Archive for the ‘JustChildren Program’ Category

Fund Our Schools Statement on Governor’s Budget

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Statement on Governor Northam’s Proposed Budget

Governor Northam’s K-12 budget is being announced as a major $1.3 billion investment in our public schools. The proposed budget would direct state resources to needed staffing and services in Virginia public schools, yet it falls short of what it will take to fairly and adequately fund our schools as identified by the Virginia Board of Education this fall. 

The new investments, totaling $550 million, are directed toward critical areas of need for Virginia students, including additional school counselors and English Learner teachers in our schools. The proposal also takes on issues of equity in school funding. The proposed increase to the At-Risk Add-On would make a meaningful difference for improving equity through directing resources to school divisions in our highest poverty communities. While the announced budget priorities move the needle on school funding, our Commonwealth still has a long way to go to ensure that every student in every zip code has access to a high-quality education.

The total new investments in the Governor’s budget represents less than half of the amount of what the Virginia Board of Education recommended this fall. Of the $1.3 billion in K-12 funding announced today, we note that more than $800 million would go toward rebenchmarking, a required budgeting process that adjusts current funding levels for inflation and changes in school enrollment. These funds are not new investments into our schools. The Board’s proposed revisions would have gone further to ensure adequate staffing and fair allocation of resources and would have totaled an increase of $2 billion above rebenchmarking in the upcoming biennium.

Fund Our Schools recognizes that building a 21st century school system in Virginia will involve increasing our capacity as a state to make new investments in our children’s future. It will require everyone to pitch in their fair share for us to build a strong education system and economy where everyone comes out ahead. 

We look forward to working with advocates, communities, lawmakers, and the Governor’s office to make additional improvements to our K-12 funding.

 

Learn more about the Fund Our Schools campaign here

Report on Disorderly Conduct Charges in Schools

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: October 23, 2019
Contact:
Jeff Jones
Director of Communications 
Legal Aid Justice Center
jeff@justice4all.org
(804)869-1040

NEW REPORT REVEALS HOW VIRGINIA’S DISORDERLY CONDUCT STATUTE IS DISPROPORTIONATELY APPLIED TO BLACK STUDENTS

In the last three years, Black students made up approximately 22% of the school population in Virginia but averaged over 62% of the school-based disorderly conduct criminal complaints.

Richmond, VA – The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), today released a new report “Decriminalizing Childhood, Ending School-Based Arrest for Disorderly Conduct” that shows how Virginia’s school system is charging Black students, and Black girls at an accelerating rate, with disorderly conduct—a  vague, catch-all law that criminalizes low-level public disruption that does not rise to the level of physical harm, property damage, or even threat—unequally compared to their white counterparts. The authors call for the repeal of the school-based portion of the statute, preventing students from unneeded involvement is the criminal legal system.

 “At its root, school-based disorderly conduct charges are implements of what are often punitive systems—law enforcement and delinquency courts—improperly used to address school or health system issues—and sometimes to address behavior that is not any significant issue at all, but merely a characteristic of normal adolescent development.” said report author, LAJC Attorney Amy Woolard.

The report outlines how this subjective application of the law causes real harm to the young people affected, from the disruption of their education to the trauma of court involvement; how the damage can extend beyond the student to the family; and how its use complicates the role of School Resource Officers and creates a system of dual punishment when combined with traditional school disciplinary procedures.

“Disorderly conduct is, by law and design, the crime the state uses against you when it can’t find any other crime,” said Rachael Deane, legal director of LAJC’s Justchildren program. “Schools are learning environments—not simply for gaining academic knowledge, but also for allowing young people to learn the behavioral, social, and conflict resolution skills that form their positive maturity. To do this, we must allow them not just to make mistakes, but to recover from those mistakes without lasting consequences like school dropout, court involvement, and a juvenile record.”

The report is available at www.justice4all.org/disorderlyconduct2019

 

 

 

Virginia Schools Need Support Staff, Not More Police

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Virginia Schools Need Investment in Support Staff—Not More School Resource Officers

Yesterday, Governor Northam announced over $3.47 million in School Resource Officer (SRO) incentive grants to 53 localities across the Commonwealth. The funding will allow school divisions to add more SROs to Virginia’s K-12 public schools, increasing the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent, according to the press release. To create safer schools where all children can learn and thrive, Virginia must divest from placing law enforcement inside schools and make bold new investments in school support staff and trauma-informed and restorative practices.

School Policing Is A Racial Justice Issue

African-American students are disproportionately swept into the criminal justice system for incidents that take place at school. A 2017 Virginia Tech study uncovered significant racial disparities in referrals to law enforcement for school-based offenses: African-American students accounted for roughly 23 percent of the student population in Virginia but nearly 50 percent of referrals to the juvenile justice system. Those disparities are heightened inside school buildings and persist throughout Virginia’s law enforcement and juvenile court process. A single report of a student to law enforcement, even if it does not lead to a juvenile court intake, can have devastating and ongoing consequences for a student: stigmatization by school staff and peers, erosion of trust in school staff, susceptibility to more police encounters, and loss of interest in school.

As outlined in an extensive report from The Advancement Project, school policing has roots in efforts to quash youth support for the Civil Rights movement, and African-American students report feeling less safe with police in schools.

Our Schools Don’t Need More SROs

According to Virginia’s 2017 Statewide School Safety Audit Survey, 87 percent of high schools and 85 percent of middle schools have either a full-time or part-time SRO. In recent years, in headline after headline, we have heard about school police officers responding with force against students with disabilities, using chemical restraints like pepper spray against middle school students, threatening or intimidating students, and harboring ties to white supremacist groups. Through data collection, we see vague, subjective behavioral “offenses” like disorderly conduct charges decrease in the community, yet substantially increase in our schools. Only this past General Assembly session did lawmakers mandate that all SROs receive training specific to their duties—a law that will not even go into effect in full until July 2020.    

Both the data and historically overpoliced communities themselves tell us clearly: rather than providing for the safety of students, a school law enforcement presence merely shuttles more students—and disproportionately more African-American students—into court for school discipline matters that should be handled by school personnel.

Meanwhile, Virginia understaffs positions critical to student support—positions that should be the first line of support for students who instead are garnering charges—and student caseloads are staggering. School counselors had an average caseload of 385 students in 2016, well above the recommended standard of 250 students. In 2015, school social workers had an average caseload of 1,600 students; the national recommendation was 1,000.

Virginia Must Fix Its School Funding Crisis

SROs are law enforcement officers, not student support personnel. Rather than prioritizing SROs, the Commonwealth must first fulfill its state constitutional duty to invest in high-quality, twenty-first century schools with adequate student support staff. But given the opportunity, the administration has neglected to propose, and the General Assembly has declined, over and over, to fully fund the required staffing positions to achieve high-quality schools for all students. Despite broad support for a new law, effective July 1, to require school divisions to lower counselor-to-student ratios, the state’s FY20 budget doesn’t fully fund the new caseload requirements—leaving local school divisions with an unfunded mandate. This shortfall also exists despite recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to lift the state budget’s arbitrary “support position cap”—which limits funding for school support positions, including central office positions, attendance officers, school social workers, and maintenance personnel.

To truly create supportive learning enforcements for our students—Virginia must fully fund our schools.

 

 

 

Educate Every Child: A 2019 Legislative Snapshot

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Educate Every Child: A Snapshot of the 2019 Legislative Session

 

Our JustChildren program’s Educate Every Child campaign is one of our longest, most ambitious efforts; it seeks to fulfill the promise of our state Constitution to ensure a free, high-quality, public education to all children in the Commonwealth. Our policy work focuses on improving the critical attributes of such a system: equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability, all of which create more justice for our clients and their families. We also specifically seek to redress the racial inequities that persist in our schools and to dismantle the effects of the racist laws and policies upon which our public K-12 education system was historically built.

During the 2019 General Assembly session, we reached some significant milestones in our ongoing work to increase support staff and decrease criminalization of students in Virginia’s public schools. As of the close of the regular session, we successfully championed the following:

Reducing School Counselor Caseloads

  • Partnering with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we helped secure an initial $12 million to seed a phase-in plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to the nationally recognized best practice of one counselor per 250 students (1:250), across school levels. We continue to advocate for a Governor’s budget amendment for the 2019 Reconvened Session to fully fund the Year One plan at $36 million, and will further advocate for the full three-year plan (or better) in the coming biennial budget for the 2020 session.

Increased Targeted Funding for Low-Income Students

Mandatory Training for School Resource Officers

  • As part of our yearlong effort to direct reinvigorated focus on “school safety” towards prevention and positive supports to students, we successfully advanced bills and policy initiatives through the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor’s School Safety workgroup within the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth to require all School Resource Officers (SROs) to be trained to meet minimum certification and re-certification standards established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. We’ll continue working with DCJS to ensure those standards include training in topics like working with students with disabilities, cultural competency, the mental health needs of students, child and adolescent development, and mediation and de-escalation skills. We were also able to limit additional funding for SROs to existing positions—no small feat in an era when more law enforcement is a popular response to school safety concerns.

Mandatory MOUs for Cops in Schools

  • Within that same “school safety” work with the relevant committees, we successfully advanced a legislative policy initiative to require Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local school divisions and local law enforcement whenever SROs are placed in schools, in an effort to define and refine the scope of police duties and actions in the school environment. SROs should not be responsible for or reacting to school discipline matters. These bills emerged from the House Select Committee on School Safety through our yearlong effort to shape that committee’s focus and agenda.

Increased Transparency & Accountability in Disciplinary Alternative Education

While successes like the ones listed above might seem to become fully assembled over the course of one legislative session, the behind-the-scenes story unfolds over a much longer timeline. Our advocacy to improve support staff in schools, for example, measures itself in decades.

Most recently, last year during the 2018 legislative session, in partnership with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, we brought the most recent recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to fully fund the Virginia Standards of Quality to the General Assembly, in the form of several budget amendments designed to eliminate the arbitrary decade-old cap on school support staff and assure that students had adequate access to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. The presentation of those amendments in committee helped once again put the General Assembly on notice that our public K-12 system is radically underfunded, and that the Commonwealth is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide high-quality education to Virginia students.

We then leveraged the awareness we raised during the 2018 session into both broad-based and targeted advocacy within the various school safety committees and workgroups over the past year, to again demand adequate school funding for K-12—especially for economically disadvantaged students, this time zeroing in on school counselors and the At-Risk Add-On funding as priority measures. Among our efforts:

  • In July 2018, we authored a letter to the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor and the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth outlining detailed policy recommendations for improving school safety in Virginia schools, with proposals including: increasing school counselors, improving SRO training, and requiring MOUs when using law enforcement in schools. We secured more than 25 organizational co-signers to the letter, and many of our recommendations became a part of each of these group’s final school safety platform.
  • In August 2018, with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we released a report, “Investing in Student Safety and Success: The Growing Importance of Effective Staffing in Virginia Schools,” which outlined the multi-faceted need for support staff in our schools.
  • In November 2018, we hosted a Legislative Listening Session for current school counselors to share their experiences and recommendations directly with legislators. The event was held at ART180, in the midst of an art installation created primarily by current or formerly incarcerated students entitled “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.”
  • Prior to and during the 2019 legislative session, we helped several legislators and Gov. Northam’s administration to draft the successful legislation that will expand SRO training and provide for the statewide use of rigorous MOUs between schools and law enforcement. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Department of Criminal Justice Services model MOU as a framework with which the local agreements must align. We worked diligently on this DCJS model as it was developed in 2015-2016, based in large part on our own model school/law MOU within our 2016 report on school policing, which adheres to best practices and a student-centered, trauma-informed approach. 

The road to equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability for Virginia’s schools is a highway, not a cul-de-sac. Even with these victories, our work will continue—into the coming legislative sessions, within administrative agencies, in conversation with the media, in collaboration with our organizational coalitions (which commonly include groups like The Commonwealth Institute For Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia School Counselors Association), and—most importantly and urgently—in partnership with affected communities. We will continue to prioritize racial equity and an anti-racist agenda in our policy advocacy and partnerships. And we will continue to use data to help tell the policy stories necessary to effect change. This post maps only two years’ worth of our commitment to demanding that Virginia fulfil its constitutional duty to assure every child receives a high-quality public education; the successes detailed here grow out of two decades of JustChildren’s efforts, and serves only as a mile-marker in our ongoing work. We’re grateful to our partners and the children, families, and communities we represent—building this path will take every one of us together.

To stay up-to-date on our Educate Every Child and school funding campaigns, please sign up for our alerts here.

 

 

LAJC’s 2019 Legislative Agenda

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Legal Aid Justice Center’s 2019 Legislative Agenda:

Richmond, Virginia, (January 14, 2019) –The 2019 Virginia legislative session is underway! Session began Wednesday, January 9th, as the legislature worked to organize itself for a short 45-day legislative session. The General Assembly alternates between 60-day sessions, during which it completes a full biennial budget, and 45-day “short” sessions, during which they…still do quite a bit of work on the biennial budget.
 
As with last year and for a few years to come, the legislature will complete much of its committee work and have legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building, located at 900 E. Main St in Richmond.
   
Legislators have already filed about 1,950 bills and resolutions for this 45-day session, and more are coming. LAJC staff will be working to educate policymakers and support our partners on a variety of issues. You can access our full LAJC legislative agenda here, and below you will find a brief summary of our primary priorities for this session:
 
JustChildren: Educate Every Child & Juvenile Justice
Legislation

  • Right-Size school counselor caseloads to the nationally-recommended best practice of one counselor for every 250 students.
  • Bring transparency and accountability to disciplinary alternative education through data collection and reporting, disaggregated by race and disability.
  • Decriminalize disorderly conduct for students in school setting.Ensure all School Resource Officers have appropriate training to work with students from all backgrounds.
  • Require schools and law enforcement agencies to enter into memorandums of understanding governing the use of School Resource Officers, and assure staff are trained on these plans.
  • Support efforts to raise the minimum age of eligibility that youth may be tried in adult court.

Budget Amendments:
LAJC will be supporting several budget items in Governor Northam’s introduced budget, as well as legislative budget amendments to make sure our schools are adequately funded and focused on ensuring students have access to support staff, with a priority on school counselors. In the introduced budget, Governor Northam provided funding to “right-size” school counselor caseloads and increase targeted “At-Risk Add-On” funding for economically disadvantaged students. We’ll also be supporting legislative budget amendments that seek to fulfill the Virginia Board of Education’s recommendations on fully funding Virginia schools’ Standards of Quality.

Civil Rights & Racial Justice
Legislation

  • End the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid or delinquent court debt.
  • Codify both the state’s commitment to pretrial liberty for all people and its commitment to transparent public access to the full scope of pretrial outcomes across the Commonwealth.
  • Repeal the antiquated “Interdiction” statute to prevent the unconstitutional criminalization of people who are homeless by legally labeling them as “habitual drunkards” if they buy, possess, or consume alcohol.

Immigrant Advocacy
LAJC will be working in partnership with VACOLAO, immigrant students with DACA status, and the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights to ensure that immigrant communities have equal treatment, equal opportunities, and equal representation in the Commonwealth. Priorities for this session include:

  • Driver’s permit access for all immigrant Virginians; 
  • In-state tuition access for immigrant Virginia students regardless of immigration status; and
  • Preventing the expansion of federal immigration authorities over local and state agency information.

Economic Justice
LAJC will be working in partnership with the Virginia Poverty Law Center to support efforts to reduce evictions in the Commonwealth, expand opportunities for localities to increase the availability of affordable housing, and prevent financial exploitation of low-income Virginians. At the state level, we are also members of the Campaign to Reduce Evictions.

Legislation
: See VPLC’s full legislative agenda here.

Support our legislative advocacy efforts!
You can access our Legal Aid Justice Center legislative agenda here. To get involved with our legislative advocacy, please contact us at info@justice4all.org and let us know if you’re closer to Richmond, Charlottesville, or Northern Virginia.

You can also sign up for email alerts on our website, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. We will be sharing advocacy materials, updates, blog posts, and calls to action as the session progresses!

Response to RTD Editorial on Students w/ Autism

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program, Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7304 | rachael@justice4all.org

Legal Aid Justice Center Responds to Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial on Students with Autism

Richmond, Virginia (November 30, 2018) – In response to the recent Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial on children with autism, the Legal Aid Justice Center makes the following statement:

The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial, “Bring more light to decisions about autism and the classroom,” evokes a much darker time in Virginia’s history: when we routinely separated children with disabilities from their families and peers and placed them in institutions. Whether they were called orphanages, state hospitals, or group homes, these facilities segregated and secluded children with disabilities, offered little education, and were breeding grounds for physical and emotional abuse. Prior to the enactment of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA) in 1975, millions of children with disabilities in the United States had no access to public education, and unsafe institutions were the norm.

Provision of a public education to children with autism is not “special treatment”—it’s the law. The IDEA and its progeny of court cases guarantee children with disabilities the right to receive a free, public education tailored to their individual needs. The IDEA requires public schools to educate children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment: to the maximum extent possible, these children must be educated alongside other children without disabilities. The law recognizes that all children benefit when they learn in an integrated, diverse environment.

Children with autism—like all children—are not a monolithic population, nor are the behaviors associated with autism categorically disruptive or indicative of the need for removal from a classroom. And the notion that classrooms are ever pristinely “free from interruption” such that students with autism or other disabilities are exacting a cost on others is a harmful myth. Children can be disruptive in classrooms for a variety of reasons that run the gamut from hunger to trauma to academic frustration to just a simple bad mood. As we noted in our Suspended Progress 2018 report, exclusionary discipline—using access to education as a form of punishment—is harmful and self-defeating. The Virginia Department of Education and many local school divisions are rightly turning to root-cause disciplinary interventions, recognizing that behavior is a symptom, and that student accountability doesn’t have to mean punishment or exclusion. They should be commended for taking this research-driven, goal-oriented direction—which does include methods such as restorative practices, an optional tool that many divisions already implement with great success.

Budgetary stress in Virginia’s public schools is not the fault of children with autism or any other child who enters the schoolhouse with unique educational needs. Instead, we have only ourselves to blame. Virginia’s schools have been strapped for cash for decades, while student needs and the Commonwealth’s performance expectations continue to increase. In 2009, the General Assembly slashed funding for school support positions by implementing an arbitrary cap on the amount of state dollars that go toward funding school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other vital positions. The Virginia Board of Education has recommended more than one billion dollars per biennium in additional funding just to meet minimum educational standards for all children, whether they come to school with disabilities or not.

Compassion and understanding are not zero-sum goals. Education is not a gift we choose to bestow upon children with autism if we decide the “tradeoffs” are worth it. And we are not mainstreaming students with disabilities by assuring their access to education in the least restrictive environment. Students with disabilities—including autism—are the mainstream, as are other children with unique educational needs—like economically disadvantaged students, English Learners, and students dealing with trauma. Every child in our schools is brimming with potential, with so much to teach one another.   

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The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, worker’s rights, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

Follow us on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and find us on Facebook.

New Report on Virginia’s School Discipline Crisis

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                      

CONTACT:
Amy Woolard
Attorney and Policy Coordinator, Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1846 | amy@justice4all.org

New Report: Virginia’s School Discipline Crisis—Racial Disparities Widened in 2016-17; Suspended Students Across the Commonwealth Received Inadequate (or No) Education While Out of School

Charlottesville, Virginia (October 25, 2018) – Virginia schools continued to use school exclusion as a consequence for student behavioral concerns at an alarming rate during the 2016-17 academic year—an ongoing crisis that harms Black students and students with disabilities most profoundly.   

A 2018 update to the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Suspended Progress report series reveals that, during the 2016-17 school year, Virginia schools issued over 127,800 out-of-school suspensions to over 73,000 students, marking an increase over the prior year in the number of students in the Commonwealth subjected to exclusionary discipline.

In this update to Suspended Progress, the Legal Aid Justice Center finds that:

  • Black students were suspended at rates 5 times higher than Hispanic and white students, a significantly wider gap over the prior year;
  • Students with disabilities were suspended at rates 3 times higher than that of non-disabled students;
  • Virginia schools continued to suspend very young students at an astonishing rate, issuing nearly 18,000 short-term suspensions and at least 111 long-term suspensions just to children in pre-k through 3rd grade—a marked increase over the 2015-16 year;
  • Once again, the vast majority of all suspensions were issued for minor offenses, with approximately two-thirds of all suspensions issued for behavior offenses like: possession of cell phones, minor insubordination, disrespect, and using inappropriate language; and
  • Students excluded from their home school—if they continue to receive education at all—are often funneled into inadequate alternative programs that operate without accountability to academic goals or the Commonwealth’s high educational standards.

“Too often in Virginia schools, we use ‘suspension’ and ‘accountability’ as synonyms,” said Amy Woolard, Legal Aid Justice Center attorney and author of the report. “When students exhibit behavioral issues, we can and should look to alternatives to school exclusion that can hold students accountable if needed, while also continuing their education and addressing underlying needs, such as physical and mental health supports, trauma-informed care, disability services, and mentoring.”

The report points to proven alternatives to school exclusion that keep students connected to academics and provide tailored interventions when needed. Those trauma-informed alternatives include restorative practices, multi-tiered systems of supports, and Social and Emotional Learning programs as positive steps local schools can implement in lieu of exclusion.

The Legal Aid Justice Center’s report provides policymakers with immediate steps to take during the 2019 General Assembly session to continue their work in pushing forward on positive reforms of the disciplinary system. It also offers local school boards and communities a framework for ensuring student codes of conduct promote positive school climate and keep students on track toward graduation—all of which, in turn, increases school safety for students and school staff alike.

“We must address our constitutional duty to provide a high-quality public education to all students, and particularly to Black students and students with disabilities, who have been bearing the devastating brunt of school exclusion practices for far too long,” said Woolard. “Our response to behavioral issues cannot continue to drive students out of the classroom and away from the positive connections and critical supports they need to thrive and successfully reach graduation.”

To read the report, visit: www.justice4all.org/suspension.

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About the Legal Aid Justice Center
The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance. LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

Follow the Legal Aid Justice Center on Twitter @LegalAidJustice and on Facebook.

 

VA Understaffs Positions Critical to Student Safety

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contacts
Patrick Getlein
Senior Vice President
The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis
patrick@thecommonwealthinstitute.org
804-396-2051 x103

Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program
Legal Aid Justice Center
rachael@justice4all.org
804-521-7304

Virginia Understaffs Positions Critical to Student Safety While Student Enrollment Grows

RICHMOND, VA, August 20, 2018 — Staffing in Virginia’s K-12 schools falls far short of recommended benchmarks for school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and the Legal Aid Justice Center. Decreases in staffing and a growing student population have left counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses with increased caseloads and administrative responsibilities and less time for direct student support.

The report notes that student enrollment in Virginia’s schools has grown by more than 57,000
students since 2008, while overall school support staff positions decreased by 2,356 over the
same decade. School counselor caseloads increased nearly 30 percent — from 300 students in
2007-2008 to 385 students in 2015-2016. School counselors, social workers, psychologists, and
nurses play essential roles in meeting student mental health needs, keeping all students safe
and engaged, and helping students achieve academic and career success.

“These professionals provide vital services, including mental health care, and contribute to a
positive school climate in which all members of the school community feel safe,” said Rachael
Deane, Legal Director of the JustChildren Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But a lack
of resources for these positions means we’re asking them to do more with less. Investing in
adequate staffing improves academic and health outcomes for all students.”

The report details the specialized services provided by school counselors, social workers,
psychologists, and nurses, including their important role in cultivating student safety. These
school professionals help to meet the mental health needs of students, connect students and
families with wraparound services, implement school-wide positive behavior support, reduce the
use of exclusionary discipline, and assist students with academic and career development.

“School counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses have an important impact on
student success. As their responsibilities increase that impact could increase as well,” says
Chris Duncombe, senior policy analyst with The Commonwealth Institute. “But only if schools
have sufficient staffing.”

The report recommends that Virginia lawmakers adopt proposals by the Virginia Board of
Education to amend Virginia’s Standards of Quality and establish higher staffing standards for
these positions. In 2017, the Virginia Board of Education recommended caseloads of one
school counselor for every 250 students, one school social worker for every 1,000 students, one
school psychologist for every 1,000 students, and one school nurse for every 550 students.

Read the report here.

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis provides credible, independent, and accessible
information and analyses of fiscal and economic issues with particular attention to the impacts
on low- and moderate-income persons. Our products inform fiscal and budget policy debates
and contribute to sound decisions that improve the well-being of individuals, communities and
Virginia as a whole. 

The Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) fights injustice in the lives of individual Virginians while
rooting out exploitative policies and practices that keep people in poverty. LAJC uses impact
litigation, community organizing, and policy advocacy to solve urgent problems in areas
such as housing, education, civil rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.
LAJC’s primary service areas are Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, Richmond and
Petersburg, but the effects of their work are felt statewide.

School Safety Requires Student Supports

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

CONTACT:
Rachael Deane
Legal Director, JustChildren Program, Legal Aid Justice Center
804-521-7304 | rachael@justice4all.org

Richmond, Virginia (July 6, 2018) – In advance of the July 11 meeting of the Virginia House Select Committee on School Safety, the Legal Aid Justice Center and 23 advocacy organizations are calling upon the General Assembly and Governor Northam to address the Commonwealth’s school safety concerns by investing in supports and services to meet the needs and improve the health and welfare of students well before behavior reaches a point of violence. Rather than looking toward “hardening” our schools, Virginia policymakers must prioritize supporting and strengthening our students.

In a letter today to the House Select Committee on School Safety, which was also delivered to members of the House Appropriations Committee and Governor Northam, LAJC and its partner organizations offered detailed recommendations around four main school safety policies:

  • Increasing school support staff, such as school counselors and nurses;
  • Improving school policing accountability through tailored, mandated training for school resource officers on working with children and youth;
  • Investing in positive school discipline and school climate programs and methods, such as restorative practices; and
  • Broadening the accessibility of supports and services under relevant funding streams, such as the Children’s Services Act.

“Rather than focusing solely on what makes school buildings more secure, policymakers should be asking what makes our students safer, healthier, and more connected to their education, and we already know many of the answers,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “School counselors, nurses, psychologists, and other support staff play an irreplaceable role in students’ overall well-being. It’s time to lift the state’s funding cap on these positions and to invest in prevention, positive intervention, mental health, and trauma-informed supports. These approaches dramatically improve safety not just for students, but also for teachers, staff, and communities as a whole.”

 

RISE for Youth to Become Independent Organization

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Tim Wallace, Director of Development, Legal Aid Justice Center
434-529-1853
twallace@justice4all.org

Valerie Slater, RISE for Youth Campaign Coordinator
804-709-8780
valerie@justice4all.org

Richmond, Va., June 12, 2018 — After three years housed within the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), RISE (Re-Invest in Supportive Environments) for Youth (RISE) will take formal steps over the summer toward becoming an independent organization. RISE for Youth is a non-partisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration. Since its launch in 2015, RISE has been an active and influential voice for juvenile justice reform in Virginia. Placing youth activism at the center of its efforts, the campaign has successfully advocated for both the closure of the Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center and the reinvestment of the funds used to operate that facility into community-based services while opposing the building of new juvenile prisons. Valerie Slater, RISE for Youth Campaign Coordinator and a recent fellow of the National Juvenile Justice Network’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute, will take the helm as Executive Director of the new organization, with support from juvenile justice organizers Rebecca Keel as Policy Director and James Braxton as Strategic Engagement Director.

During the transition, RISE will operate under fiscal sponsorship until the campaign core is incorporated. LAJC Executive Director Mary Bauer said, “We’re thrilled that RISE has grown to the point that this transition is possible. The campaign has achieved unprecedented youth-led victories in juvenile justice reform over the past three years. It is deeply gratifying to see this investment result in the creation of a new, sustainable community-based asset.”

After transitioning into fiscal sponsorship, RISE for Youth will continue engaging community members and justice-involved youth to plan the next phase of its juvenile justice advocacy work. Ms. Slater explained, “Years of community engagement, educating and activating allies, and local and state level legislative advocacy have helped put our communities’ voices front and center, making our opposition to the outdated youth prison model and support for community-based alternatives seen, heard, and accounted for. This next step will help RISE for Youth grow and adapt to allow for even greater community collaboration in our work.”

After the transition, LAJC will continue to push for juvenile justice reform in Virginia. Rachael Deane, Legal Director of the JustChildren Program, said, “JustChildren has a twenty-year history of successful advocacy on behalf of low-income and justice-involved youth. We look forward to continuing that advocacy and to partnering with RISE for Youth to ensure that Virginia continues to invest in proven, community-based alternatives to youth incarceration.”

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