Meet the Winners

Tisha Ortiz

Tisha Ortiz uses the experiences of her traumatic childhood to help drive changes in public policy and practice that will improve the health and safety of thousands of California foster children. From the age of four, Tisha was in and out of the foster care system. After experiencing physical, mental, and sexual abuse, Tisha exhibited signs of anxiety and depression. Instead of receiving mental health care services, she was placed on psychotropic medications—eventually up to four at the same time.

When Tisha was emancipated, she was able to make her own decisions about her drug regimen and correct some of the enduring side effects of the medication she had been compelled to take. Tisha was determined to use her experiences to insure other foster children would never have to suffer being overmedicated in addition to the trauma of foster care. Working with the National Center for Youth Law, Tisha served on the State of California’s Quality Improvement Project to develop the California Department of Social Services’ Foster Youth Mental Health Bill of Right. She worked to educate the public about the misuse of psychotropic medications by telling her story to NPR, Al-Jazeera America, East Bay Today, and San Jose Mercury News. Ultimately, Tisha testified before Senate and Assembly committees on behalf of legislative and budget changes that would serve foster care youth across California.

Her work has directly led to real policy changes. Today, there are half as many children on multiple antipsychotics concurrently as when Ms. Ortiz began her advocacy. Tisha Ortiz is a student at Cal State East Bay and hopes to be a lawyer.

Students Deserve advocates for two main outcomes. First, the abolishment of random searches, which cause trauma and send the wrong message to students. Second, the implementation of community schools, which allow students to stay in their own communities and access more resources, including counselors, social workers, more arts and electives, restorative justice initiatives, and smaller class sizes. Over the past school year, Students Deserve distributed 18,000 buttons and flyers to students throughout LAUSD to start conversations about racism in schools and the support that students need and deserve.

Students Deserve is pushing school board member and superintendents to make real policy changes through meetings and community organizing. Over the past two years, student leaders have met with all seven school board members and presented to multiple key administrators. In response to their efforts, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer convened a Blue Ribbon Panel on School Safety. Through persistent and vocal leadership, Students Deserve ensure that their voices and priorities are heard.