Educational Opportunity and Juvenile Justice Clinic
The first part of our representation is typically at an expulsion hearing, an administrative proceeding before a hearing officer appointed by the school board. At these hearings, clinic students cross examine the school’s witnesses, present evidence, call defense witnesses, and make closing arguments.
After the hearing, if a client has been expelled, students put a plan in place to support clients during the period of expulsion. Clinic students focus on providing additional educational opportunities through tutoring, mentoring, community activities, and other creative solutions to ensure our clients continue to progress even while expelled. Providing these services also serves as mitigation in delinquency proceedings. Clinic students continue to advocate for our clients for the entire period of expulsion. In some cases, students also advocate for the special educational needs of our clients. This advocacy involves attending meetings with the school, encouraging parents to request special education evaluations, and ensuring our clients are receiving the services required by their Individualized Education Programs.
Our approach to lawyering is client-centered, holistic, collaborative, and entrepreneurial. If our clients need something that doesn’t exist, we ask questions like: “can we make the system provide it?” and “can we create it ourselves?” In the clinic’s first semester we discovered that the city lacked easily-accessible tutoring or mentoring programs for clients with significant needs such as ours. Clinic students decided to create these programs themselves, hiring Yale College and Yale Law students to serve as tutors and mentors. Next semester we plan to expand the programs and hire students from other colleges in the area.
While our current focus is individual representation, over time we expect to take on other projects as well. In the past year we have interviewed many people in New Haven and throughout the state. Almost everybody we met—from educators to police officials, community leaders to probation officers, advocacy organizations to kids and parents—agreed on some core things. Children are better off in school than out of it. Expulsions should be a last resort. Disconnected youth need help finding their way back to school and success. We look forward to working with a wide range of stake-holders to achieve these goals in the years to come.
While he was a public defender in D.C., James Forman helped to start a school for kids in the juvenile justice system. The documentary film Innocent Until Proven Guilty documents the ups and downs of the school’s first year. Watch it here.
Professor Forman addressed the topic of Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline in January 2014 at an event hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.