October 28, 2009
CUNY School of Law, through its National Lawyer’s Guild chapter, has launched a new program in which it will represent youth who have been suspended by their public schools and wrongfully denied access to their education. This critical area of legal need was the focus of reports from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) documenting that NYC schools with the most punitive disciplinary policies are overwhelmingly under-resourced, overcrowded, and primarily attended by low-income students of color. The overuse of suspensions, rather than other interventions, creates an environment where youth, primarily youth of color, are suspended from school and thus fall behind, are left behind and then often drop out.
To address this injustice, in September 2009 students at CUNY School of Law began their work training and representing public school students in suspension hearings. “We anticipate that CUNY Law students will make a major difference in the lives of youth who are wrongfully suspended,” said Angela Burton, Interim Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and Associate Professor. Data from the Suspension Representation Project (SRP), which was founded by NYU Law students in 2007, show that in virtually every case in which SRP advocates are involved there has been a successful reduction or an overturning of Superintendent Suspensions of students.
CUNY Law’s SRP Chapter was launched with great success, as more than thirty students participated in trainings conducted on campus by attorneys Andy Artz and Nelson Mar of Legal Services NYC-Bronx. The next step for CUNY Law students is to shadow an experienced student advocate on a case, thus enabling them to eventually act as the primary representative of students and their families at suspension hearings. “It’s a win-win situation,” said Professor Burton, who advises the program. “While CUNY Law SRP advocates help youth who are denied a vital education, they will also develop valuable legal skills for their legal educations, including interviewing clients, conducting direct and cross examinations, and delivering closing arguments.” As the project develops, CUNY SRP chapter members plan to participate in NYC coalitions aimed at improving the ways that schools respond to students’ behavior, rather than summarily and unnecessarily suspending students before exploring other options. “Suspensions lead to falling behind and dropping out,” said Amanda Jack, a student participant. What we need is to emphasize interventions that foster better behaviors in students and at the same time keeps them in school.”
The CUNY Law SRP Chapter is an initiative of the very active CUNY Law National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Chapter. The NLG Student Chapter also conducts Know Your Rights trainings in area high schools through its Street Law Team, is working to produce a §1983 Claims Handbook for Pro se litigants, and sends Legal Observers out to area protests. The SRP initiative is supported by a group of faculty members who are acting as an advisory committee as the project takes root at CUNY Law, adding to the many student-initiated activities that further our mission of “Law in the Service of Human Needs.”
About CUNY School of Law
Based in Queens, NY, CUNY School of Law is the premier public interest law school in the country. It trains lawyers to serve the underprivileged and disempowered and to make a difference in their communities. CUNY Law consistently ranks among the top 10 law schools in the country in clinical education and has been recognized as being one of the top ten public interest law schools nationwide. Its pedagogy has been heralded by the Carnegie Foundation for its integration of theory and practice. The Princeton Review ranks CUNY Law as having the fourth most diverse law faculty in the nation. It also ranks CUNY Law in the top ten in the nation for best professors, most welcoming to older students, and most liberal student body.