Legal Aid Practice Group to focus on educational disparities
Recent statistics show that although only 43 percent of the Toledo Public School student population is African-American, more than 70 percent of the days lost to disciplinary issues involved black students. An issues brief released by The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University’s highlights a number of alarming disparities in the application of school discipline policies in Ohio schools among African-American, Latino, and white students.
“More than 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or who are referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black” says Robert Cole, a managing attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE). Cole points out that “contrary to the prevailing assumption that African-American students are just getting ‘what they deserve’ when they are disciplined, research shows that African-American students do not ‘act out’ in the classroom any more than their white peers.”
Partner law firms ABLE and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (LAWO) have established a Meaningful and Appropriate Education Practice Group to address policies that result in obstacles to educational opportunities such as disproportionate and inappropriate discipline, highlighted in the Kirwan Institute report, and other barriers to educational opportunities for children in their 32 county service area of northwest and west central Ohio.
“Students who have been suspended are three times more likely to drop out by the 10th grade than students who have never been suspended. Dropping out in turn triples the likelihood that a person will be incarcerated later in life,” adds Cole, who manages the new practice group.
The Kirwan Institute’s issue brief follows a January 2014 release by the federal Departments of Justice and Education on guidelines for school discipline. According to the joint statement, students of certain racial, ethnic, or disability groups tend to be disciplined more than their peers.
“The LAWO and ABLE Education Practice Group will focus its work on addressing systemic issues to ensure appropriate educational opportunities, particularly for children living in poverty, African-American and Latino children, immigrant children, homeless children, children in foster care, and children with disabilities,” says Cole. “We may be able to help eligible individuals in the northwest Ohio area who are facing these challenges.”
Applications for legal help can be made by calling Legal Aid Line: at 1-888-534-1432 or online at www.legalaidline.org.
Editor’s Note: ABLE and LAWO are non-profit law firms that provide free legal assistance in civil matters to low-income individuals and groups in a 32-county area of northwest and west central Ohio.
On the Internet: A copy of the brief, “Racial Disproportionality in School Discipline: Implicit Bias is Heavily Implicated,” can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/school-discipline/index.html