Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

Providing clinical and pro bono opportunities to Harvard Law School students

Tag: Education Law Clinic (TLPI)

Legislative Advocacy for Safe and Supportive Schools

By: Alexis Farmer

From left to right: Breanna Williams JD ‘20, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ‘19, Clinical Professor Michael Gregory, Pantea Fead JD’ 20, and Yurui Chen JD ‘20.

“Investing in a good education is something anyone can get behind,” said Breanna Williams, a 2L at Harvard Law School as she prepared her pitch to the next legislator. She was one of seven students in the Education Law and Policy Clinic/Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative who spent half of her spring semester under the gold dome of the Massachusetts Statehouse, advocating with legislators to support funding for implementation of Massachusetts’ Safe and Supportive Schools Framework statute. At the end of April, the weekly office visits and calls wind down, and only half of the group remained. Huddled in the café, Breanna, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ’19, Pantea Faed JD ’20, and Yurui Chen JD ’20, along with Clinical Professor Michael Gregory recaped on the progress they’ve made and focus on next steps. (Other students participating in the clinic this past spring were Sarah Lu JD ’19, Sarah Mooney M.Ed. ’19, and Robyn Parkinson JD ’20.)

There is increasing acknowledgement that a significant number of children and youth in the United States undergo adversity at a young age. These experiences can have serious health and social consequences, some that can impede children from being successful in school. One study reported that two-thirds of children recounted experiencing at least one traumatic event before the age of 16. Homelessness, community violence, physical and sexual abuse, and refugee experiences are all stressful events that challenge academic, emotional and social well-being. The Safe and Supportive Schools Framework helps participating schools address these needs, through adopting trauma-sensitive practices to help all students learn and thrive in school.

In 2014, then Governor and HLS alumnus Deval Patrick signed the omnibus Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence, which included the Safe and Supportive Schools law thanks to the leadership of House Speaker Robert A. De Leo. The law aims to enable schools to develop safe, inclusive, and healthy learning environments by supporting school districts to implement the Safe and Supportive Schools Framework. The law provides for trainings, technical assistance, a grant program for schools that serve as models, and on-going recommendations from a commission of experts. The clinic, which is part of a partnership between HLS and the nonprofit Massachusetts Advocates for Children, played a leading role in advocating for the law. Every year since, the clinic has advocated at the legislature to ensure that implementation of the law continues to be funded in the state budget.

Students spent the first half of the spring semester conducting thorough research on state senators and representatives before approaching them, identifying who their staff members were and the policy issues each legislator cared about. The students scouted the statehouse for each member’s office. They positioned themselves at their door with a packet of information about the bill and an elevator pitch, knowing that they had limited time to make an impression. Meetings with a legislator or their staff can be hard to secure, so most are receptive to an impromptu visit. “Most legislators are used to people showing up and being available to their constituents,” Faed remarked. Faed was able to schedule a meeting to sit down with a legislator after showing up at his door and giving her spiel. The group hasn’t encountered any partisan friction on the issue, but they do know that legislators are more likely to support the Safe and Supportive Schools line item if schools in their legislative district receive funding from the grant program. In FY19, there were 93 schools in 38 school districts that benefitted from the funding.

Students learned quickly that they had to be able to connect with legislators and their aides on the substance of the issue. They had to explain in common terms why safe and supportive school cultures are so important. Fortunately, they had spent several weeks in the beginning of the semester conducting focus groups with urban middle and high school students across Massachusetts, asking them about their educational experiences and what their schools could be doing to better support them.

“Hearing the voices of high school students first hand makes all the difference,” said Susan Cole, Director of the clinic and co-teacher with Gregory. Almost uniformly the high school students said that the most important aspects of their education were having strong, caring relationships with their teachers and feeling respected and understood by their teachers and administrators. This is at the core of what the Safe and Supportive Schools law is designed to support. “It is so much more compelling to explain the stakes of this law to legislators when you have the students’ stories fresh in your mind,” said Cole. In addition to informing their advocacy at the state house, the focus groups were also the basis of a formal report that the clinic submitted to the statewide Safe and Supportive Schools Commission in March.

From left to right: Pantea Fead JD’ 20, Breanna Williams JD ‘20, Yurui Chen JD ’20, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ‘19.

In its budget recommendation, released in early April, the Massachusetts House proposed $400,000 in funding for the line item, no small success. But Rep. Ruth Balser, lead sponsor of the law and line item in the House, proposed an amendment seeking to raise the amount to $500,000 for FY 2020. That was also the amount Governor Charlie Baker recommended in his 2020 budget. In just one month, students were able to gather 78 representatives to co-sponsor the amendment.

The students’ work has the tangible achievements of securing funding for the legislation and building lasting relationships. 34 new legislators were elected this past November, giving students the opportunity to foster new partnerships and gain support that could have dividends later. “New legislators can become our greatest advocates down the line,” said Gregory. Some seasoned legislators have repeatedly backed the line item, such as Senator Sal DiDomenico, who is Assistant Majority Leader and lead sponsor of the law and line item in the Senate, and House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones. Both are advocates of improving educational opportunities for children in Massachusetts.

When asked about what makes legislators sign on their support, Lewis said, “They buy into the theory of change. They like the idea that schools are doing things to improve their culture, and [this bill] gives them the autonomy and the tools to do it themselves.”

By the end of the semester, the students had contacted all 160 offices in the House of Representatives and all 40 offices in the Senate. Their dogged effort to gain buy-in at the statehouse helps ensure this initiative continues and provides a model for fostering a healthy school atmosphere.

“You can’t mandate school culture,” Gregory said, “but you can set the conditions to improve it. Schools can customize the work to meet the needs of their own communities. It’s an approach that appeals to a lot of people.”

While the House of Representatives did not adopt Rep. Balser’s amendment this year, the students’ advocacy paid off in the long run. Upping the amount proposed by the House, the Senate included just over $508,000 in funding for Safe and Supportive Schools in its budget – an increase from last year. A conference committee made up of members from both houses met throughout June and most of July to reconcile all of the discrepancies between their respective budgets. The committee adopted the higher amount recommended by the Senate, and Gov. Baker signed it into law at the end of July.

“No Matter What It Takes”

By: Laura Stelianou, J.D. ’19

Laura Stelianou ’19

Before law school, I was a kindergarten teacher and about one third of my students had disabilities. I helped implement and develop plans to meet their individualized needs. I earned a master’s degree in special education. Yet, my coursework did not focus on the law and I was far from fluent in the specific rights of students with disabilities. The families of many of my students similarly did not know all of the rights afforded to children with disabilities and some felt a lack of agency during special education meetings. Our laws nonetheless rely heavily on families to participate in the special education process and, when necessary, advocate for their children’s rights. For families with fewer re- sources, whose home language is not English, or whose children have experienced adverse experiences, it can be particularly daunting to navigate the system. I knew when I started at Harvard Law School that I wanted to participate  in the Education Law Clinic to gain a better understanding of special education law and support families to advocate for their children.

Through the Education Law Clinic, students engage in individual special education advocacy as well as systemic change projects to ensure that children who have endured adverse childhood experiences succeed in school. My clinical experience taught me that knowledge of the law is an incredible, albeit limited, source of power.

In the Clinic, I represented a high school student whose school district failed to provide an appropriate school placement, which left him with minimal access to education for many months. The student, who is incredibly bright, funny, and introspective, said he wanted to graduate “no matter what it takes.” This would be impossible without an  appropriate placement. With the help of an expert and the support of the Education Law Clinic, the student is now closer to achieving his goal of graduating. For our systemic change project, students in the clinic traveled to community service agencies across the state, including agencies in Lawrence, Taunton, and Dorchester, to give trainings on education law. We trained providers such as family partners and care coordinators, who teach and assist families to access re- sources and services including special education. I was struck by the strong engagement of the providers at the trainings. More than once, after we presented an aspect of the law, providers expressed surprise that certain rights existed or shared anecdotes of schools’ failure to comply with students’ rights. Many expressed a sense of empowerment and shared their plans to reference aspects of the law in the future to support students.

Knowledge of special education law was a source of power in my clinic work, but educational inequities remain even when families are equipped with knowledge. In our clinical course, we discussed ways that education laws operate unequally. For example, while some families can ensure appropriate placements for their children by changing a placement immediately, paying for it themselves, and later advocating for reimbursement from the school district, many families lack the resources to pursue that option. Independent evaluations help inform students’ placements. Families with knowledge and resources can access experts for independent evaluations, while others face long waitlists or cannot afford high quality experts. In our clinical course, we also discussed racial inequities in education, including disparate rates of school discipline for students of color. Relatedly, I observed the way that educational disparities influence children’s experiences when I interned with a juvenile judge through Harvard’s Child Advocacy Clinic. I witnessed several instances in which children’s educational opportunities were tied to their involvement with the juvenile justice or child welfare systems.

My experience in Harvard’s clinics has empowered me with a fluency in special education law that I can now use to both enforce rights and teach others. After law school, I plan to work in education law and advocate for educational equity broadly. On an individual level, if I have children, this will mean making appropriate choices about where they go to school and advocating for all children in the school. I encourage my fellow graduates to join me in considering their role in promoting educational equity as they educate their own families.


Education Law Clinic Welcomes Bettina Neuefeind

Bettina Neuefeind is an attorney with the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a collaboration between Harvard Law School’s Education Law Clinic and Massachusetts Advocates for Children. As a longtime direct services attorney and advocate for culture change around trauma, mental health and schools, Bettina assists families of children exposed to trauma in obtaining appropriate educational services, supports the clinical education of law students, and collaborates with the leadership team on achieving systemic progress growing the safe and supportive school culture movement.

Prior to joining TLPI, Bettina was a Research Fellow at Harvard Law School investigating what fuels systems change in anti-poverty work, and an affiliate at Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic, where she led the School Food Interventions project and focused on food literacy education and school food culture overhauls in applied settings. Before coming to Harvard, Bettina was a fair housing attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California, serving low-income clients with disabilities and specializing in accommodations where housing was threatened due to mental health issues. Bettina received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. She clerked for the Honorable Daniel T.K. Hurley of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and for the Honorable Susan S. Beck, Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Welcome Bettina!

Advocating for students with HLS’s Education Law Clinic

By Lauren Greil J.D. ’17

Lauren Greil J.D. '17

Lauren Greil J.D. ’17

I taught for two years in Northern Florida before I came to Harvard Law School to be a student again. The school where I taught was a difficult place to work. It lacked resources: there weren’t enough desks in my classroom and the land-line phone did not work. Even my teacher laptop, provided by the school, was missing the space bar. More problematic was the shortage of teachers, particularly in the math department where I taught. My classes were packed. For example, it was normal for my Algebra classes to have 40 or more students in them. There were so many vacancies that some math classes were run by permanent substitutes.

The lack of resources, however, was not the most unpleasant thing – the school culture was. Students brought a great deal of trauma with them to school, and the school environment was further traumatizing. Physical fights were common and many of them spent more days in in-school suspension than in the classroom. They were required to put on bright orange vests before they could leave the classroom to walk to the restroom to signal to security guards that they were not skipping class.

I do not think about my students as much as I used to think about them, but, when I do, I feel sadness because school should be a place where young people feel safe, not a site of further trauma.

The Education Law Clinic is working to make schools in Massachusetts trauma sensitive and to make students feel more safe and supported. To accomplish its mission, the clinic works with the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission in Massachusetts (a commission created by a law that the clinic itself advocated for) to develop recommendations for improving school culture across the state. The clinic engages in legislative advocacy for laws and policies that support schools to develop safe and supportive environments for students.

This semester, I had the opportunity to work on a report for the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission and also to engage in legislative advocacy for the Safe and Supportive Schools line item in the state budget. For the Commission, I, with a team of law students from the clinic, worked on a report about parent engagement in Massachusetts schools. To develop our report, we engaged in qualitative research by interviewing parents, students, and providers across the state—in places as varied as Boston, Pittsfield, and the Cape. We learned so much from those whom we interviewed. One student told us:

“I feel like parent engagement is extremely important. I go to school for 6 hours but the rest of the time I’m with my mom. Whoever is your guardian has a huge impact on your life. If you make parent-school teacher relationship seem less important, it will push students out as well. If my mom doesn’t care, why should I care? You crave approbation from your parents. If you push parents out, it will push students too.”

There is so much wisdom housed in students and parents across the state. I am hopeful that our report will lead to policies that will further support parent engagement in Massachusetts.

The clinic is also a great opportunity for students interested in the legislative process. I met with dozens of state representatives and senators, advocating for the Safe and Supportive Schools line item. Our lobbying efforts had a real impact: the house budget now includes 500,000 dollars designated for Safe and Supportive Schools—a 100,000 dollar increase from last year’s budget.

I know from my own experience teaching that the work that the education law clinic is doing is vitally important. I only wish that there were similar organizations operating in more places.

Catherine Howard ’16 wins the David Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award

Catherine Howard ’16

Catherine Howard ’16

Harvard Law School student Catherine Howard ’16 is the winner of the inaugural David A. Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award. To be presented annually, this award recognizes students who have demonstrated excellence in representing individual clients and undertaking advocacy or policy reform projects. It is named in honor of the late Clinical Professor of Law, David Grossman ’88, a public interest lawyer dedicated to providing high-quality legal services to low income communities.

Howard embodies David Grossman’s tireless pro bono spirit. She was chosen for excellence in representing her clients, her compassion in legal practice, and her contributions to the clinical community.

During her 2L year, as a student in the Education Law Clinic, she worked to advance the interests of traumatized children in Massachusetts through the Safe and Supportive Schools Act.  Howard showed extraordinary talent at drafting successful language for a budgetary line item that was passed by the legislature, outstanding analysis of statutory language, and the ability to work on a team in developing an overall strategy to secure passage of the legislation.

Throughout her 3L year, working in the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI), Howard demonstrated exceptional skills in and out of the courtroom, representing numerous clients who faced criminal charges and could not afford an attorney. She has advocated for them from arraignment to disposition, in the Dorchester and Roxbury Divisions of the Boston Municipal Courts. Along the way, Howard has earned the praise and respect of the judges, her clients, and her peers.

“As a clinical student, Catherine’s approach to her clients is full-hearted, strategic, and selfless,” said Clinical Instructor Lia Monahon, who supervised her in the Criminal Justice Institute. “One of the hardest things for student attorneys working on criminal cases is to find pride, grace and eloquence in an argument or position that faces bad odds. Catherine’s capacity for this is boundless because she is completely motivated by her client,” she said.

In addition to her work with CJI, Howard has also served as Editor-in-Chief of Harvard’s Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice and as co-chair of the Leadership and Mentorship Committee of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. She has also engaged the law school community as a member of the Reclaim HLS movement, helping to develop a set of practical demands for achieving diversity and inclusivity.

“My clinical experiences have been the most rewarding moments of my law school career,” said Howard. “The Criminal Justice Institute and the Education Law Clinic have allowed me to live out the passions that brought me to law school in a meaningful way, even as a student. While I am so deeply honored to be recognized by this award, I am most validated by what I am able to accomplish with my clients every day.”

“We are delighted that Catherine is the inaugural David Grossman Exemplary Clinical Student Award winner,” said Lisa Dealy, Assistant Dean of the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs. “Catherine embodies David’s spirit of tireless and excellent advocacy in representing clients and improving the legal system.”

Schools look to aid traumatized children

Via Caller Times

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times Youth attend an award ceremony recognizing volunteers and mentors with Brockton's Promise in January in Brockton, Mass. The organization is a coalition for youth development that aims to improve conditions of youth within the community by offering safe places, effective education, healthy starts and caring adults and opportunities to serve.

Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times Youth attend an award ceremony recognizing volunteers and mentors with Brockton’s Promise in January in Brockton, Mass. The organization is a coalition for youth development that aims to improve conditions of youth within the community by offering safe places, effective education, healthy starts and caring adults and opportunities to serve.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Violence children see at home can affect their chances for success in school and later in life.

That’s why the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, based at Harvard Law School in Massachusetts, advocates for trauma-sensitive schools to help children impacted by trauma to feel safe at school.

There are six attributes of a trauma sensitive school that are explained in the initiative’s book, “Helping Traumatized Children Learn II: Creating and Advocating for Trauma Sensitive Schools.” Those attributes came from work done in schools in Brockton, Mass., and other places, and describe what a trauma sensitive school looks and feels like, said Michael Gregory, a senior attorney with the initiative and a clinical professor of law at Harvard Law School.

Leadership and staff share an understanding of trauma’s impact on learning and the need for a schoolwide approach.

“So this isn’t something that just the school psychologist understands, or just a few teachers that are interested in it, but really the whole staff,” Gregory said.

Continue Reading

Cravath fellows travel globally to experience international and comparative law

Via HLS News

Thirteen Harvard Law School students were selected as the 2016 Cravath International Fellows. The fellows traveled to 12 countries for winter term clinical placements or independent research with an international, transnational, or comparative law focus. Below are accounts of the experiences of four of the new fellows.

Crystal Nwaneri ’17

Crystal Nwaneri ’17 spent winter term in Singapore, conducting research on the legal and technological implications of a court ruling permitting a third party to retransmit over-the-air television without permission of the broadcasters. For Nwaneri, this was a chance to further explore her long-standing interest in the legal challenges brought about by rapidly advancing technology.

As an undergraduate, Nwaneri examined public policy and how legislators and private organizations shape and regulate the technology industry. Prior to law school, she worked at Dell’s government relations office in Washington, D.C., briefing their executives on the internet technology issues discussed at Congressional hearings.

Upon entering Harvard Law, she enrolled in a reading group with Professor of Practice Urs Gasser about the future of online privacy, joined the Women’s Law Association and the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and began working as an editor at the Journal of Law and Technology. As a 2L, she is focusing on the legal infrastructures that support technology innovation, which may affect access for underserved communities. She also supports clients in the Cyberlaw Clinic and is a research assistant with the Student Privacy Initiative at the Berkman Center.

Continue Reading

Advocating for students impacted by trauma

By Chen-Chen Jiang, J.D. ’16
Student in the Education Law Clinic

The first time I met Jessica*, she sat quietly in her living room as her mother explained to us that she had suffered serious abuse and had missed a significant amount of school work. The traumatic experiences had left her with post-traumatic stress. She attempted to confide in her friends, but instead of finding comfort, she was bullied. Faced with this bullying and a school environment that could not serve her special needs, Jessica chose to stay in the one remaining place where she still felt safe: her home.

But what struck me the most about her was not the incredible amount of adversity that she had overcome at a young age; it was her dedication to education. In that living room during our first meeting, one of the first things she softly said was “I just want to learn.” Someday, she said, she wanted to be a lawyer, too. From that moment on, she wasn’t just the student I was advocating for; she became part of our advocacy team.

Jessica bravely decided that she would prepare a statement to read at the meeting with school district representatives, where we would argue for a different school placement. I excitedly told her that she was engaging in work that real attorneys, and certainly law students in clinical programs, perform on a daily basis. She learned how to draft the initial statement, trying her best to capture the complex struggles that she faced. Together, we went through an editing process, going line by line through her statement to figure out the best way to present it. When it was done, she practiced delivering the statement to her mother, clinical supervisors, and me.

Over the time that I worked with her, Jessica transformed from a quiet, timid girl to a poised young lady, confident to speak for herself. The day before our meeting with the school district representatives, at our last check-in, she looked directly at me and said, “I’m ready. I’m ready for them to hear my story.” At that moment, I realized the true power of legal advocacy. Representing low-income students is not only about securing the end result; it is also about giving those who are not always heard a voice. It is about introducing them to a foreign system and helping them to develop the ability to navigate that system themselves. And most importantly, it is about building in each client the belief that their stories, their struggles, and their experiences matter and must be shared to ensure a better working system for those who come after them.

On the day of the meeting, Jessica was nervous. She was going to share her story for the first time in a room full of adults. I was nervous, too. I was not sure how these adults would react to her words. As soon as she began, her tears overcame her. It looked as if she would not be able to resume. But after a few moments, and a deep breath, she finished her statement. At the end, the director of special education in the district personally commended her for having the courage to speak up and thanked her for doing so.

We secured a different educational placement for Jessica that day. But the greater victory was the confidence instilled in her to fight for what she deserved. About three months after the meeting, Jessica’s mom called to let me know that she was thriving at her new school. This came as no surprise; she, like so many other students, was primed for success if given the appropriate support. I have no doubt that, someday, she will be the lawyer giving those without a voice a platform to speak.

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

The Education Law Clinic: Advocating for the children who ‘fell through the cracks’

Credit: Jessica Scranton As part of the Education Law Clinic, David Li ’15 (second from left) and Spencer Churchill ’15 (right) lobbied successfully on Beacon Hill last spring for a Safe and Supportive Schools act. Also pictured: Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Ruth Balser, the act’s lead sponsors.

Credit: Jessica Scranton
As part of the Education Law Clinic, David Li ’15 (second from left) and Spencer Churchill ’15 (right) lobbied successfully on Beacon Hill last spring for a Safe and Supportive Schools act. Also pictured: Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Ruth Balser, the act’s lead sponsors.

Via the Harvard Law Bulletin

An HLS team is improving the education of children who have experienced trauma

For Spencer Churchill ’15, one of the most enduring lessons of law school so far has come not from a reading assignment or a research project.

He learned it from a child.

On the outside, the 12-year-old girl, who went to an urban school near Boston, seemed well behaved and in control, but she was failing her classes. When Churchill started representing her to try to secure her special services as part of his work at the Education Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, he gradually discovered she was dealing on the inside with so many problems in her life, it was “almost more than you would believe could happen to one kid that age.”

Credit: Jessica Scranton | HLS TRAUMA TEAM: Susan Cole (second from left) and Michael Gregory (third from left) with other Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative members Anne Eisner and Joel Ristuccia in front of the Massachusetts State House

Taken from her single parent because of neglect, intermittently homeless and severely bullied at school, the girl put so much energy into trying to hide what was happening to her that “she had little bandwidth left to focus on her work,” says Churchill. “And she fell through the cracks. Everybody felt she must not be smart because she wasn’t doing well. She wasn’t acting up, so she wasn’t getting help.”

While the behavior of some students who have experienced traumatic events gets them suspended or expelled, other students, like the girl who Churc­h­ill represented, fly under the radar.

Continue reading the full story here.

Governor Patrick signs Safe and Supportive Schools into law

L-R: Courtney Chelo, Children’s Mental Health Campaign; Michael Gregory, TLPI; Paula Vibbard, Parent advocate from Lynn, MA; Sheldon Vibbard, Student advocate from Lynn, MA; Anne Eisner, TLPI; Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Everett; Angela Cristiani; Boston Teachers Union; Dr. Melissa Pearrow, UMASS Boston; Susan Cole, TLPI; Andria Amador, Boston Public Schools; Steve Grossman, State Treasurer

L-R: Courtney Chelo, Children’s Mental Health Campaign; Michael Gregory, TLPI; Paula Vibbard, Parent advocate from Lynn, MA; Sheldon Vibbard, Student advocate from Lynn, MA; Anne Eisner, TLPI; Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Everett; Angela Cristiani; Boston Teachers Union; Dr. Melissa Pearrow, UMASS Boston; Susan Cole, TLPI; Andria Amador, Boston Public Schools; Steve Grossman, State Treasurer

Via HLS News

For the past year, Harvard Law students in the Education Law Clinic have traveled back and forth to the Massachusetts State House to lobby state legislators to pass an Act Relative to Safe and Supportive Schools.

On August 13, all that work paid off, when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Safe and Supportive Schools provisions into law. In recognition of the link between safe and supportive school environments and the reduction of school violence, the legislature incorporated these provisions into its omnibus Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence.

“Gun violence can be prevented if schools address the needs of all students appropriately and at an early age,” said Susan Cole, director of the Education Law Clinic. “Including the Safe and Supportive provisions in the gun violence law will position Massachusetts to become a national leader in creating innovative and effective approaches to reducing gun violence while simultaneously improving academic success. The Safe and Supportive Schools Framework is the missing piece that schools have been needing.”

“We are so proud of the work our students did this past spring,” said Michael Gregory, assistant clinical professor of law. “By the time the bill was signed we had 96 confirmed legislative supporters of Safe and Supportive Schools; that’s almost half the members. Our students played a huge role in generating this level of support.” The clinic students who advocated for Safe and Supportive Schools this spring were Spencer Churchill ’15, Christina Gilligan ’14, Priyanka Gupta ’15, David Li ’15 and Harrison Polans ’15. “We are only sorry that the timing of the legislative session means they weren’t here to enjoy the signing with us,” said Gregory.

Read the full story here.

“Trauma-Sensitive” Schools

Danielle Winn, a teacher in Brockton, Mass., displays a pass students take when they need a break from class.

Danielle Winn, a teacher in Brockton, Mass., displays a pass students take when they need a break from class.

Via the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Harvard Education Letter

The most artfully devised curriculum means little to a student whose mind is fixed on last night’s shooting outside or the scary, violent fight between parents that broke out in the kitchen. Brilliant teaching often can’t compete with the sudden loss of a parent or friend. Yet incidents like these reverberate in schools and pose deep challenges to educators.

More than 15 years of research reveals that the prevalence and effect of “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) are pervasive in the United States—more than 68 percent of children have experienced a possible traumatic event by age 16—and pernicious, with higher ACE scores correlating to health, education, and social problems. Federal data show that 686,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found one in four children had witnessed violence, and one in 10 had seen one family member assault another. …

Children who experience trauma struggle with interpersonal relationships, face cognitive deficits (including memory and language development), and overreact to everyday stress. In school, because traumatized students view the world as dangerous and misread social cues, minor events may trigger defiant, disruptive, or aggressive behavior. Alternately, they may withdraw and seem not to care. “Their ability to cope is overwhelmed,” says Eric Rossen, director of Professional Development and Standards for the National Association of School Psychologists, explaining that such behavior is often a magnet for disciplinary action.

Continue reading the full story and learn more about the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative.

A Warm Welcome to Katie Ryan

Katie Ryan, Staff Attorney, Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs is happy to welcome Katie Ryan, a new Staff Attorney with the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative and Education Law Clinic. Katie graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law. She was an Echoing Green Fellow, high school teacher, and program associate at the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation’s Program for Student Achievement before returning to the University of Virginia. In 2004, Katie joined the Child Advocacy Clinic at UVA and supervised students in casework involving issues of special education, school discipline, and juvenile justice. She later developed and ran a pro bono program that was a partnership of the University of Virginia School of Law, the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program, and Virginia law firms. In this position, Katie supervised law students to interview and provide advice to callers to JustChildren’s intake line. She also referred cases to and mentored private attorney and law student teams who provided pro bono representation to parents and children in special education, school discipline, and juvenile justice matters. In addition, Katie represented clients in special education and school discipline cases and worked with law students on a variety of policy and legislative initiatives to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged students in Virginia.

Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools

On November 14, 2013, T.L.P.I. officially released Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volume 2 at an event hosted by the Mary E. Baker Elementary School in Brockton, MA.  The new books are now being mailed to everyone who had already placed an order through their website.

T.L.P.I. is actively campaigning for passage of
H.3528 – An Act Relative to Safe and Supportive Schools, legislation currently pending before the Massachusetts legislature. This bill would require all schools in the Commonwealth to include action plans for creating safe and supportive environments in the School Improvement Plans they are already required to produce under law. This will set the conditions for a whole school approach organized by the Flexible Framework that can help schools align multiple initiatives, such as bullying prevention; positive discipline; and truancy, dropout, and violence prevention. It will lay the groundwork for whole-school trauma sensitivity. H 3528 is discussed in volume 2 of Helping Traumatized Children Learn.

Learn more about the Trauma and Policy Learning Initiative on their new website here.

Addressing Trauma’s Impact on Learning Should Be Central to the Way Schools Are Run

Susan Cole, Director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative

Via the Huffington Post, Education Blog

The New York Times empathetically and articulately chronicles the travails of homeless children in its recent series “Invisible Child.” Young Dasani, the centerpiece of the series, is just one of many more children than we ever imagined who are exposed to highly adverse experiences every day. Adverse childhood events can come in many forms, from living without a roof over their heads, enduring abuse, or being the victim of chronic bullying inside or outside of school to living in a home with substance abuse. Unfortunately, when these experiences become overwhelming they can cause a traumatic response that can impact even the most resilient child’s ability to be successful in school and in life.

The good news — as Principal Holmes and the teachers at the Dasani’s beloved Susan B. McKinney School demonstrate — is that schools can help children reach their potentials despite the adversity they may have faced. Until recently, an understanding of how trauma impacts learning, behavior, and relationships at school had only been acknowledged anecdotally. But public health experts, psychologists, and neurobiologists have established an incontrovertible link that can no longer be ignored within education circles. The conclusion has never been clearer: traumatic experiences that happen at any time in a child’s life can create a cascade of social, emotional, and academic problems down the road.

Continue reading the Op-Ed on the Huffington Post Education Blog

Celebrating the Release of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s Second Book

L to R: Michael Gregory (Assistant Clinical Professor), Sonya Ho, Niousha Rahbar, Spencer Churchill, Leanne Gaffney, Kate Bargerhuff, Amanda Savage, Seth Packrone, Susan Cole (Clinical Director)










By: Kate Bargerhuff (2L), Spencer Churchill (2L), Leanne Gaffney (2L), Sonya Ho (3L), Seth Packrone (2L), Niousha Rahbar (2L), and Amanda Savage (2L)

On November 14, 2013 the professors and students from the Education Law Clinic traveled to Brockton, MA to celebrate the release of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s (T.L.P.I.) second book, Helping Traumatized Children Learn Volume 2: Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools. T.L.P.I. is a partnership between HLS and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) that focuses on the need to address trauma in schools and the impact it can have on student learning.  T.L.P.I. uses its policy work, advocacy, and direct legal services to help traumatized children succeed in school.

Attendees at the release celebrated the success of Mary E. Baker Elementary School, a trauma-sensitive school, and the Brockton community, and featured different stakeholders involved in education policy and reform, including HLS Lecturer on Law and Director of T.L.P.I. Susan Cole, Principal Ryan Powers of the Mary E. Baker Elementary School, and Matthew Malone, Massachusetts Secretary of Education.  Both the educators and legislators in attendance highlighted the achievements of T.L.P.I. and Brockton’s efforts aimed at creating trauma-sensitive schools, and emphasized the need for broader support and connectivity among education professionals.

The energy in the room was palpable as Joel Ristuccia and Professor Michael Gregory, two of the book’s co-authors, revealed T.L.P.I.’s new website, which includes a wealth of information on trauma, an online bookstore, and a forum designed to create a nationwide dynamic trauma-sensitive learning community focused on making schools safe and supportive.

Meanwhile, for the student attorneys at the Education Law Clinic, the book launch was a break from advocating for appropriate educational services for individual students in Massachusetts who have had traumatic experiences, and an opportunity to share in the excitement of T.L.P.I.’s success and witness the results of advocating at the systemic level. Anne Eisner, one of the book’s co-authors and the Deputy Director of T.L.P.I., played a large role in orchestrating the entire event. Overall, the evening was an exciting new step in creating awareness for schools’ mandate to create a more supportive environment to meet the whole needs of the child.

Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative in the News

Report Cover: Volume 2 of Helping Traumatized Children Learn

Via the New York Times Opinion Pages by David Bornstein

“What good are the best teachers or schools if the most vulnerable kids feel so unsafe that they are unavailable to learn?”

Six years ago at the Angelo Elementary School, the principal Ryan Powers and the assistant principal Elizabeth Barry connected with the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (T.L.P.I.), a collaboration of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, to learn how they could improve their interactions with students. They encouraged teachers to read T.L.P.I.’s book “Helping Traumatized Children Learn,” which has been downloaded 50,000 times. (The follow-up book, “Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools,” is being released this week.)

“This is about changing the whole school environment,” explained Susan Cole, a former special education teacher who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. “You can have a great trauma-sensitive classroom, but if the child goes into the hall or cafeteria and gets yelled at, he can get retriggered. It’s about creating a common context that keeps kids feeling safe.”

Please read the full article “Schools That Separate the Child From the Trauma” by David Bornstein on the New York Times Opinion Pages.

Roundup: TLPI and Susan Cole Featured in Huffington Post

Susan Cole, director of Education Law Clinic of the Trauma Learning Policy Initiative, is quoted in a two-part series in Huffington Post about trauma-sensitive schools and district-wide support systems for traumatized students:

“[A school-wide strategy] enables children to feel academically, socially, emotionally and physically safe wherever they go in the school. And when children feel safe, they can calm down and learn.”

“There is much work ahead at the policy level. Helping educators understand that trauma is playing a key role in many of the problems they are seeing at school is going to require a movement.”

Read more at Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools and Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools, Part Two.

Snapshot: Rajan Sonik Awarded ACC-Northeast Law Student Ethics Award

Rajan Sonik accepts his ACC-Northeast Law Student Ethics Award

Congratulations to Rajan Sonik, who was recently awarded the ACC-Northeast Law Student Ethics Award. During his time at HLS, Rajan participated in the Health Law and Policy Clinic, the Education Law Clinic of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, and the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (where he is currently co-executive director). To top it off, he has completed over 2000(!) pro bono hours over the past three years.

We wish Rajan the very best as he starts work later this year at Medical-Legal Partnership | Boston on an Equal Justice Works Fellowship.