A Movement Lawyering Approach to Education Inequities in the Wake of COVID
Any parent with school-aged children will tell you that school closures, remote online learning, and return to school with changing mask mandates, strict sick policies, and school staff shortages have dramatically impacted public education. For Black and brown students, students who have disabilities, and low-income students the pandemic included those challenges and exacerbated pre-existing inequities in education. The legal barriers they face are significant, including enrollment, placement, discipline, special education, racism and discrimination issues. Many students have disappeared altogether from public education. Others are being pushed out into online school, either at enrollment or in response to discipline, as other students have been allowed to return to the classroom. We’re seeing a return to the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions. Students are facing implicit and explicit racial bias in schools from staff, administration, and other students. And students with disabilities are not getting their needs met and not receiving recovery services to address what was lost during the pandemic.
TeamChild is collaborating with community and other legal aid programs to build a response. In addition to all the referrals our program teams continue to receive, we are expanding our education advocacy in a way that integrates the leadership of impacted youth, community engagement, direct representation, and planning for systemic advocacy through policy change or legal representation. TeamChild collaborated with Northwest Justice Project, Disability Rights Washington, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), Washington Autism Alliance, and Seattle University School of Law to apply for short-term pandemic related funding for legal aid made available through the Office of Civil Legal Aid.
The work at TeamChild will include the creation of a Youth Advisory Board made up of around 10 young people who have been impacted by education barriers or juvenile court involvement. We are hiring new staff to support this work, including Porsche Phelps, who will now be our Community Engagement Manager, and a soon to be announced Youth Advisory Coordinator. We will also be hiring a statewide Staff Attorney to expand our capacity for education case referrals. Our team should be fully staffed in May. Expect to hear more from us as this work evolves!
For now, our vision is that a Youth Advisory Board will help direct our priorities for direct representation work and priorities and goals for policy advocacy. We plan to partner with community organizations in new and innovative ways to learn from their experiences and to partner to address long-standing and significant inequities in education. This project is grounded in movement law principles. Those who have direct experience with school exclusion will guide our work, and we will be developing strategic plans to advocate for policy change and engage in litigation based on the priorities and goals that the Youth Advisory Board and community define.
To get involved in this work or share your ideas, please reach out anytime to Director of Legal Services, Sara Zier, at [email protected].