others as participants in the 2021 Stand Against Racism Campaign, hosted by the Alliance of YWCAs of Massachusetts. Through three discussion sessions during April and into early May, Massachusetts Appleseed staff and Board members gathered together to discuss and reflect on the ways in which white supremacy is embedded in our education systems, experiences in employment, and every facet of our lives.

Massachusetts Appleseed staff and Board members participate in the 2021 Stand Against Racism Campaign.

Participants from three separate discussion sessions: Deborah Silva (Executive Director), Melanie Rush (Research and Policy Assistant), Madeline Poage (Development and Communications Associate), Peter Tobani (Board Member), Zeia Fawaz (Spring Research Intern). Not pictured: Melanie Todman (Chair of the Board of Directors) and John Shutkin (Vice Chair of the Board of Directors).

Together, staff and Board members discussed, “The Muddled History of Anti-Asian Violence” by Hua Hsu, “Racism Is Not a Historical Footnote” by the legendary Bill Russell, “Rotundamente Negra (Rotundly Black)” by Shirley Campbell, and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s keynote address at the 2016 Women of the World festival.

A number of themes emerged throughout our conversations, with participants reflecting on the failure of the American education system to adequately educate students about systemic racism, the consequences of this failure, the impact of microaggressions, the importance of engaging directly with all perspectives, and more.

Our final discussion centered predominantly on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s keynote address, which resonated with staff particularly strongly. In it, Dr. Crenshaw describes the origin of the #SayHerName campaign and lists some of the many Black women killed through racist police violence – Eleanor Bumpurs, Margaret Mitchell, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Natasha McKenna – and how the women in these examples were being evicted, experiencing homelessness, in need of mental health services, or vulnerable in other ways. But rather than being treated with understanding or support, they were met with brutality, violence, and silence. At its most fundamental, Dr. Crenshaw’s address reminds us that racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and poverty are intertwined, and until we treat them as such, they will continue to persist.

Massachusetts Appleseed staff also utilized the digital pledge board provided by YW Boston during the campaign, committing to specific ways we will each participate in the fight to eliminate racism in our work and in our lives. Through these pledges, staff members aim to strengthen our ongoing work to develop projects through the lens of anti-racism and ensure all components that make up Massachusetts Appleseed – from governance, to programs, to fundraising – align with our Statement of Values. The Statement of Values was created collaboratively by staff and the Board of Directors in 2020 and through it, we are explicit in affirming that our commitment to promoting access to justice and opportunity goes hand in hand with our commitment to combating all forms of systemic racism.

Massachusetts Appleseed's digital pledge board, completed during the 2021 Stand Against Racism Campaign.

Massachusetts Appleseed’s digital pledge board, completed during the 2021 Stand Against Racism Campaign.

Massachusetts Appleseed has recently deepened its decade-long work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by focusing on the specific ways girls of color are targeted and excluded from their learning environments. As we convene students, educators, advocates, and other community members together to inform and guide our research and advocacy efforts, the tools provided through this campaign will help us build an anti-racist, intersectional foundation on which to do so.

We are so grateful to YW Boston and the Alliance of YWCAs of Massachusetts for providing these resources, and to all the guest curators for their selections and discussion guides. We look forward to continuing to make space for these collaborative and essential conversations, hold ourselves accountable, and center anti-racism in our work to build a more just, inclusive future.

Recommendations for further reading and watching from Massachusetts Appleseed staff and Board members:


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Boston nonprofit receives 4 years of funding from Cummings Foundation

For Immediate Release

Contact: Deborah Silva, Massachusetts Appleseed, 617-482-8686,
Contact: Alison Harding, Cummings Foundation, 781-932-7093,

BOSTON, June 1, 2021 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is one of 140 local nonprofits to receive grants of $100,000 to $500,000 each through Cummings Foundation’s $25 Million Grant Program. The Boston-based organization was chosen from a total of 590 applicants during a competitive review process. It will receive $100,000 over four years.

Massachusetts Appleseed is a nonprofit organization that works in partnership with community organizations, pro bono attorneys, coalitions, and community members to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The organization uses policy-driven investigations and powerful advocacy to remove the systemic barriers that prevent Massachusetts’ vulnerable populations from accessing their legal rights, education, and economic stability.

Staff from Massachusetts Appleseed celebrate generous support from Cummings Foundation.

Massachusetts Appleseed staff celebrate Cummings Foundation’s generous support.

“We are deeply grateful for this extraordinary and generous support from Cummings Foundation,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Over the past year, we have seen the needs of our communities rise, systemic inequities worsen, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately devastate the most vulnerable among us. This grant will help us meet this historic moment and push for community-informed solutions to ensure Massachusetts families and youth can exercise their legal rights, build pathways out of poverty and crisis, and achieve meaningful access to essential services and opportunities.”

These funds will support and grow Massachusetts Appleseed’s many initiatives to expand access to opportunity and rebalance the scales of the civil justice system to ensure fair and equitable outcomes for all. In particular, this award will support the organization’s work to end language discrimination immigrant families face in state courts and agencies and to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, focusing on the ways girls of color are unjustly targeted and punished in schools. This funding will also support Massachusetts Appleseed’s work to help young people experiencing homelessness overcome legal barriers and build safe, stable futures.

The Cummings $25 Million Grant Program supports Massachusetts nonprofits that are based in and primarily serve Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties.

Through this place-based initiative, Cummings Foundation aims to give back in the area where it owns commercial buildings, all of which are managed, at no cost to the Foundation, by its affiliate, Cummings Properties. This Woburn-based commercial real estate firm leases and manages 10 million square feet of debt-free space, the majority of which exclusively benefits the Foundation.

“We aim to help meet the needs of people in all segments of our local community,” said Cummings Foundation executive director Joel Swets. “It is the incredible organizations we fund, however, that do the actual daily work to empower our neighbors, educate our children, fight for equity, and so much more.”

With the help of about 80 volunteers, the Foundation first identified 140 organizations to receive grants of at least $100,000 each. Among the winners were first-time recipients as well as nonprofits that had previously received Cummings Foundation grants.

“We have adopted a democratic approach to philanthropy, which empowers an impressive roster of dedicated volunteers to decide more than half of all our grant winners each year,” said Swets. “We benefit from their diverse backgrounds and perspectives; they benefit from a meaningful and fulfilling experience; and the nonprofits often benefit from increased exposure and new advocates.”

This year’s grant recipients represent a wide variety of causes, including social justice, homelessness prevention, affordable housing, education, violence prevention, and food insecurity. The nonprofits are spread across 43 different cities and towns.

The complete list of 140 grant winners, plus more than 800 previous recipients, is available at

Cummings Foundation has now awarded more than $300 million to greater Boston nonprofits.

About Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The nonprofit researches and identifies the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies have systematically failed impoverished and vulnerable communities, challenges harmful public policies that perpetuate injustices and inequities, advocates for long-term solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (

About Cummings Foundation

Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, Inc. was established in 1986 by Joyce and Bill Cummings and has grown to be one of the three largest private foundations in New England. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including New Horizons retirement communities in Marlborough and Woburn, and Veterinary School at Tufts, LLC in North Grafton. Additional information is available at

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA, May 20, 2021 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice welcomed Alison V. Douglass, Partner at Goodwin Procter LLP, Laura E. Martin, Litigation Associate at Mintz, and Peter P. Tobani, Senior Counsel of Global Retail Markets at Liberty Mutual Insurance, to its Board of Directors on March 25, 2021. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, education, and youth homelessness, is pleased to have these three stellar members of the legal community join the Board.

Alison V. Douglass, Goodwin Procter LLP

Alison V. Douglass, Goodwin Procter LLP

Alison Douglass works as a partner in Goodwin’s Complex Business Litigation and Dispute Resolution, Financial Industry Litigation, and ERISA Litigation practices, primarily focusing on commercial litigation in the areas of ERISA, mutual fund, and securities litigation. She brings to the Board extensive pro bono experience from her work as a volunteer with the New England Innocence Project representing incarcerated individuals and serving as a Committee for Public Counsel Services Bar Advocate representing indigent criminal defendants.

“I am thrilled for this opportunity to join the Board of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice,” said Alison Douglass. “Equal rights and access to justice are causes dear to my heart, and Appleseed is at the forefront of the fight to close critical gaps in services and opportunities available in our community. I look forward to contributing to the Center’s important mission.”

Laura E. Martin, Mintz

Laura E. Martin, Mintz

As a Litigation Associate at Mintz, Laura Martin’s practice encompasses labor and employment litigation, government investigations and enforcement proceedings, internal investigations, and white collar criminal defense for clients in a variety of industries. Ms. Martin’s dedication to expanding access to justice began early in her career when she served as a Student Public Defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services of the Plymouth County Trial Office and a Law Student Intern for Greater Boston Legal Services’ CORI & Re-Entry Project.

“I am honored and excited to join the Massachusetts Appleseed Board of Directors,” said Laura Martin. “The organization’s broad mission and dedicated staff are the foundation to create much needed changes within our community. I look forward to supporting Massachusetts Appleseed as it strives to improve access to justice for all.”

Peter P. Tobani, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Peter P. Tobani, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Peter Tobani works as corporate counsel for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Global Retail Markets Strategic Business Unit where, among other things, he provides legal and regulatory guidance to their small commercial underwriting department and Strategic Partnerships Group. Mr. Tobani first came to Massachusetts Appleseed as a volunteer when he joined dozens of fellow attorneys from Liberty Mutual to help create the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, a know-your-rights resource aimed at helping youth experiencing homelessness understand and exercise their legal rights.

“I am honored and excited to join Massachusetts Appleseed and contribute to their very important mission of addressing systemic injustices throughout the Commonwealth,” Peter Tobani said.

“Alison, Laura, and Peter all bring a wide range of skills and experiences to the Board, but what they share is their absolute commitment to building a future guided by justice and equity,” said Melanie Todman, Chair of the Board. “We are thrilled to welcome them during one of the most difficult and extraordinary times our organization has seen, as our advocacy to meet the rapidly growing needs of our communities continues to gain momentum. To have such exceptional attorneys join us in this work, at this moment, is a true gift.”

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice:

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

The Massachusetts legislative session is in full swing, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to dismantle barriers to access, stability, and basic needs that have gone unaddressed for too long.

The Language Access and Inclusion Act would standardize and enforce language access policies and protocols at public-facing state agencies to ensure non-English speaking residents can access the services they need. As families continue to struggle under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must protect and guarantee the right to language access across the state.

Today, our goal is to reach as many Massachusetts lawmakers as possible. We need you to raise your voice! Please take this one-minute action today and urge your legislators to co-sponsor and support the Language Access and Inclusion Act.


Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!


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Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice has signed onto an amicus brief filed by Brown Rudnick LLP, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts in support of the Boston School Committee’s Admissions Plan for Boston Exam Schools for the 2021-22 academic year. The interim Admissions Plan was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and would also address long-standing issues of racial, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity in Boston’s three elite education institutions: the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

The changes to the Exam Schools admissions process being challenged include: 1) elimination of the entrance exam, 2) allocation of 20% of seats based on GPA, and 3) allocation of the remaining 80% of seats based on a combination of student GPA and home ZIP code, with each ZIP code receiving seats based on the percentage of school-aged children living in that ZIP code. These changes would help ensure talented and capable students from a diverse range of communities have equitable access to the high-quality educational opportunities Exam Schools provide.  

The legal challenge to the plan was brought by the Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corporation, a group of parents and students from high-income neighborhoods who stand to lose seats under the new plan. The lawsuit was filed against the School Committee and argues the Admissions Plan is unconstitutional on the basis that ZIP codes are being used as a proxy for race.

As the brief notes, while race, poverty, and geography are undoubtedly linked – particularly against the backdrop of Boston’s long history of segregation – this argument fails to recognize Boston’s diversity within and across ZIP codes. Additionally, the Admissions Plan does not classify students by race, but uses ZIP codes to improve the prospect of Exam Schools reflecting the diversity of Boston’s entire student population. There are also compelling and legitimate goals the Admissions Plan takes steps towards; for example, providing the educational benefits of a diverse student body, which students carry with them into the workforce, and repairing the harms of past discrimination.

“Massachusetts Appleseed is proud to join Brown Rudnick LLP, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, and nearly two dozen allies in educational and racial justice to support the Boston School Committee’s proposed Admissions Plan,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Education can make a radical difference in a child’s life, and all Boston students should have a fair and equitable opportunity to access the resources and academic rigor available at Boston Exam Schools. This policy would open the doors to students who have been too often left behind – low-income students, students experiencing homelessness, and students of color whose families have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Amici Curiae

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, LatinoJustice PLRDEF, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Autism Sprinter, Center for Law and Education, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School, Citizens for Public Schools, EdVestors, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Greater Boston Association of Black Social Workers, Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), Hispanic Federation, Jamaica Plain Progressives, Mass Insight Education & Research, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Northeastern University School of Law, Center for Health Policy and Law, Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST), Roslindale is for Everyone (RISE), VISIONS, Inc.


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The murders that took place in Georgia this week robbed eight people of their lives, six of them Asian women. Our hearts and thoughts are with their loved ones and communities in Atlanta, and with everyone around the country feeling afraid, unsafe, or alone in the wake of this senseless violence.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen people with the most power scapegoat Asian communities and the number of assaults on Asian Americans rise, while the nation’s response to the pandemic has failed to protect immigrants and communities of color. We cannot ignore that this is the context in which this week’s violence – fueled by white supremacy, misogyny, and xenophobia – has occurred.

We stand in solidarity with the AAPI community across Massachusetts and remain committed to eliminating the policies that perpetuate white supremacist violence and dismantling the systems that discriminate against and marginalize Asian, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. We call on our leaders to take action against hate crimes that does not rely on increased policing, reject historical narratives that dehumanize and erase Asian Americans, and support policies that promote language access, provide economic relief for vulnerable communities, and create pathways to justice for victims of discrimination.

Join the Massachusetts Town Hall on Anti-Asian Racism, happening Thursday, March 25th from 6:00 – 7:30 pm.

In solidarity,

Deborah Silva
Executive Director
Massachusetts Appleseed

Melanie L. Todman
Chair of the Board of Directors
Massachusetts Appleseed


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