Alumna Becomes Civil Rights Advocate After Being Inspired by College’s Lasallian Tradition

Attorney Jennifer Frankola ’02 practices disability law for educational rights in New York City.

Jennifer Frankola ’02, Esq., a New York-based disability rights attorney, credits Manhattan College’s hands-on Urban America: Crisis and Opportunity class (now called Urban America and Catholic Social Teaching) in the Bronx as a turning point in her life.

“It emphasized in me that I wanted to do civil rights work,” she says.

Frankola, who majored in English and minored in religious studies, describes how the class offered her practical experience outside of the classroom by working with community organizations in the Bronx. Initially, Frankola was not able to enroll in the class and went as far as to write a note to gain admission into it. The professor, Lois Harr, director of Campus Ministry and Social Action and now assistant to the vice president for student life, told Frankola she would let her into the class because of her tenacity.

That same tenacity is what has been a cornerstone of her law practice with families fighting for their educational rights as they navigate the complications of Individual Education Programs (IEPs) and 504s. These IEPs provide parents and educators with a written plan and goals for the student during the academic year. The 504s are used to protect the rights of those with disabilities, so they receive services that match their educational needs.

“You really give folks a voice they may not have,” she says. “Special needs and disabilities, this is the new civil rights march today.”

Fighting For Families

For the past three years, she has helped families with all sorts of disabilities at Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles, LLP. Earlier in her career, she trained with Gary Mayerson of Mayerson and Associates, Esq., a firm that specializes in autism and spectrum-related cases.

Special needs and disabilities, this is the new civil rights march today.

Frankola, a member of the Council of Parents Advocates and Attorneys (COPPA) says the mission of her current position at Lewis Johs Avallone Aviless is to work with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We don’t turn people away,” she says, emphasizing that the firm works with families to fight for their attorney fees as part of their educational rights when they take a case to trial.

She invests a personal interest in her families, and says her firm is much like a pediatrician’s office because they follow families for years and watch children develop and grow.

Two Passions, One Purpose

Combining education and law made sense to Frankola as her life unfolded. While a student at Manhattan, she interned with fellow Jasper the Honorable Ronald L. Ellis ’72 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She then received a New York City Teaching Fellowship and earned a master’s in education from New York University.

Frankola considers her current position to be a unique blend of her passions for education and law, and says it is rewarding to help families get the educations they deserve for their children. She speaks and conducts workshops on parent advocacy and special education in the tri-state area to increase awareness for parents who may not know their rights.

She points to her time at Manhattan as a main reason for practicing law in the education area.

“I was very active with Lasallian Volunteers and Campus Ministry and Social Action,” Frankola says, circling back to the class she says made it all happen. Combining that desire to help those who need assistance with her time in the classroom and the courtroom put Frankola on her current path. Her goal now, she says, is to “work with the people for the people.”