Posts Categorized: Service Innovation Project

Boston Bar Leads Groundbreaking Collaboration to Provide Public Outreach for Students’ Rights

The Boston Bar Association (BBA) today announced a new collaboration with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) to provide a series of presentations designed to increase awareness about students’ rights, following a recent class action settlement agreement. This new project is the first of its kind and establishes a new collaboration model for a bar association, the private bar, and the legal services community.

The program will feature presentations given by BBA members currently enrolled in its Public Interest Leadership Program (PILP) to a series of community groups, including community centers, health service organizations, and parent and student groups. The program is part of the BBA’s larger Service Innovation Project, designed to advance efforts to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline in Massachusetts. The cradle-to-prison pipeline is a mechanism by which social and economic disparities contribute to a “pipeline” where children of color, children with disabilities, and children from low-income families are disproportionately funneled into the system of mass incarceration. The BBA’s project focuses on the educational system’s role in the pipeline.

“We are thrilled by this partnership with the BBA to spread the word of this new settlement agreement,” said Elizabeth McIntyre, Staff Attorney and Director of the School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project at GBLS. “It is absolutely critical that the families most affected by this settlement are able to use it as a tool as they continue to fight for their schools.”

“This project gives our class the opportunity to create meaningful change in our communities and demonstrate the value that lawyers can bring in jumpstarting social change,” said Jared Shwartz, a current member of PILP and an associate at Hinckley Allen. “An education can open so many doors; dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline ensures that we do not unduly disadvantage a segment of our community that needs access to these types of opportunities.”

The settlement stems from a complaint, filed against Boston Public Schools by GBLS, which asserted that the school system had unlawfully suspended three minor clients of GBLS. Boston Public Schools has committed to several changes that aim to end unlawful student suspensions, decrease overall suspensions, and foster powerful, compassionate learning communities.

PILP participant Lavinia Weizel, associate at Mintz, said, “Working on a project to help dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in Massachusetts seemed like a great fit for our PILP class this year. As a group, we were eager to participate in a project that would enable us to connect with the broader community and contribute to tackling important legal and social issues. Our work in this initiative has been a great learning experience.”

The presentations are expected to begin next month. Learn more about the BBA here and GBLS here.

The Service Innovation Project is made possible by the Burnes Innovation in Service Fund of the Boston Bar Foundation.

Service Innovation Project Kicks Off with School-to-Prison Pipeline Issue Briefing

On May 17, the Boston Bar convened attorneys for the next step in the pilot phase of its Service Innovation Project, which will focus on engaging the legal community in disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. At an issue briefing panel, a distinguished group of experts provided a comprehensive overview of the issue to attendees, and challenged them to think about actionable next steps to work toward solutions.

The panel, moderated by Northeastern University Law School’s Susan Maze-Rothstein, consisted of:

  • Jessica Berry – Deputy Director, Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
  • Jay D. Blitzman – First Justice for the Middlesex Juvenile Court and Presiding Justice, Lowell
  • Matt Cregor – Education Project Director, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice
  • Janelle Ridley – District Coordinator for System-Involved Youth, Boston Public Schools
  • Marlies Spanjaard – Director of Education Advocacy, the EdLaw Project

The goal of the panel was to give attendees a deeper understanding of the many complicated and intersecting issues that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline, facilitating economically disadvantaged youth slipping into the justice system in Boston and all over the United States. From their unique professional vantage points, each panelist was able to share examples of glaring inequities which are, unfortunately, commonplace.

Jessica Berry (Children’s Law Center of MA), Hon. Jay Blitzman (Middlesex Juvenile Court, Lowell Juvenile Court), Matt Cregor (Lawyers’ Committee), Janelle Ridley (Boston Public Schools), and Marlies Spanjaard (The EdLaw Project)

In summing up the structure of the school-to-prison pipeline, panelists explained that communities with high poverty rates and larger-than-average incarcerated populations also tend to have the most overcrowded, underfunded schools. Though staying in school has proven to be a deterrent from getting involved in the justice system, the increase in policing on school campuses in the past 20 years has led to more arrests on school grounds than ever before. In addition, students who are suspended or expelled from school, often for minor non-violent infractions, are at higher risk to drop out of school and thus more likely to enter into the criminal justice system.

These factors disproportionately impact black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, and the panelists cited multiple sources of data on the devastating impact that disparity is having in majority-minority communities.

“There is no such thing as race-neutral, zero-tolerance (policies),” Judge Blitzman said, adding that well-intended legislation meant to bolster school safety has led to the “criminalization of adolescence” for at-risk youth.

Ridley said one of the most important parts of her job is simply to listen to students, something the students may not feel they are getting from other adults at school or at home.

“We have a lot of quantitative data, but what we’re missing is the qualitative data: the stories, the reasoning, and what got these kids to where they are,” she said.

 

Panel moderator Prof. Susan Maze-Rothstein (Northeastern Law) brainstorms with her breakout group.

Following the panel, attendees formed small breakout groups to discuss what they had learned and think about next steps. Throughout the room, attorneys thought about various ways to offer pro bono assistance directly to affected children and families. But other, multidisciplinary approaches were also a focus of the discussion – such as public information campaigns targeted to schools, parents and the general public. Many attendees expressed their enthusiasm for restorative-justice-style programs in schools, giving students the chance to express their feelings and hopefully avoid suspension or expulsion.

The Boston Bar would like to thank everyone who participated, and we look forward to working together with the Service Innovation Project Advisory Committee to take these ideas and incorporate them into our work going forward.

Attorneys and community leaders discuss the insights and information presented during the first half of the issue briefing.

Special thanks to the Boston Bar Foundation Burnes Innovation in Service Fund, made possible by a generous gift from Richard and Nonnie Burnes.  This fund provides critical support for the Service Innovation Project.  For more information on the Burnes Innovation in Service Fund or the Boston Bar Foundation, contact Megan Leppert at 617.778.1924 or [email protected]