Claire Nilsen Blumenson, Esq.
Executive Director & Co-Founder
Claire has focused her career on the intersection of juvenile justice and education. After graduating from University of Virginia Law in 2011, Claire joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. Through this two-year fellowship, Claire provided post-disposition special education representation to young people ages 18-22 who had been placed in DC's secure juvenile facility. To continue this work, she co-founded and launched School Justice Project (SJP) in August 2013 thanks to seed funding from Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement Fellowship. SJP is a DC-based special education legal services nonprofit for older court-involved students with disabilities.
Prior to working at PDS, Claire received her Bachelor of Arts from Wesleyan University, majoring in government, sociology, and psychology. After joining Teach for America’s New York City cohort in 2006, Claire earned her master’s degree while teaching third and fourth grade at Excellence Boys Charter School.
Claire is an attorney admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Since 2016, she has been an adjunct professor The George Washington University Law School.
Sarah Comeau, Esq.
Director of Programs & Co-Founder
Sarah graduated from American University’s Washington College of Law (WCL) cum laude in 2011. Prior to co-founding School Justice Project, Sarah was an associate at a District of Columbia law firm that specialized in special education advocacy, representing students and families of students involved in both the juvenile justice and abuse and neglect systems. After graduating from law school, Sarah was awarded a JD Distinguished Fellowship at the Juvenile Services Program at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
Sarah focused her law school career on indigent representation and the protection of civil and human rights. She was a student defense practitioner at WCL's Criminal Justice Clinic, a law clerk at a Maryland law firm that specialized in post-conviction representation, and an advocate for international human rights. Sarah received her bachelor’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. Sarah is an attorney admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York. Sarah is a member of the District of Columbia Superior Court Special Education Attorney Panel.
Tayo Belle, Esq.
Senior Staff Attorney
Prior to joining SJP, Tayo was a Staff Attorney at Advocates for Children of New York representing individual students with special education needs through administrative hearings and in Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meetings. Tayo was also an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the New York Civil Liberties Union, where she advocated for statewide and local policies to address school discipline and safety issues. She represented public school students in suspension hearings and assisted with education related federal litigation. Tayo also led workshops on various topics including: what to do when a student with a disability is facing disciplinary charges, restorative justice alternatives to suspensions, and teaching parents to represent their child at a suspension hearing when they are unable to secure counsel.
During Tayo’s tenure with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco, she served as the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Fellow. She was part of the team that successfully challenged the Federal Railroad Administration to increase contracting opportunities for minority-owned businesses resulting in a nationwide change to the standard contract. Tayo also served as a legal intern for the Honorable Ann Williams, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in New York City where she worked on education issues. Prior to law school, Tayo was a Staff Assistant for United States Senator Robert P. Casey.
Tayo holds a B.A. in Political Science from The Ohio State University and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. Tayo is an attorney admitted to practice in New York state only.
Rachel Russo, Esq.
Rachel graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2014. While in law school, Rachel interned at the National Juvenile Defender Center, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and the Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore, Maryland. During her final year of law school, she served as a student attorney in Georgetown's Juvenile Justice Clinic. Rachel focused her practice on youth committed to the District's juvenile justice agency and also served as a teaching assistant for a course on representing committed youth.
Prior to law school, Rachel volunteered with youth in foster care and students with disabilities, experiences that informed her decision to go to law school to focus on youth advocacy. Rachel earned her Bachelor's Degree in Art History from the University of Miami.
Rachel is an attorney admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland.
Alejandra Whitney-Smith, Esq.
Alejandra graduated from Temple University Beasley School of Law in 2018. She spent her 1L summer in DC where she interned for the Council for Court Excellence. During her time there, she wrote detailed legal memoranda on juvenile justice “reverse waiver” laws which was presented to D.C. Council. Alejandra also participated in Temple’s Law and Public Policy Program, and wrote an extensive policy paper on waiver laws that allow children to be charged as adults in the United States.
During law school, Alejandra also interned for the Federal Community Defender Office’s Capital Habeas Unit, Juvenile Law Center, and participated in the Sheller Center Clinic for Social Justice. Alejandra returned to D.C. for her last semester of law school, where she worked as a legal intern for the Juvenile Services Program at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. After graduating law school, Alejandra clerked for the Honorable Lucretia Clemons, Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia, PA.
Alejandra earned her B.A. in Communication and Women and Gender Studies from Rutgers University. Alejandra is an attorney admitted to practice in Pennsylvania, and she is practicing in DC under Rule 49(c)(9).