Our client brought a federal complaint against BOP and DC for failing to provide special education and a path to a high school diploma. On Friday, Judge Randolph Moss of the District Court for the District of Columbia issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order holding that DC is required to provide special education and related services to eligible District residents convicted of DC Code Offenses and serving a term of incarceration in a Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility. This is the first time that a federal court has held that DC remains responsible for providing special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to its residents who are in federal facilities.
For Immediate Release
July 18, 2018
Contact: Claire Nilsen Blumenson, (202) 656-9136, email@example.com
Interagency Working Group Releases Report & Recommendations for Improving Education for Court-Involved Students in DC
Washington, D.C.—On July 18, 2018, Councilmember David Grosso’s office released a Report and Recommendations from the Education for Students in DC Care Working Group. The report proposes three legislative recommendations and 40 policy recommendations to improve education access and outcomes for court-involved students.
Legislative recommendations include creating an interagency commission on education for court-involved youth, addressing the credits issue, and ensuring access to free special education lawyers for students ages 18-22 by expanding the use of court-appointed special education lawyers.
School Justice Project (SJP) participated in the Working Group and supports the Report’s recommendations. As a special education legal services and advocacy organization for students in DC’s juvenile and criminal justice systems, SJP is grateful to Councilmember Grosso for prioritizing education for court-involved students. Claire Blumenson, SJP’s Executive Director & Co-Founder, stated that “Students in the justice systems are often left out of the education reform conversation entirely. Councilmember Grosso and his team’s work convening stakeholders and empowering court-involved students is already expanding the conversation around education access, quality, and equity.”
The Working Group met monthly from February 2018 through June 2018, and stakeholders included government education and justice agencies, advocates and attorneys, students, and DC Council staff. “In my time on the Council, I have consistently raised concerns about the school-to-prison pipeline. However, the educational needs of our students who are involved with the justice or foster care systems have not received the attention they deserve,” said Councilmember Grosso in a press release from his office.
Councilmember Grosso convened this Working Group in response to a Roundtable he held in October 2017 on Education for Students During and After Detention, Commitment, and Incarceration. During this Roundtable, community advocates, attorneys, and students testified about the education barriers facing students in DC’s juvenile and criminal justice systems. Primary barriers included accessing special education, receiving academic credit for courses taken in facilities, and transferring student records. Complete testimonies from one of SJP’s former clients and Sarah Comeau, SJP’s Director of Programs & Co-Founder, are available here.
SJP has repeatedly testified about the need for policy and legislative solutions to longstanding education issues facing court-involved young people. Today’s Report is a big step toward achieving educational equity in DC. SJP is grateful to Councilmember Grosso for his leadership, and we look forward to continuing our work together to ensure students in the care of DC are not left behind.
School Justice Project (SJP) is a special education legal services and advocacy organization serving older, court-involved students with disabilities in Washington, D.C. For more info, visit www.sjpdc.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why Special Education Laws Matter
By Shannon Simone | Guest Blogger
October 16, 2017
In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, many Americans find themselves confused, afraid, and angry. Though Trump was fiercely supported by lower-income white Americans, his administration has expressed little, if any, commitment to the uplift of Americans marginalized by class since the election, and has directly contributed to the exacerbation of challenges faced by Americans of color and immigrants. The policies being enacted by the current administration, along with rising political and social tensions, leave many wondering where we are headed as a nation and whether or not we will make progress for America’s most marginalized, especially children.
If we are to understand the complex challenges facing Americans of all stripes and colors, we must first acknowledge that systemic racism is a primary fixture of this country’s structural foundation. Racism, and its self-replicating cycles of oppression, continue to affect us all in profound, terrifying ways, even though we live in the 21st century. Racism never went anywhere. Donald Trump just reminded us that it never left. If we agree that systemic racism significantly informs the structural composition of American society, we must also accept that our social, political, and economic institutions interlock with it. America’s education system, for instance, is mired in a history of racial discrimination, negligence, and denial. Most of us are aware of the Brown v. Board supreme court decision, the factors behind the case, and the effects of overturning the legal segregation of American public schools. Many of us, however, do not understand how racism affects disadvantaged students beyond the matter of integration. Take a longer look at the issues and one will find many complex, hidden negligences, such as the fact that special education laws are not enforced. When it comes to this particular issue, the victims are, unsurprisingly, predominately black and male.
I can almost hear a collective sigh; one of frustration from black readers tired of the seemingly endless cycles of oppression and the other from white readers tired of reading about the unending problem of racism. This collective frustration will not dissipate until and unless our country recognizes that racism belongs to all of us, and can only be undone with all of us committing to fight for equal and fair treatment for people of color and immigrants.
Place yourself in the shoes of a young black man named Demetri, if you can. Demetri grew up in and out of group homes and juvenile detention centers all of his young life. In addition to a lack of stability, support, and homelessness, Demetri struggles with learning disabilities as a student with special education needs. One might think that Demetri would receive more support because of his needs and circumstances, but students like Demetri are routinely left behind or pushed out of the education system. You may be thinking: Why should I care? What makes Demetri’s struggle so significant? You should care because Demetri is entitled to an education. He is entitled to complete his high school education regardless of court-involvement or his actions. Yet, he was not provided one.
What the majority of us don’t know or even think about – unless it impacts us directly - is that a child with learning disabilities that receives special education has a right to a quality education and should matriculate from kindergarten through high school like every other child. However, we know that children living in high-poverty neighborhoods are less likely to receive a quality education, especially those students in the justice systems. How can that be possible when a federal law mandates that all students, like Demetri, with special education needs are entitled to a free appropriate public education? We know the answer to this question lies in systemic racism and in our infrastructure built on slavery, followed by Jim Crow segregation, urban ghettoization, and mass incarceration.
School Justice Project (SJP) is a nonprofit special education legal services organization, founded in August 2013 by Claire Nilsen Blumenson and Sarah Comeau; both attorneys, both white women, and both educated at top schools. These women could have practiced the type of law that help the rich stay rich and get richer or they could fight for justice and equality in education and be a voice for the voiceless. They chose the latter. They are special education attorneys and their mission is to protect the legal rights of students with disabilities and ensure their access to the education guaranteed them by District and federal law.
SJP’s client base is unsurprisingly 86% male, 96% Black and 4% Latinx, but the work of SJP goes beyond representing black and brown clients with special needs; what makes their work even more difficult is the fact that their clients are 17-22 years old with special education needs and involved in the District’s juvenile or criminal justice systems. These are young people that have never had the opportunity to fully utilize the education system and have the system work for them. By the time these students come of age and are considered adults, reentry into the school system – even though they still have a right to continue their education – can be nearly impossible.
SJP works to address what it has coined “the second pipeline” – the transference of students from the juvenile system into the adult criminal justice system. The idea is that older students don’t fit into the traditional school-to-prison pipeline movement. Additionally, people often don’t know about the issues facing this older student population, and a wide gap in data doesn’t help. When it comes to different systems collecting different data from multiple agencies, and when you have students that are lost in these systems, keeping accurate data doesn’t seem to be the highest priority, even when it is the law. While students are shipped to various juvenile detention centers in different states and are taking classes to keep up with their schooling, records are most always muddled and confusion and miscommunication ensues. Claire explains: “The school systems will have one policy, like not taking partial credits. But then the juvenile justice agency will have a policy where they send students out to facilities that will only give them partial credits. So there’s this overlap where these students will never be coming back from juvenile justice facilities with full credits, and yet, the education agencies aren’t going to accept them because they’re not full credits.” The law is supposed to protect these students and it isn’t the students’ responsibility to make sure that the record keeping of all of these various facilities is accurate.
Ultimately, the education rights of these students are disregarded and deemed unimportant and, in turn, schools deny them the opportunity to reenter the classroom and blame the student. This impacts the services the students are promised through special education once they’ve left the juvenile system and has negative effects on students if and when they do reenter the classroom.
Remember Demetri? Let’s put ourselves back in his shoes. His story seems to encapsulate how counterproductive our systems of care can be when they are more about agencies staying in their lane and completing their designated activities than about collaborating to serve young people and strengthen communities. Having lost his parents and grandparents, he faced his biggest fear: aging out of care as a homeless young person without a quality education or career skills. He was determined to complete his schooling and improve his life conditions, in spite of the agency barriers and personal hardships.
In December 2012, he began working with Claire (and then SJP) to get the special education services he needed and enroll in a school that could meet his needs. Previously, he had been placed in an untenable education environment – a GED program. The juvenile justice system had placed him in GED courses, instead of diploma courses, making it impossible for him to achieve academic success as he needed special education (something not available in GED programs). GED programs are especially difficult for students with special education needs because the programs do not provide special education services. Once with SJP, he began the process of reentering the school system. Yet, each time he attempted to enroll, he was denied – in stark violation of controlling law that guaranteed to him a high school diploma option.
He was told his only option would be 9th grade at a neighborhood DCPS high school. In Demetri’s own words he says, “To be honest with you, I felt very, very, embarrassed. Humiliated.” Fortunately, Demetri was not deterred. He turned to litigation. Determined to get his high school diploma, he knew he needed to seek out the individualized instruction and services he was owed under law.
After years of legal battles, Demetri is still working towards receiving his diploma and he is also now a youth advocate for education reform. Demetri recently talked about his work with SJP:
We have been seeing great progress within these four years. We have inserted policies in the juvenile system and the education system. Since I met Ms. Claire when I was 20 years old, I have been recognized by other organizations that now want me to better the system through their own organizations. We need more advocates like this doing this work. Ms. Claire has turned me into the advocate I am and I am proud to be a young black African-American youth leader and activist so I can now be a voice for the youth.
His story is one of millions, but hopefully, his story and voice will make a difference for those currently being discarded, funneled through the second pipeline, and unrepresented. Without an education, without options, without support, and with those in power happier when black and brown people are imprisoned, it’s of no surprise that recidivism is an unending cycle. It costs more money to keep prisons running than to actually educate, rehabilitate, and employ. This isn’t an inconsequential issue; this impacts us all. Access to education leads to gainful employment and positive community engagement.
How can you help? Supporting SJP is a start.
Two New Attorneys Join School Justice Project
School Justice Project (SJP) is pleased to welcome two attorneys to its team. In September 2017, seasoned special education attorney Kimberly Glassman joined SJP as Special Projects Attorney. Over the next six months, Kim will work with the SJP team to provide direct representation to clients, tackle systemic advocacy projects surrounding education for incarcerated youth, and conduct special education legal trainings for practitioners and community members. School Justice Project also welcomed Claire Chevrier, a 2017 graduate of Georgetown University Law School. Claire joins SJP as a 2017 Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP. Claire’s project is to establish, pilot, and launch education legal clinics in partnership with D.C. community-based organizations and agencies to bring legal services to court-involved students with special education needs.
About Kim Glassman
Kim has extensive experience advocating for the rights of children with disabilities. Her practice centers on special education, suspension and expulsion cases. She has represented over 200 parents and guardians in all phases of special education matters, including IEP meetings, manifestation determinations, disciplinary hearings, mediations and due process hearings. Kim currently serves as a co-chair of the Special Education Attorney Roundtable and as a Special Education and Parent Attorney on the Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect (CCAN) for the District of Columbia Superior Court. Before entering private practice, Kim was a Staff Attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau in Riverdale, Maryland, where she represented indigent clients in a wide range of civil matters and a Skadden Fellow at the National Women’s Law Center, working on issues related to Family Economic Security. She is admitted to the bars of Maryland, the District of Columbia, and the United States District Court, District of Maryland and District of Columbia. She earned her J.D. from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, in May 2003, magna cum laude, and earned a B.A., cum laude, in History and Political Science from SUNY Geneseo in May 2000.
About Claire Chevrier
Claire graduated cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center, where she focused on education and civil rights law. While there, Claire interned for the Children’s Law Center’s Special Education Project, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights’ Educational Opportunities Project. Claire also represented low-income tenants in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of DC Superior Court through the DC Law Students in Court Clinic, for which she won the Nathan A. Neal Award for Outstanding Advocacy. In 2016, Claire had the privilege of interning for Professor Brian Wolfman, which put her on the petitioner’s team for the landmark special education case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.
About School Justice Project
School Justice Project (“SJP”) is a special education legal services and advocacy organization in the District of Columbia dedicated to ensuring that older (ages 17-22), court-involved youth with disabilities receive a quality education, during incarceration and throughout reintegration. By using special education advocacy in the juvenile and criminal contexts, SJP aims to increase access to education, decrease future court contact, and reshape the education and justice landscapes for older court-involved students with disabilities.
In May, the Legal Center for Youth Justice and Education (LCYJE) launched a new website that will serve as a dynamic, interactive tool to improve the educational and life outcomes of youth involved with the juvenile justice system.
On June 27, 2017 at 2pm, SJP Executive Director Claire Blumenson will join LCYJE as a presenter for an introductory webinar on Blueprint for Change: Education Success for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System. This comprehensive resource outlines 10 goals to achieve education success for youth who are in the juvenile justice system. In addition to the goals that are the pillars of this framework, the Blueprint includes benchmarks that help measure progress towards those goals, as well as hundreds of examples of programs, legislation, resources, policies and practices in place across the country that seek to remove barriers and improve youth’s education success. Presenters include:
- Kate Burdick, Juvenile Law Center
- Whiquitta Tobar, Juvenile Law Center
- Maura McInerney, Education Law Center-PA
- Claire Nilsen Blumenson, Esq., Executive Director & Co-Founder, School Justice Project
You can also view the Blueprint for Change website here: https://www.jjeducationblueprint.org/.
Director of Programs Sarah Comeau and defense attorney James King joined the host of ListenUp Radio for an episode on special education rights and the barriers to education access during incarceration and reentry. King and Comeau provided an overview of the issues, as well as tips for overcoming the obstacles court-involved students face when trying to enforce their rights.