Our Story

Education Rights Counsel was created from a desire to make education better for students and families.  


Co-founders, Lauren Micek Vargas & Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda, each having extensive experience working with youth and education, faced daily dilemmas in their professional work.  They were seeing hundreds of children without any supports to access educational services to which children have a right under current law.  They also learned that no non-profit in Nebraska focused specifically on serving under-resourced public PK-12 school kids.  This means that every day, a child with a disability is unnecessarily struggling, or a youth in the juvenile justice system is being left out of the schooling that can change her trajectory.  In fact, in Nebraska, nearly 47% of students live in low-income families and more than 50% of Nebraska children with special needs live in poverty.  Equally troubling, Nebraska has a higher rate of suspensions and expulsions than average across the United States, and this discipline arc has a disparate impact on children of color, and children with special needs.  


While access to public K-12 education is a legal right, the laws governing education are nuanced, layered and complex.  Difficulties with access are exacerbated when parents do not have the resources to speak confidently about what they think is best for their children.  Parents and children who don't accurately and adequately understand the educational system are far more likely to go without services, be removed from school, and be denied legal rights.  The resulting harm can last a lifetime.


Lauren & Elizabeth reached out to community advocates, educators, lawyers, judges and others about this problem, and it quickly became clear that there is an extensive knowledge gap in Nebraska about public PK-12 educational rights and responsibilities across all communities, neighborhoods and stakeholders.  Lauren & Elizabeth decided to change that, and Education Rights Counsel came into being.  


Education Rights Counsel's goal is to generate systemic change in Nebraska by equalizing access to advocacy and legal representation for under-resourced families with a focus on special education support and student discipline.  We partner with multiple individuals and organizations across the state to build understanding through education and engagement. 


Because we are a non-profit with very specific education expertise, we provide a unique service in Nebraska for a significant community of under-served children.  

We are supported by a dedicated Board of Directors

Dr. 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.

David Pedersen, JD 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.

George Achola, JD

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George is an attorney with a career dedicated to equity and affordable housing.  Currently he is Vice President at Burlington Capital Real Estate.  He also serves on the Board of the Omaha Housing Authority and is a member of  the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority Board.  In his spare time he coaches girl's soccer, because kids matter.

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.

Christine Tran, DNP-APRN-NP

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Christine DiMasi Tran 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.

Co-Founders

Lauren Micek Vargas

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Executive Director


Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda

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Managing Attorney