We first met Sabrina when she was twelve. She lived in a group home for foster youth and was attending an on-grounds non-public school for kids with emotional disabilities. Sabrina’s academic needs were poorly understood. The school reported that Sabrina was out of control on a daily basis. Sabrina’s habit of staring off and not responding (which was later thought to be a symptom of her seizure disorder) got her into frequent trouble with school staff who interpreted this as an act of defiance. Shortly after Learning Rights started advocating on Sabrina’s behalf, she got a formal assessment for the first time in her life.


Although schools are required by law to conduct a formal assessment for each child placed in special education so that their special needs might be evaluated and the right types of services provided, Sabrina had never been assessed. She was summarily dumped into a segregated special education school. After an independent educational evaluation was conducted, it was discovered that Sabrina did indeed have a seizure disorder, as well severe Dyslexia. The school had no idea what Sabrina’s real needs were and assumed she was emotionally disturbed. Learning Rights concluded the school staff was biased and labeled Sabrina emotionally disturbed simply because she was a foster youth.


Through our advocacy, Sabrina was transferred to Frostig, a well-regarded school in the community specifically tailored for children with learning disabilities. There, she was able to get evidenced based interventions and an array of services that she needed to thrive. From week one, the school reported what a sweet and lovely girl Sabrina was and how much of a pleasure it was to have her there.


Sabrina successfully graduated with a high school diploma and is a prime example of how any child with a disability, when supported by appropriate services and intervention, can thrive. Sabrina also applied to and was accepted into college, something she thought she would never achieve.


Sabrina defies the typical tragedy that befall foster youth whereby they are presumed damaged as a result of early childhood trauma and forced into highly restrictive and segregated schools for kids with emotional disturbance. These schools are frequently neither safe nor rehabilitative, and fail to identify the unique needs of each student.


Emboldened by her educational success, Sabrina decided to make other positive changes. Apart from her seizure medications, the doctors at the group home over-medicated her with a range of psychotropic cocktails to wake her up, calm her or get her to sleep. When she was 18, she chose to stop taking all medications, and discovered she had outgrown her seizures.