Southern Minnesota Regional Services (SMRLS) Helps Kids In School

By Stephanie Tice



SMRLS’ Education Law Advocacy Project (ELAP) is an excellent service for low-income families needing assistance on education related issues. SMRLS is a legal aid program that provides free legal help and advice on a variety of basic civil issues. One area of importance to SMRLS is helping families advocate on behalf of their children so they can do better in school.

The SMRLS’ ELAP legal team works to ensure that all K-12 students in public schools have equal access to education. ELAP lets families know their educational rights and helps them advocate for getting the school services their child needs to learn. ELAP believes that children should get the help they need as soon as possible, and especially, that they are able to read by 3rd grade.

ELAP’s legal team is a powerful tool for families. ELAP lawyers give advice to parents on steps they can take in dealing with their child’s school, and they often go with parents to meetings with school staff and administration to collaborate in finding solutions.

The need for ELAP’s services is reflected in what is known as the “achievement gap”, or the disparity in education outcomes (such as high school graduation rates and standardized test scores) among students from low-income or minority backgrounds. This graph depicts pre-pandemic (2019) graduation rates, and reading and math test scores in Minnesota. It shows an achievement gap of as much 30+ percentage points between minority students and whites.

COVID-19 and online learning made matters worse. Many students who fell behind in their learning during the pandemic are still struggling to catch up. Even though public schools should help students recover lost learning, there may be children who fall through the cracks. The graph below shows a significant drop in Reading, Math, and Science standardized test scores between 2018 and 2022.

Source: Duluth News Tribune, citing MN Dept. of Education data

ELAP helps K-12 students with:

  • Struggling in school and needing extra help in learning
  • Bullying, harassment, and discrimination
  • School discipline (like suspensions, expulsions)
  • School attendance and truancy issues
  • English as a Second Language programs
  • Gaining access to advanced learning opportunities
  • Special education services for students with disabilities

In addition to assisting clients, ELAP also routinely conducts trainings for staff and volunteers of organizations working with children and families, as well as presentations to parent groups on educational rights and ways to advocate for their children in schools. ELAP has also created legal factsheets on specific education issues, which are free to download by visiting

For more information about ELAP, please call: 651-291-2837, or visit the education page at To find out if ELAP can help or represent your child, call 1-877-696-6529. Reach out with any legal questions pertaining to school, and follow ELAP on Twitter, FB, and Instagram for regular updates on education issues.

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