Friday, September 11, 2015

Youth Justice Education Clinic Fall 2015 Updates

By Professor Michael Smith, Youth Justice Education Clinic Director

The Youth Justice Education Clinic (YJEC) was originally conceived six years ago to serve the education advocacy needs of the Juvenile Justice Clinic, and that continues as one of our core missions, we are now taking community referrals from families and students who may benefit from our comprehensive education and disability advocacy.  We currently have approximately 50 active clients, from 4 through 20 years old, many with multiple legal issues.  

While much of our legal advocacy focuses on special education law (eligibility, placement, services, and compensatory services awards), we also have the expertise to provide advocacy, and regularly do so, in the following related areas: general education discipline, including suspensions, expulsions, and illegal non-voluntary transfers; school enrollment issues, usually based on illegal denial of enrollment due to homelessness, probation status, disability, and credit deficiency; Regional Center (eligibility, placement, and services) advocacy for the developmentally delayed; school based discrimination based on disability, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, homelessness, religion, and poverty; and, if necessary, federal and state court litigation for monetary damages based on civil rights violations and tortious conduct.  Finally, it is not unusual, in the course of our work, to uncover school district (and other public entity) policies that do not comply with applicable laws.  When faced with the clear illegality of their policies, the school district will change, district-wide, how they deal with all their students.

Some highlights from the last year of YJEC’s work:

  1. In the 2014-2014 school year, 5 of our clients were found eligible for special education services, based on previously undiscovered or untreated disabilities, due to our advocacy.  A total of 27 clients have been found eligible for special education, solely due to YJEC intervention, since the clinic began.  They will retain these services until they graduate high school or reach 22 years old;

  1. As an update to a case I highlighted last year (homeless siblings with significant special education settlement and hearing decision that resulted in an entire school district being retrained on special education procedures), one of those siblings was arrested and charged with a felony, after previously pleading guilty to other offenses while represented by private counsel.  In collaboration with the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy (CJLP) in a multi-day contested competency hearing, we used the disability related advocacy of YJEC to help the court determine that our client was incompetent to stand trial.  As a result, his alleged crime was dismissed, as well as the previous offenses he pled guilty to.  In addition, our client was also made eligible for lifelong Regional Center services to help treat his Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This case epitomizes the holistic representation we aim to provide at CJLP;

  2. During last year, one of our clients was illegally expelled from his school district for an entire calendar year for allegedly selling a controlled substance (a “zero tolerance” offense).  We appealed the decision to the county board of education, who agreed that the expulsion for the alleged offense was illegal, and remanded it to the school district to modify their expulsion in compliance with the law.  This forced the district to settle the case with us, resulting in reinstatement of the student after only five months of expulsion and expungement of his school discipline record;

Finally, we are holding a conference at Loyola Law School to address the chronic and systemic inequities we encounter every day in our public education system. Public Education Inequity:  A Legal Perspective will gather all relevant stakeholders, including attorneys, teachers, social workers, and community members to identify and discuss the challenges, initiatives, and strategies we may use to address inequities that result in the denial of the “American Dream” to so many of our clients and community members.

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