Why we are here

History

Education Rights Counsel was created from a desire to make education better for students and families by equalizing access to legal advocacy.  


Our programs create systemic change for Nebraska schools and families. We equalize access to legal representation for under-resourced families who need special education support or are facing student discipline charges. We partner with other organizations to educate and engage our entire Nebraska community.


By establishing a non-profit with very specific education expertise, Education Rights Counsel provides a unique service to a significant community of under-served children.  


Access to public K-12 education is a constitutional right, and the laws governing educational access are nuanced, layered and complex.  The parent or child who fails to accurately and adequately understand the law is far more likely to go without services s/he is guaranteed, or be removed from the school setting despite a lack of evidence that legal requirements have been met.


There is an access to justice gap in Nebraska, with nearly 47% of all students in low-income families.  More than half of all Nebraska children verified with special needs were students in poverty.  Nebraska has a higher rate of suspensions and expulsions than average across the Unites states (for example, over 14,000 students were suspended or expelled in the 2015/1 school year).  


Communication difficulties between families and schools are exacerbated when parents come from disadvantaged backgrounds and do not have the resources to speak confidently about what they think is best for their child.  When legal rights are at stake, our purpose of assuring there is no power imbalance between families and schools is critical to equitable outcomes. 


Our purpose is supported by a dedicated Board of Directors

Denise Gehringer

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As a Program Director, Advocate, and proud mother of a child with special needs, Denise dedicates herself to helping all people with intellectual and developmental

disabilities achieve their full potential to live healthy, fulfilling and meaningful lives.

David Pedersen, Secretary & Treasurer

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A former seminarian at St. John’s University with a Master’s Degree in philosophy and a law degree, David served as a school lawyer for 30 years. 

He has a passion for helping students and a long devotion to civil rights and the alleviation of the impact of poverty or disability on a child’s life chances.

Christine Tran

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Christine DiMasi Tran DNP, APRN-NP is a committed clinical care provider at Nebraska Medicine/UNMC, Down Syndrome advocate and mother of a son living with a developmental disability.  Her dedication to community cheers us all.

Katie Weitz, PhD

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From classroom to academia, Katie's achievements and dedication to the community and her work as the Executive Director of her own family’s foundation all are witness to her dedication to children and education.

Debora Wisneski, President

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Dr. Wisneski is an Associate Professor at the University of Nebraska - Omaha, and 

past president of the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI).  She earned her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction and  has two children happily enrolled in public school.

Our Professionals

Lauren Micek Vargas

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Executive Director


Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda

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Managing Attorney

Annual Report & Other Documents

Files coming soon.

Our Supporters

Education Rights Counsel receives grants from organizations, and generous support from individuals, foundations, and corporations.  We thank the amazing generosity of all who contribute. Their passion changes the lives of children for the better every day.



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