Youth Justice Clinic: Case Work Developments

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While juvenile crime is down statewide, the number of delinquency cases that stem from in-school misbehavior has largely remained steady. These cases are typically low-level misdemeanors and frequently involve students with unmet educational needs and diagnosed disabilities. Even for delinquency cases that do not occur in schools, academic difficulty and school exclusion are common occurrences for young clients. Because of the link between delinquency and struggles in schools, the Youth Justice Clinic began offering representation in long-term suspension cases two years ago, in addition to our long-standing work in juvenile court. Two success stories from this year show the importance of providing this comprehensive representation wherever possible.

Patricia Robinson, and her clinic partner, Patricia Flood, represented Dylan when he was suspended from his middle school for a fight. The clinic students attended Dylan’s manifestation determination review (MDR) – a hearing at which school administrators determine whether the misbehavior was substantially related to an underlying disability, in which case the student may not be suspended – and successfully argued that the fight was related to his disability. Subsequently, the clinic team went with Dylan and his mother to the intake interview with juvenile court counselors in the local juvenile court, since the school had also filed delinquency charges. They informed the court counselor of the MDR result, worked with Dylan’s mother to assist her in explaining to the court counselor the steps she had taken to obtain mental health services for Dylan, and were thus able to persuade the court counselor not to bring charges. Dylan’s mother wrote of the clinic team’s advocacy: “I am forever grateful and want you to know that your office is vital to youth and families that do not have a voice or are not represented or knowledgeable about the laws protecting our youth in our schools.”

In another case, Jesse Ramos and his partner, Taylor Goodnight, represented Tonya, a girl with multiple disabilities who had been suspended from school after she became upset and disruptive in class. As in Dylan’s case, the clinic team competently marshaled evidence regarding the link between the client’s diagnosis and her behavior, and the school found that the incident was in fact a result of her disability. As a result, the suspension was overturned. Jesse and Taylor also went with Tonya to her intake interview in court – this school, too, filed delinquency charges – and were able to demonstrate that Tonya’s problems were the result of improperly treated mental health issues. The court counselor agreed to hold off on filing charges for a six-month period, to give time for Jesse and Taylor to assemble the necessary services. Tonya’s mother and mental health caseworker praised Jesse and Taylor’s hard work, and expressed their opinion that the result would have been completely different without the clinic’s advocacy.

Names and identifying details have been changed to preserve client confidentiality.

Posted by Tamar R. Birckhead on Thu. October 22, 2015 1:35 PM
Categories: Youth Justice Clinic
UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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