Establish a Law School Clinical Program to Assist those Caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to University of Wisconsin Law School Clinical faculty and students about the possibility of establishing a clinical program through which law students, under the supervision of clinical faculty, would represent students caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline due to school discipline problems.  As of yet, there is no funding for such a program, but there is no doubt that the need is great.

As I have written previously, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) suspends over 2,000 students/year, over half of whom are African-American, and nearly half of whom have disabilities.  While there is hope on the horizon, given the school board’s recent decision to institute a new Behavior Education Plan starting in the 2014-15 school year, that Plan has no specific numerical goals, and as system change tends to take a long time, I have made it clear that students need advocates to navigate their way through the school discipline system.  This is not only my opinion, as the esteemed Yale Law Journal made clear that parents are not enough to help students with disabilities navigate their way through the complexities of the educational/legal system.  Quite plainly, students need external advocates.

There are many potential designs for a Schools to Prison Pipeline Law School Clinical program.  The David A. Clark School of Law at the University of District of Columbia has run an excellent Juvenile & Special Education Law Clinic for over 20 years. The Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University operates a Youth Justice Clinic.

If the University of Wisconsin Law School wants to establish a School to Prison Pipeline Clinic, it would have to make the following decisions:

  • Would it work on cases in one or more school districts?
  • Would it focus exclusively on children with disabilities, where the law is more helpful, or provide assistance to any student caught up in the Schools to Prison Pipeline?
  • Would it have office hours inside school buildings, with the cooperation of the school district, or work in a community agency, such as the Boys and Girls Club of Dane Countythe YWCA Madison, the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, or another local agency, which already work on Schools to Prison Pipeline issues?
  • Would the University of Wisconsin provide the funding for faculty to oversee the clinical program, and any other attendant costs, or would outside foundations need to fund the program?

While many different models could be implemented, the need is great, and students caught up in the schools to prison pipeline need legal assistance now, as there simply is not enough no or low cost legal assistance available to meet the enormous need.  If those who want to address the problem put their minds together, perhaps such a clinical program can begin as soon as the fall of 2014.  But, if not, the need will not disappear, so good planning should move forward so a high quality Schools to Prison Pipeline Law School Clinic can be established as soon as possible.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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