Proximate Conviction: Why Every Young Attorney Should Listen to Bryan Stevenson

May 14, 2015

By: Jason Arter

On April 29, 2015, I had an opportunity to listen to Bryan Stevenson present a message on the injustice in America. Bryan Stevenson is the founder, and executive director of The Equal Justice Initiative. His work addresses the injustice and biases that the poor and minorities experience. Mr. Stevenson’s awards for his work are numerous. Some of the more prestigious among them are: The MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award, The ACLU National Medal of Liberty, and the Thurgood Marshall Medal of Justice. The message of inequality among the poor, minorities, and how we as a society can change this inequality was the central theme.  The Blumenthal Spirit Square is a small theatre, but a large attendance was present on this night.

I call it a talk, but it was much more. It was conviction, determination and passion wrapped up into a charismatic delivery. It was extremely motivating, and at the end of the evening I left feeling a sense empowerment and a desire to make a change in my community. Mr. Stevenson also had a similar message at a TED talk in 2012. It was a huge honor to be able to see this similar message live, given the present circumstances in Baltimore, Maryland.

Bryan Stevenson founder and Director of the  Equal Justice Initiative. Photo courtesy of NPR.

Bryan Stevenson founder and Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Photo courtesy of NPR.

No attentive person could have left on Wednesday night without taking something from the presentation. The presentation at its core is a message about changing the racial issues that have plagued society for 150 years. There are four basic concepts to Mr. Stevenson’s message—two of which made a lasting impression on me.

He started with the concept “proximate.” Proximate is more clearly defined as location in time, closeness, or nearness to an event. Mr. Stevenson stated that a person couldn’t really make an effective change if the proximity at which our action is made is not within a close relation to the change that is sought. Real change is not going to occur from arms length or in the periphery.

The second concept Mr. Stevenson spoke about was “conviction.” As attorneys, we rely heavily on the knowledge in our brain. We master the rules, learn to apply them correctly, and attempt to make a difference. Unfortunately, that is not enough. We must find a conviction in our hearts to find that area of the law that impassions us to make a change. As attorneys, we must marry and intertwine conviction and knowledge. When we do, we are making a change not just as attorneys, but also for society. We can overcome the crippling effects of racism, mass incarceration, and other injustices that exist within our communities.

Regardless of the view from your chair, whether prosecution or defense, we must remember the passion and conviction that has lead us to this career. We are problem solvers. We are tools for change in the positive. When, as a profession we move forward, let us remember that change is never easy. Change is always met with resistance. We must stay the course, and hold to that conviction that inspired us.

Social injustice problems can be overcome. Imagine if just one person braves the consequence and stands up for the rights of another when others are afraid, a ripple effect could occur. We would be proximate with a conviction to overcome injustice.

What is the take away? Simply this: as young attorneys we are getting ready to graduate and we are preparing to face a new profession. That said, without getting truly involved, attempting change from a distance would not be enough. As young attorneys, we must challenge ourselves to look at the underlying problems and address them. Mr. Stevenson stated that crime is a really a reaction to the underlying problems that have never been addressed. Without a closer relationship with people or our clients, the prospect of a positive change is unlikely.

Imagine if more than one person felt this way… wouldn’t our profession, and our society as a whole, be great?


No Class for Low Class

February 3, 2015

By: Johnny Hollis

In reflecting on the transition from an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) to law school, I realized that highlighting disparities based on race alone totally missed the point of what the real issue is in our country.[1]  That issue is the socioeconomic challenge that widens the gap between those who can escape poverty through educational means.   There are many American citizens forced to live under the oppression of poverty because of socioeconomic challenges that rob them of the chance of obtaining an education.

1

How Does Socioeconomic Status Affect Education?

Socioeconomic status is the measure of influence that the social environment has on individuals, families, communities, and schools.[2]  Most of the time it is simply referred to as class, and is a strong indicator of performance in academic settings.  Socioeconomic status is often measured as a combination of education, income, and occupation, and is conceptualized as the social standing or class of an individual or group.  When viewed through a social class lens, privilege, power, and control are emphasized.[3]

A student who comes from a higher socioeconomic status has the greatest opportunity to succeed in academic studies.  Their parents are in a position to encourage creativity and extended studies.  The student has less financial worries and is able to focus solely on the academic challenges and tools presented.  The student is confident, poised, and excels without much external interference.[4]

As with other areas of life, a person who grew up in a lower class may have to overcome challenges such as maintaining health, a living area, transportation, and adequate food.  The simplest tasks become monumental because the power of money cannot be used to cross the hurdle.  For example, a young man who came from a poor family cannot call home and ask his parents to buy his books.  So either he must use the books in the library (which are in short supply and high demand), or he must work more in order to purchase his books, both of which may detract from his study time.  Additionally, if he is placed in a position where there is no on-campus housing, then he likely has worry about paying rent and utilities on top of tuition and other academic expenses.  While his wealthy colleague has a parent who may generously pay for living expenses, the poor student has to work in order to live.

2

When it comes to the classroom, instructors often do not understand the reason that a student may have to work, or why a student is sleepy or not performing well.  The instructor can only perceive that the student is on edge and is performing poorly in the class.  An oft-proclaimed mantra is: a student is responsible for his own future.  Failure to succeed can be perceived as laziness or incompetence.  It is difficult to relate to the poor student without an understanding of the systemic imperatives that deflect, detract, and deter poor students from escaping the cycle of poverty.

Paul Gorski, an associate professor in New Century College and a Research Fellow in the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, states that:

If we convince ourselves that poverty results not from gross inequities (in which we might be complicit) but from poor people’s own deficiencies, we are much less likely to support authentic antipoverty policy and programs. Further, if we believe, however wrongly, that poor people don’t value education, then we dodge any responsibility to redress the gross education inequities with which they contend. In our determination to “fix” the mythical culture of poor students, we ignore the ways in which our society cheats them out of opportunities that their wealthier peers take for granted. We ignore the fact that poor people suffer disproportionately the effects of nearly every major social ill. They lack access to health care, living-wage jobs, safe and affordable housing, clean air and water, and so on—conditions that limit their abilities to achieve to their full potential.[5]

How Do We Move Forward

Historically, our nation has experienced difficulty in providing the tools needed to achieve “the American dream.”  While schools are plentiful, the cost of college education continues to skyrocket.  Since 1985, the college education costs have risen over 500%.  This deters the amount of poor students who attempt to achieve a college degree.  These rising costs also leave those who do attend college with an even greater debt.  According to U.S. News, over 25% of graduate students will graduate with college debt that tops $100,000.  As our nation moves forward, we could advocate for making college education more affordable, while restructuring our public assistance programs towards promoting post-secondary education.

The Washington Post writes that Germany eliminated or significantly reduced tuition because they understood that the rise in cost “discourage[s] young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study . . . and [ensures] that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge.” [6]   In France’s public institutions, undergraduate tuition is based on the income of a student’s parents.  Meanwhile, in Sweden, one of the richest countries in the world, PhD programs are completely free.

Perhaps the United States is far from reaching a point in its politics and social policies to allow for the free education programs that are provided in Germany, France, and Sweden.  However, we can challenge the current public assistance regulations and incentivize recipients who return to school and learn a trade or earn a professional degree.  If we can at least make college education and graduate studies more affordable, this will be a huge step towards abolishing the obstacles that create no class for low class.

[1] http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/whhbcu/one-hundred-and-five-historically-black-colleges-and-universities/

[2] http://www.education.com/reference/article/socioeconomic-status/

[3] http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/factsheet-education.aspx

[4] http://www.education.com/reference/article/socioeconomic-status/

[5] http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr08/vol65/num07/The-Myth-of-the-Culture-of-Poverty.aspx

[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/10/29/7-countries-where-americans-can-study-at-universities-in-english-for-free-or-almost-free/


Public Education: A Right Entitled to All

January 19, 2015

By: Brandon Pierce

Today was the day: Kevin’s first day of school.  Ten years old, gifted, and sitting with his pencil in hand—Kevin was ready.  The teacher came before the class and gave the instructions for the first assignment:

Gawd muwrein!  I clike fund ans he book? If topher largetwen to climbegan.  What limse anders plast forh.”

One fact I forgot to mention is that Kevin didn’t speak English.  He didn’t even speak Spanish, or any other well-known language in the United States.  Kevin was from a small Guatemalan village where one of over fifty ancient Mayan languages was spoken.  But there he was, in his first American classroom, receiving his American education.

Kevin is one of the over 68,000 unaccompanied minors that have entered the United States illegally since October 2013.  In November 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued a fact sheet that outlines the basics about the illegal, unaccompanied minors’ rights.  As detailed in the fact sheet, once these minors have been apprehended in the U.S., they are put in the Department of Health and Human Service’s (HHS) custody.  While in HHS custody, the children are sheltered in government centers where they receive educational services.  Most children, like Kevin, are released into the United States under the custody of a family member or legal guardian (known as a ‘sponsor’).  While in the guardian’s care, these children attend classes in public schools, often times without knowledge of the English language.  But who would allow such a thing?  The United States Supreme Court would!

1

America: Home of the Educated

“Denial of an education is the analogue of denial of the right to vote: the former relegates the individual to second-class social status; the latter places him at a permanent political disadvantage.” – Justice Marshall (Plyler v. Doe)

In June 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court Justices held in Plyler v. Doe that no state should constitutionally deny any person a free public education on account of his immigration status.  Put simply, undocumented children have the same right to a public education as U.S. citizens.

This issue arose out of restrictive Texas education laws.  With regard to undocumented children, Texas education laws mandated that the state: (1) withhold funds otherwise meant for educating children who were not “legally admitted” into the United States and (2) deny enrollment to those children in Texas public schools.

What did it mean to be “legally admitted” in the United States?  Pursuant to state policy, a person was legally admitted if he: (1) presented documentation demonstrating he was legally present in the United States, or (2) federal immigration officials confirmed such documentation was in the process of being obtained.  Ultimately, a group of students from Mexico that did not satisfy the “legally admitted” criteria filed a lawsuit to challenge the Texas education laws.  The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  There, Texas’s education laws were held unconstitutional.

The Court based its rationale on the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  More specifically, the Court referenced a provision referred to as the “Equal Protection Clause.”  That clause states, “No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Therefore, unaccompanied children in the United States are entitled to public education.

New York State of Mind

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”                          – Emma Lazarus

Let us consider New York City (NYC): the proverbial gateway into America’s land of opportunity.  For the 2014-15 academic school year, NYC public schools have enrolled over 2,000 unaccompanied minors.  Like Kevin, many of these children have never had one English language course.  To combat this dilemma, NYC schools have implemented the English Language Learners (ELLs) program.  ELLs is a bilingual program that promotes the social and academic development of students who have recently arrived to the U.S. without proficient English skills.  Devora Kaye, NYC’s Department of Education spokeswoman, endorses such progressive actions, reaffirming the Court’s decision in Plyler v. Doe.  She asserts the department’s belief that “every child has a right to a great education, and we are committed to providing children who have escaped violence with the academic foundation and access to services that they need to establish a path to long-term achievement.”

2

By contrast, not all of New York’s actions have shown a general consensus toward the notion of “education for all.”  New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) reviewed approximately 20 percent of the state’s school districts.  Within those districts, the NYCLU discovered that the majority has assembled arduous barriers for undocumented students, thus, potentially preventing their enrollment.  Consider this: seventy-three New York school districts require birth certificates for enrollment.  (Nineteen of those districts require the “original” birth certificate.)  In response, the NYCLU urged state education officials to formulate a model universal enrollment form and list of permissible evidentiary documents.  This is meant to develop uniformity within the state’s education system.

What Does This Mean for Other Children like Kevin?

Analysts are certain that more unaccompanied children are coming, but what is unclear is how they will be welcomed.  This dilemma must be met with an unwavering commitment to U.S. values and standards.  Equality and justice have long been the staple of America’s uniqueness.  If we deny those considerations to all mankind, then we have given up our uniqueness in the world.  In sports language, we have forfeited.  In war language, we have surrendered.  In scientific language, we have become neutral.  In short, we have compromised our national value.  Let us reclaim our true selves through equality and justice because education is a right entitled to all!


The Low-Down on the Beat-Down: How Corporal Punishment is Damaging Our Children and Continuing Racial Discrimination

January 13, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Events within the National Football League (NFL) have once again brought up an age old argument: How should parents and schools discipline children?  Within the past weeks, you may have heard a friend or family member say, “I was whooped and I deserved it,” “No-one is going to tell me what to do in my home with my kids,” “The Bible says, ‘Spare the rod. Spoil the child,’” or other similar remarks.

The effect of corporal punishment is far more than the immediate physical pain a child will feel.  Corporal punishment breeds a culture of violence, has been directly linked to mental and emotional health issues, and continues a legacy of racial discrimination in the South.

What is Corporal Punishment?

Corporal punishment is defined as, “the infliction of physical pain upon a person’s body as punishment for a crime or infraction . . . In a broad sense, the term also denotes the physical disciplining of children in the schools and at home.”  Spanking, whooping, whipping, and paddling are all forms of corporal punishment.  Often times this type of action is carried out by the adult using their hands, belts, switches, paddles, and, in extreme cases of abuse, electrical cords, spatulas, and wooden cutting boards.

What is the law?

All states allow parents to physically hit their child as long as the force used is considered “reasonable.”  When cases of corporal punishment become extreme enough to constitute abuse it is likely the Department of Social Services (DSS) or the court system will become involved.  In these instances what is “reasonable” varies by geographic region and community standards.

Currently, nineteen states allow for corporal punishment in the public school system.  Interestingly, the majority of these states are in the South and are commonly referred to as the “slave states” or the Bible Belt.[1]  In these states, corporal punishment is administered in a racially and ethnically biased manner which targets African American, Native American, and Special Education children.[2]

What do the statistics tell us?

Multiple national surveys of parents report almost identical results.  In one cross-sectional study from Child Trends, 77% of men and 65% of women agreed that corporal punishment is appropriate for children.  The results of a study conducted on North Carolina parents showed that 74% of North Carolinian mothers admitted to hitting a child under two-years old and 5% admitted to using corporal punishment on a child younger than three months old!

A comprehensive study conducted by the American Civil Liberty Union (“ACLU”) and Human Rights Watch concluded that in schools where corporal punishment is allowed, the punishment is administered in a racially biased manner.  African Americans make up roughly 17.1% of the public school population yet sustained 35.6% of reported corporal punishment.  Males were paddled more frequently than females, but African American girls were paddled at a rate of 2:1 to Caucasian girls.

Another alarming finding of the study dealt with students with disabilities.  Children who need special education services in Texas comprise only 10% of the student body yet received 17% of the beatings by school administrators.[3]

What is the science behind the spankings?

Empirical data analysis conducted over a twenty year span links physical discipline, in any form, to an increase in a variety of mental health issues which may not even develop until later in life.  Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, aggressive/violent tendencies, depression and bi-polar disease, and alcohol and drug addictions have all been linked with having been hit as a child.  It does not matter whether the corporal punishment rises to the level of abuse in a legal sense.  The injury to the child’s developing psyche occurs when hit with any force.[4]

In the school setting particularly, corporal punishment serves to legitimize violence.  Students have to suffer the humiliation and indignation of having other students know that they were forced to bend over a table or chair, sometimes with exposed buttocks, to get hit.  Peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships erode.  As a result of the student’s lack of trust in educators, students withdraw academically.  This eventually leads to a higher drop-out rate in school districts that use paddling.

In either environment, corporal punishment changes the trajectory of brain development.  In layman’s terms, children who received corporal punishment have less grey matter in their prefrontal cortexes.  It is well-established that less grey matter in the prefrontal cortex is an indicator of mental and emotional psychosis.  This area of the brain is also responsible for cognitive development.  Researchers also have found a significant correlation between corporal punishment and lower IQ scores on standardized tests.  The end result of the study conducted by The National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health concluded that the grey matter children need to develop into mentally and emotionally healthy adults who exhibit self-control is being eroded with each strike of corporal punishment.  Corporal punishment has the exact opposite effect on children than what the discipline technique is intended to encourage.[5]

Why do parents and schools still use corporal punishment in spite of the scientific evidence against it?

The answer to this question has deep societal roots.  Many parents continue to spank and whip their children because, as children, they were subjected to corporal punishment themselves.  This is how the cycle of ineffective parenting and in extreme cases abuse is passed from generation to generation.

Elizabeth T. Gershoff, the nation’s leading advocate of alternative parenting techniques which do not include physically hitting a child, has concluded that corporal punishment is the result of lower educational levels in parents and geographic location.  Her research, which has spanned fifteen years, posits that corporal punishment in the South is a remnant of slavery and the concentration of conservative Christian religions.

When parents possess a college education, the use of corporal punishment in the home drops drastically from 55% to 38%.  This is due to the parents understanding the long term negative effects of spanking, having better coping techniques and using alternative methods of discipline.

Conservative Christian religions, which are heavily concentrated in the Bible Belt, often recite the “Spare the rod, spoil the child” mantra found in the Old Testament.  Focus on the Family, a conservative religion website, even goes so far as to teach parents how to hit their children without leaving evidence of bruising or welting of the skin and what type of “wooden spoon or paddle” to use.

http://www.fpnotebook.com/legacy/Peds/Prevent/CrprlPnshmnt.htm

Moving Forward and Repairing the Damage

As of now, corporal punishment will remain a choice for parents and schools.  As more of the public becomes educated about the adverse effects of physical punishment, parents will hopefully do some self-reflection and explore other avenues to help their children respect boundaries in the home and school.

Public school systems in the South should be open to review their policies on corporal punishment, to absorb the scientific data on its use in the academic setting, and examine the links between slavery and how societal norms across the country no-longer support paddling in schools.

It is a difficult endeavor to challenge parents to think differently about corporal punishment when they use religious convictions to justify its use.  However, this relates back to education and particularly scientific breakthroughs.  The often cited “Spare the rod, spoil the child” defense goes back to the time of Solomon (roughly 3,000 years ago).  Grey matter in brain development could not be monitored through MRIs 3,000 years ago as it is today.[6]

In the end, the use of corporal punishment will remain a heated debate among parents, educators, church groups and society in general. One thing is for sure: it is a personal choice that each person in the position to administer corporal punishment will have to weigh out in his or her consciousness.

If you feel that you have been subjected to extreme corporal punishment in the form of physical abuse, please contact your nearest police department immediately.

National Domestic Violence Hot-line: 1-800-799-7233

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)

[1] States that allow corporal punishment in the public school systems include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

[2] For statistics applicable to North Carolina: http://www.carolinaparent.com/articlemain.php?Who-s-Getting-Spanked-in-N.C.-Public-Schools-3299.

[3] For a more in depth analysis of special education and corporal punishment see: https://www.aclu.org/impairing-education-corporal-punishment-students-disabilities-us-public-schools-html.

[4] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201202/how-spanking-harms-the-brain

[5] For a meta-analytic review of how corporal punishment discourages positive long-term behavior and encourages a lack of self-realization see: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1284539.pdf.

[6] Interestingly, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, went on to become a tyrant of a ruler whose subjects revolted against him.  He exhibited signs of extreme aggression and lacked empathy for his people.  “Whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, so shall I add tenfold thereto.  Whereas my father chastised (tortured) you with whips, so shall I chastise you with scorpions.  For my littlest finger is thicker than my father’s loins; and your backs, which bent like reeds at my father’s touch, shall break like straws at my own touch.”  (1 Kings 12).  This adds weight to the scientific evidence that we have today that hitting children leads to anti-social behaviors and mental disease.


One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Never Ending Dance with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Part Two

December 8, 2013

By: Lindsey Engels

On August 5, 2013, following months of research and meetings, each of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ (“CMS”) 22 Task Forces presented their recommendations for changes to CMS policies and practices to Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison. Dr. Morrison designed these task forces from the 22 largest identified concerns voiced at various public forums and town hall meetings and called for each task force to research and make recommendations based on one of the identified issues.[1] One of those task forces was the African-American Males Task Force.

As previously stated in part one of this blog series, the African-American Males Task Force was given the mission to “identify the drivers for African-American male academic achievement and recommend sustainable, systemic solutions to increase overall excellence,” targeting specifically how to increase focus on African-American males’ success, increasing their graduation rate, and opportunities for post-secondary education.[2] As one of the nine recommendations, the Task Force advised CMS to revise its discretionary discipline policy because it disproportionately affects African-American male students.[3]  The Task Force stated,  “African-American males have the highest incidence of being referred to In-School Suspension (ISS) and Out-of-School Suspension (OSS). Also, as the out-of-class time increases for [African-American males], academic achievement is impacted in a negative way as instructional time is lost[4].”  North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction’s (“DPI”) 2011-12 Consolidated Report on school violence and suspensions further states:

Small, but significant, positive correlations have been found for the relationships between crime and short-term suspension, between crime and dropout, and between short-term suspension and dropout… [T]he factors are associated with one another. Sometimes correlations occur not because one factor causes another, but because an underlying factor causes both. Underlying factors could include demographics such as socioeconomic status or school factors such as management strategies[5].

Additionally, in this report, DPI details that one in seven North Carolina students receives at least one short-term suspension per year, and most high school students included in that ratio receives at least two.[6]  Further, “male students, black and American Indian students, ninth graders, and students receiving special education services are among the groups that continue to be disproportionately represented among suspended students.”[7] Across the state, five out of ten African-American male students, or fifty percent, were short-term suspended in 2011-12.[8]  Out of 100,000 Black males, 352 were long-term suspended.[9]. While expulsion rates significantly decreased, 6,494 African-Americans and 9,766 males were disciplinarily reassigned to alternative learning programs or alternative schools.[10] The Schott Foundation further identified North Carolina as having a 16.3% African-American Out-of-School Suspension risk rate, as compared to a White risk rate of 6.1%, a 2:7 Black/White ratio.[11]

In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, there were 541 reported acts of crime, averaging 14.37 acts per 1000 students.[12] Black males were short-term suspended 20,090 times and long-term suspended 35 times.[13] This is compared to 2,643 short-term suspensions and 8 long-term suspensions for white males.[14] There were no expulsions;[15] however, this data did not reflect specific local education agency (“LEA”) data for disciplinary reassignment to alternative placements.[16]

After reviewing this data, the Task Force looked to the Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies’ report Out of School & Off Track: The Overuse of Suspensions in American Middle and High Schools, which showed that “about one in four Black secondary school children today, and nearly one in three Black middle school males, were suspended at least once in 2009-2010,” an increased risk of school suspension of 18 points for Black students[17] The Task Force further looked to a study of Texas schools, stating African-American students and those with particular educational disabilities were disproportionately likely to be removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.[18] Students who were suspended and/or expelled, particularly those who were repeatedly disciplined, were more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out than were students not involved in the disciplinary system; and when a student was suspended or expelled, his or her likelihood of being involved in the juvenile justice system the subsequent year increased significantly.[19] Both studies reflect a direct correlation between school suspensions and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Again, in his Strategic Plan 2018, none of Dr. Morrison’s six goals reflected the Task Force’s recommendation for a revision of the discretionary discipline policy, nor the data that they presented in support of that recommendation.[20] Further, there is no evidence the Task Force has continued to meet to monitor progress as recommended, nor that such a recommendation has even been explored as there have been no minutes posted for this task force since May 2013.[21] The future of all students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools depends on policy makers taking these recommendations for change in disciplinary policies seriously, and it is my hope that Dr. Morrison and the CMS Board of Education consider these recommendations such that in the future no child is disproportionately affected by an administrator’s discretionary decision.


[1] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent, 1 (August 2013), available at http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/mediaroom/taskforce/Documents/22_Task_Force_Recommendations%20online%203.pdf

[2] Id. at 10.

[3] 22 Task Force Recommendations for the Superintendent at 11.

[4] Id.

[5] Public Schools of North Carolina State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction, Report to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee: Consolidated Data Report, 2011-2012, 1 (15 March 2013), available at http://dpi.state.nc.us/docs/research/discipline/reports/consolidated/2011-12/consolidated-report.pdf.

[6] Id. at 2.

[7] Id. at 23.

[8] Id. at 28. Short-term suspension lasts 10 days or less. Id. at 24.

[9] Id. at 37. Long-term suspension lasts 11 days or more. Id. at 32.

[10] Id. at 104-05. The data did not reflect a data set for African-American males as a specific set.

[11] The Urgency of Now at 35.

[12] Id. at 18.

[13] Id. at 67.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[18] The Council for State Governments Knowledge Center, Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement, ix-xi (July 2011), available at http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/kc/system/files/Breaking_School_Rules.pdf.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.


Upcoming Event–State of Emergency: Educating the Black Male

November 7, 2013

Charlotte School of Law’s Education Legal Society and the Black Law Students Association will be co-hosting “State of Emergency: Educating the Black Male” on November 13, 2013, at 5:30pm at Charlotte School of Law’s Center for Experiential Education. The highlight of the event will be a panel discussing the constitutionality of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ African American Males Task Force August recommendation to start an all African-American male K-12 school, as well as school disciplinary data and research regarding educational best practices for this population of students.  The panel will consist of Rev. Kojo Nantambu, President of the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP; Belinda Cauthen, M.Ed., Education Liaison for the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Attorney and Charlotte School of Law alumnus Jonathan Sink; Council for Children’s Rights Attorney Deborah Whitfield; and Charlotte School of Law Constitutional Law Professor Jean Veillieux. There will be a networking reception that follows.

Event Information:

State of Emergency: Educating the Black Male

Hosted by Charlotte School of Law’s Education Legal Society and Black Law Students Association

November 13, 2013, at 5:30pm

1300 South Boulevard, Suite K

Parking Information:

Students: Please use the light rail or park in the adjacent parking lot on Bland St. If you are not a clinic student, you will need to come to the front door on South Boulevard for entry.

Community Members: Our office is located on the right, in between Nikko’s Sushi and Post South End, just before the corner of South Boulevard and Bland Street. Please park either in front of our office on South Boulevard or in the adjacent parking lot on Bland St. If both parking lots are at capacity, there is an additional paid parking lot just over the light rail crossing on Bland St. You will gain access to the building through the front door of our office on South Boulevard.


Unmasking the Rights of Children and their Parents in Education

September 15, 2013

By: Joshua Lipack

407783_1676833686017_2051181580_n (1)Last week, four Clinic students attended an in-depth training seminar offered by the Council for Children’s Rights.  The program was broken down into four individual sessions – (1) Special Education, (2) Know Your Rights: Student Rights in Public Schools, (3) Advocacy Tips: How to Stay Organized and Be Effective, and (4) Panel Discussion: Navigating School Discipline – which focused on issues commonly faced by parents with exceptional children.  Most of those in attendance were parents who had already gone through many of these issues and developed war stories of their own.  The subjects’s many complexities, which could easily span a semester’s length of instruction in juvenile law, were scaled down into an impressively short crash-course clocking in at less than four hours.

Parents acting as advocates on behalf of their children, whether in obtaining an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP) or contesting an inappropriate behavioral sanction, can easily find themselves lost within any number of barriers.  While the goal on either side is to reach the best interests of the child, increasing pressure on school districts can unfortunately allow some children to fall through the cracks.  Many parents actively working on behalf of their children are often facing the hopelessly daunting task of blindly navigating through the education system. CFCR Logo

One presenter offering simple yet invaluable advice explained the critical importance of being organized.  The process for obtaining an IEP for an exceptional child requires many meetings.  With the help of a well-organized three-ring binder, parents are able to alleviate much of their stress by being able to respond quickly to questions raised during meetings regarding former mental health evaluations or disciplinary records.

Presenters impressively transitioned between complex issues while making them easy to understand.  In addition to organizational tips, parents were given a quick run-down of the in what essential rights they have during the IEP process.  These rights were easily condensed into one slide:

Right to examine all records relevant to the child’s education;

Right to attend and participate in all IEP meetings;

Right to invite others to IEP meeting;

Right to request an independent evaluation;

Right to receive prior notice;

Right to pursue conflict resolution procedures.

Knowing they are in possession of these few simple rights gives parents not only the knowledge they need to advocate for their children but the necessary confidence as well.  Parents in the audience left feeling empowered by key language they would need to walk into a meeting informed.  Parents now know to say that they are looking for their child to receive an “educational benefit,” a phrase taken directly from the common law interpretation of the Free Appropriate Public Education Act (FAPE), rather than asking to maximize their child’s potential, which may in itself be enough to demonstrate they know what they are talking about.  In many situations, in a child’s education, a few strategically placed buzz words are all you need to show the one across the desk from you that you know what your child has a right to and that you are not backing down until your child has everything they need.

The Council for Children’s Rights periodically offers this and other free training programs and can be contacted at (704) 372-7961.

Additional Resources

Disability Rights of North Carolina               1-800-821-6922

Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center    1-800-962-6817

Wrights Law                                                1-800-962-6817

ParentVOICE                                               704-365-3454


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