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.
Demographics & Process
SJP attorneys have represented 76 clients. At the time of representation, our clients are on average 18 and a half years old, predominately from wards 7 and 8 (41% of all clients) or homeless (19%). 96% of clients served have identified as Black and 4% as Latino; 88% have identified as male and 12% as female.
Our clients are introduced to SJP through a variety of sources. including referrals and court-appointments. We have received over 100 referrals since opening doors. For those we had capacity to accept, the sources included students, lawyers, probation officers, schools, and the court. Specifically, the 2016 final source breakdown was: Current or former clients (28%), defense attorneys (25%), education attorneys (12%), or community-based service providers (includes civil legal service providers) (18%). The remainder of our clients come from other practitioners, the court, and schools.
Education and Employment
In 2016, 87% of SJP clients were enrolled in an education program, including 60% of clients enrolling immediately upon release from secure detention or incarceration. Nearly 75% of SJP clients remain enrolled for 90-days post-enrollment. Once enrolled, 77% of SJP clients demonstrate improved attendance and 81% demonstrate improved grades. The vast majority of clients earned credits toward their high school diploma, and by the end of the current school year, we anticipate another 5 clients graduating or obtaining a GED. 95% of SJP clients demonstrate increased knowledge of post- secondary planning. Although there are many barriers to finding employment while trying to finish high school after age 18, our clients demonstrate commitment to doing both by continuing to seek out jobs or participating in subsidized employment programs. 78% of SJP clients are engaged in the labor force, as defined by actively seeking employment, engaged in a job program, or engaged in subsidized employment. 30% of SJP clients have secured unsubsidized employment.
Empowerment, Leadership, and Community
SJP’s model values self-advocacy and student empowerment. As their engagement in the legal services and advocacy process grows, clients begin understanding their rights and show increased agency and self-confidence. 92% of SJP clients report increased empowerment, as measured by self-expressions of feeling comfortable speaking at special education or other school meetings and initiating ways for his/her voice to be heard. This also manifests in students taking on major tasks without an attorney either doing it for them or accompanying them. Examples include clients securing vital documents, enrolling in school, or touring programs on their own and reporting back. 100% of SJP clients have an increased understanding of rights. With increased empowerment and understanding of rights, we have seen 57% of clients show increased civic engagement through registering to vote, completing community service hours, or securing identification cards. 25% of clients pursued leadership roles in the classroom or community.
This year, we filed two state complaints that resulted in individual and systemic relief for our clients. Most recently, we filed a complaint on behalf of students incarcerated in D.C. Jail. The complaint was against 3 government agencies and, after an investigation, Letters of Decision was issued. The LODs outlined 11 systemic and student-level violations against District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). To correct the systemic violations, DCPS was ordered to ensure that all students receive specialized instruction.
In addition, the three agencies must enter into an agreement outlining how they will identify youth who are eligible to be enrolled in school once they arrive at DC Jail and ensure timely enrollment. The agreement must also outline how youth will receive education services while in segregation. On an individual level, the Letters of Decision ordered the agencies to provide SJP’s three named clients with a minimum of 974 hours of tutoring, behavioral support services, speech-language pathology, and transition services. This translates to about $68,000 worth of services.
During 2016, we conducted 14 legal trainings and presentations to over 2,200 individuals including judges, lawyers, students, and community members. The trainings include quarterly trainings for D.C. Superior Court, D.C. Superior Court’s Annual Family Court Conference, presentations to Georgetown Law School and George Washington Law School, a training for probation officers, and a training for students detained in D.C.’s long-term juvenile justice facility.
SJP submitted written testimony for consideration by D.C. Council's Committee on Human Services related to D.C.'s juvenile justice agency's - Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services - proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018. To read the testimony, please go here.
· SJP Staff submitted comments to D.C.’s juvenile justice agency’s case management manual. The comments provided recommendations and modifications to how social workers and case managers can better ensure that each young person in the juvenile justice system can access a quality education.
· Comeau testified at the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services Performance Oversight Hearing for the 2016 fiscal year for the D.C. Council. Comeau’s testimony emphasized the importance of community-based placements and services over out-of-state residential facilities, the need for transparency and consistency in data collection, and transition planning for students returning home.
· Russo represented SJP in the D.C. Secondary Transition Community of Practice, a cross section of D.C. stakeholders who work jointly to support DC youth with disabilities as they transition from high school to independent adulthood. Russo will attend the group’s upcoming retreat to develop goals and work priorities for the next year.
· Comeau filed a complaint on behalf of an individual client in Federal District Court against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the District of Columbia education agencies. The complaint alleged that D.C. students placed in prisons do not have access to special education or any path to a high school diploma, contrary to Federal and District law.
· Russo filed a due process complaint on behalf of an individual client and, as a result, secured the following in compensatory education services: 130 hours of tutoring and 25 hours of transition services.
· Comeau met with a member from the Executive Office of the Mayor to discuss policy changes regarding placement of District residents in Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities. To follow up on this meeting, Comeau was invited to train staff of D.C.’s Corrections Information Council, a District agency monitoring the placement of District residents in Federal Bureau of Prisons prisons, on the lack of access to education and special education. Comeau and the CIC are working together to find a policy solution so all residents can access education.
· SJP staff participated in quarterly meeting with the Director of D.C.’s juvenile justice agency to help ensure that policies and procedures will reflect the special education entitlements of court-involved young people.
SJP Director of Programs, Sarah Comeau, testified in front of the D.C. Council's Committee on Human Services at D.C.'s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) Performance Oversight Hearing. Comeau urged members of the Council to ensure that juvenile justice agency-involved young people have access to a continuum of community-based placements. Comeau also discussed issues related to reentry, transition planning, and interagency communication and collaboration. You can read Comeau's testimony here.
A fundraiser celebrating and benefiting School Justice Project will be held on June 8, 2017 from 6:30-9:30 pm. Presented by AlixPartners LLP, the fundraiser will feature an open bar (beer & wine), heavy hors d'oeuvres, a silent auction, and raffle items. Thanks to the generous support of AlixPartners, all proceeds will go directly to the organization.
Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door, but early bird pricing ends on May 31! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/third-annual-fundraiser-celebrating-school-justice-project-tickets-33689357776
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to support the event.
School Justice Project is honored to have been selected by the Aspen Institute as part of its inaugural class of Aspen Urban Innovators. Aspen Institute's new Urban Innovation Accelerator program aims to support, elevate, and learn from entrepreneurial and innovative organizations aimed at improving the lives of residents in the Capital region.
The Urban Innovation Lab supports the development and advancement of meaningful and measureable urban innovation that improves the lives of under-served residents of the National Capital Region.
The Center for Urban Innovation harnesses the innovative power of cities to make them great places for all of their residents, especially those in underserved neighborhoods, to live, work, connect, and flourish. In our vision, cities are places where entrepreneurs, innovative non-profit actors, and public officials work alongside people from underserved communities to solve long-standing urban problems.
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.
This week, School Justice Project is featured in Education on Tap, a podcast by Teach for America. The episode follows the story of Demetri, an SJP client. In the podcast's words, "His fight for his education – at sometimes an embarrassingly personal cost – will lead you through a catharsis of emotion: anger, disappointment, and – eventually – pride."
Even though I know his story so well, it is always powerful to hear him talk about his experience. His voice reminds me how raw the emotions still are and how long he has struggled just to get to the doorstep. And, despite small victories, there are some serious hurdles still ahead. His words serve as a reminder of how critical this work is, why moving the needle can't wait.
"The School Justice Project (SJP) received new funding to protect and advocate for the special education rights of court-involved students, ages 17 to 22, during incarceration and throughout reintegration. SJP attorneys work to increase access to appropriate special education to improve educational, employment, and life outcomes for this traditionally excluded student population."Read More
I am waiting in front of my client's school right now, ready to intercept him to share the big news: His feedback on improving education for youth involved in the juvenile or criminal justice systems influenced the federal guidance package released by the Department of Education and Department of Justice on Monday.
For someone else, I would have stopped by his house to share the news last night. But he remains homeless, two years after aging out of the juvenile justice system at age 21. So I wait for him to arrive at school, the only place where he and I both know that he can be found each day—a fact that may seem inspiring or endearing but will, upon reflection, evoke outrage and heartbreak.Read More