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RPS Improves Language Policies for Families

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Richmond Public Schools Agrees to Significant Improvements in Policies for Non-English-Speaking Families – Agreement with U.S. Department of Education Resolves Civil Rights Complaint Filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center

As the result of a complaint filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, the Richmond Public School division has agreed to revise and improve its policies to ensure that parents and guardians whose primary language is not English are not discriminated against and have full access to the educational process

The complaint was filed on behalf of a Spanish-speaking parent whose middle school child faced expulsion from Richmond Public Schools (RPS). According to the complaint, although the mother spoke only Spanish, the school division conducted its expulsion process in English only, preventing the mother “from meaningfully participating in the disciplinary process and understanding her rights.”

Press Release (PDF)

Redacted Complaint (PDF)

Office of Civil Rights Resolution Letter (PDF)

News Coverage

Richmond Public Schools Settles Language-Barrier Complaint (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/13/14)


Inappropriate Use of Restraint & Seclusion in Schools

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U.S. Department of Education Finds Inappropriate Use of Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities at Virginia Schools

Following a comprehensive investigation at two public special education schools, the U.S. Department of Education has found that the repeated use of physical restraint and seclusion to manage student behavior is ineffective and inappropriate. The Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) determined that the PACE East and PACE West schools in Prince William County, Va., routinely denied students their right to an appropriate education when they were consistently removed from classrooms and placed in a separate room

The findings were issued in response to a November 2012 complaint filed on behalf of the mother of a PACE East student with emotional disabilities who was placed in a seclusion room for hours at a time on multiple occasions and subjected to floor-facing extreme restraint on six occasions. This included four instances where police were involved, even though his behavior did not indicate any danger to himself or others. The systemic complaint centered on the schools’ pervasive overuse of seclusion and restraint as a default behavioral intervention that discriminated against students with emotional disabilities.

Press Release (PDF)

Complaint (PDF)

OCR Letter of Findings (PDF)

News Coverage

Prince William Schools Restrain, Seclude Disabled Kids Frequently, Inquiry Finds
(Washington Post, 8/6/14)

OCR Finds Misuse of Seclusion, Restraint (Politico Morning Education, 8/7/14)

Feds: Prince William School Staff Too Frequently Restrained Disabled Students
(Inside NoVa, 8/7/14)

Prince William Schools Restrain, Seclude Disabled Kids Frequently, Inquiry Finds
(The Wrightslaw Way, 8/7/14)

2 Virginia Schools Blamed for Restraining Students (The Daily Progress, 8/7/14)

Two Virginia Schools Blamed for Restraining Students (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/7/14)

Investigation into Virginia Public Schools’ Use of Seclusion and Physical Restraint
(WVTF Public Radio, 8/8/14)

Federal Investigators Crack Down on Two Virginia Schools’ Use of Restraints (ProPublica, 8/11/14)

“Child Find” Complaint Filed in Petersburg

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The JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center has filed a complaint with the Virginia Department of Education describing systemic problems with Petersburg City Public Schools’ “Child Find” program. Child Find is a part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) that requires that schools provide free, appropriate education to children with disabilities.  The Child Find mandate requires that schools identify and evaluate all students with disabilities in order to ensure that children receive the educational services they need.

The complaint, filed on behalf of six individual students and all similarly-situated PCPS students, describes three Child Find violations: 1) the failure to locate and evaluate students who need special education services; 2) the failure to appropriately find students eligible for services even after evaluating; and 3) the failure to provide meaningful educational benefits to students who need special education services.

Press Release (PDF)

Complaint (PDF)

News Coverage
Lawyers Allege Petersburg Fails to Serve Special Education Students (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/19/2014)

Legal Aid Justice Center Files Complaint Against Petersburg Public Schools (WWBT-TV NBC12 Richmond, 6/16/2014)

Local Law Group Files Complaint Against Petersburg Schools (WRIC ABC 8News Richmond, 6/19/2014)

Parents File Department of Education Complaint Against Petersburg Schools (WTVR CBS6 Richmond, 6/19/2014)


Legal Battle Against Zombie Debt Collectors

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On March 27, 2014, we filed a lawsuit, Leoncio Paz v. Midland Funding, in Fairfax County. Our complaint alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) based on Midland’s direct falsehoods and false implications in its attempt to obtain a default judgment against Mr. Paz. Midland withdrew their collection attempt when we stepped up to represent Mr. Paz, but we sued them for damages based on their deceitful business practice.

Our goal is to make the exploitative zombie debt collection business model too expensive to be profitable, thus forcing the debt collection companies to abandon their practice of suing low-income people without the means to prove their case. “Zombie debt” refers to debt that third-party debt collection companies’ attempts to collect despite either it being barred by statute of limitations or the companies lack proof that they have a legal right to collect on it.

News Coverage
Taking on the Country’s Biggest Debt Buyer, Midland Funding (Washington Post, 5/9/14)

Powell Fellow Joins JustChildren

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The Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that Mario Salas will join the JustChildren Program in September of 2014. Currently a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, Salas was named as the 13th recipient of the law school’s Powell Fellowship.

The fellowship will fund a position in our Charlottesville office, where Salas has designed a plan to help children with disabilities and their families realize their educational goals, as well as to prepare for life after school. “My project will allow me to represent parents in special-ed planning meetings and to advocate for better special-ed services that are focused more tightly on that transition to life after leaving school,” Salas said.

Salas has volunteered hundreds of hours with the Legal Aid Justice Center since starting law school, including time with the JustChildren Program. He also took the Child Advocacy Clinic last year and spent an additional semester through an independent project under Professor Andrew Block this past fall. Executive Director Mary Bauer said, “With his background as an educator, Mario is uniquely suited to helping young people with disabilities get what they need to thrive as adults. We are thrilled to host his fellowship.”

Press Coverage:

University of Virginia School of Law News

WVIR NBC29 (video)

Virginia Students Sue for In-State Tuition

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The Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit in Arlington County Circuit Court on Tuesday, December 17, 2013, on behalf of seven immigrant students from Virginia, all of whom have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status by the federal government. Although these students grew up in Virginia and graduated from Virginia high schools, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has determined that they are categorically ineligible for in-state tuition rates at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. The students are asking the court to overrule SCHEV’s interpretation of the law, and recognize that DACA recipients should be eligible for much cheaper in-state tuition rates – just like other Virginia high school graduates.

Press Release (PDF)

Orellana et al. v. State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (Official Complaint)

Press Coverage:

Washington Post

WCAV CBS19 Charlottesville Newsplex (with video)

WVTF Public Radio (with audio)

WAMU 88.5 FM (with audio)

Falls Church Patch

Univision DC (with video)

Annandale Blog


New Executive Director Announced

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Mary Bauer to Lead Legal Aid Justice Center

Mary Bauer CHOThe Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that Mary Bauer has been selected to be the new executive director, following the departure of long-time director, Alex Gulotta.

Bauer – a recognized leader and key litigator in immigration reform efforts on the national level – most recently served as director of advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center, a position she has held since June. Prior to that, Bauer was legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala. There she guided legal advocacy, as well as public policy and legislative reform efforts in five offices in the Deep South.

“Mary brings a wealth of experience to the position, and her tenacity and expertise as a litigator are unmatched,” said outgoing director Alex Gulotta. “I leave knowing that the future of this organization is secure, and that Mary is the best possible leader to ensure that the Legal Aid Justice Center protects the rights and advocates for change on behalf of our low-income clients.”

Bauer will officially take the helm Jan. 1, 2014.

Press Release (PDF)

Charlottesville Newsplex Coverage

Executive Director Position Announcement

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Alex Gulotta to Join Bay Area Legal Aid in 2014

Alex Gulotta has announced that he is resigning as executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, effective at the end of 2013. In January 2014, he will begin his new role as executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid in the San Francisco area.

“I would not have considered this move if I did not believe that the Legal Aid Justice Center is in as strong a position as it has ever been,” said Gulotta. “The leadership of our board, the expertise and dedication of our staff, and the support of a generous and compassionate community leave no doubt that the Legal Aid Justice Center will continue to thrive long after I have moved on.”

Resignation Letter from Alex Gulotta

Daily Progress Article

National Search for New Executive Director

The Board of Directors has already begun a national search for a new executive director.

The Legal Aid Justice Center seeks an executive director to lead our nationally recognized law firm dedicated to serving low-income households, from our headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Alex R. Gulotta, who has served as executor director for 19 years, will depart at the end of 2013.

The next executive director will join the Legal Aid Justice Center at a time of great opportunity. By producing outstanding results for more than 45 years, the Legal Aid Justice Center has developed a national reputation for excellence. Six of our attorneys have received national awards for their efforts. Thenext executive director will enjoy the dual opportunities of building upon the Legal Aid Justice Center’s strengths and accomplishments, while also creating new and expanded areas for advocacy.

View a full description and application instructions: Executive Director Position Announcement

Settlement Reached in Public Housing Case

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Public housing tenants and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) reached a settlement in the federal class action suit filed last year to challenge the failure of the CRHA to provide adequate electric utility allowances to residents. CRHA’s failure resulted in tens of thousands of dollars of overcharges to low-income Charlottesville residents. The Legal Aid Justice Center is representing tenants, former tenants and the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents in the class action filed in federal court in Charlottesville.

Federal District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad will determine whether to approve or disapprove the agreed settlement at a hearing on November 4, 2013, at 9:30 a.m. in the Charlottesville Federal Courthouse.

Official Press Release

Daily Progress Coverage, Oct. 1

Coverage by WCAV CBS19 News

Washington Post Coverage, Oct. 2

Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 6

C-VILLE Article, Oct. 9

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