News

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CONTACT:
Adeola Ogunkeyede
Legal Director, Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program, Legal Aid Justice Center 804-340-7728 | adeola@justice4all.org

Statement in Support of Pretrial Justice in Virginia

Richmond, Virginia (January 15, 2019) – Today, Legal Aid Justice Center joined other advocacy organizations to call on members of the General Assembly, as well as the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General to support Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s pretrial transparency bills. The bills (HB 2121/ SB 1687)  would allow policy makers and advocates to better understand the pretrial experiences of everyone involved in the Virginia criminal justice system, and it would arm policymakers, researchers, and everyday people with the information needed to craft effective policy solutions. You can read the full letter here.

Virginia currently does not collect or report data concerning statewide pretrial outcomes. As a result, the current process leads to unnecessary pretrial detention, punctuated by racial and economic disparities. Without consistent data collection and reporting on the full range of pretrial decisions, we will not be able to create effective laws that address these problems or move us closer to justice and away from costly, unnecessary, and often unfair detention.

The Legal Aid Justice Center has taken a leading role in efforts by the advocacy community to bring pretrial injustices in Virginia to light. In Fall 2017, Legal Aid Justice Center’s Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program began studying Virginia’s pretrial practices. We analyzed information about jail populations submitted in response to Virginia Freedom of Information Act requests, talked with public defenders and community groups about their clients’ or membership’s experiences with bail and pretrial detention, provided technical assistance to community bail funds engaging in “bail out” campaigns, and devised a court-watch program to observe the pretrial system in practice.

While the data we collected did not cover the whole state, what we found was more than troubling. Some of the findings from that study were eventually cited by the Attorney General in his October 2018 letter suggesting the Virginia should end its reliance on cash bonds as a condition of pretrial release. We believe that Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy’s and Senator Jennifer McClellan’s pretrial transparency bills are urgently needed for Virginia to get at the heart of what changes are necessary to move this system toward meaningful reform.

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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, civil rights, employment rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

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

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Our statement on the deeply offensive photos in Governor Northam’s yearbook

February 2, 2019:

The Legal Aid Justice Center condemns white supremacy in all its forms. And it is not enough to condemn the actions of a single man in the Governor’s office. We must also ask ourselves how it is that a young man in the 80s would want his legacy among classmates to be gilded with racist imagery. And we must ask ourselves how it is that a yearbook editor approved the placement of racist images on the pages of its yearbook knowing and intending that those pages would forever memorialize the ethos of those who attended the school at that time. 

Honesty compels us to acknowledge that the deeply offensive photo in Governor Northam’s yearbook depicting a person in blackface and another in a Klan robe may not have come as a complete shock to many Black and brown people who know that racism’s deep roots often go unexamined as part of the fabric of American society. These decisions do not reflect just the poor judgment of one future governor or one yearbook editor. These actions reflect the fact that, as recently as three decades ago, not only did white society condone such racist behavior; it lauded and popularized that behavior. 

The Legal Aid Justice Center is committed to not only challenging all the ways our laws and institutions of power cause generational harm to communities of color, but also examining our own complicity in helping keep white supremacy alive. It is only by acknowledging and addressing the ways in which white supremacy has been consciously and unconsciously reinforced across all sectors and segments of our nation that we will realize our goal of “more justice, less poverty.”

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CONTACT:
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Aid Justice Center, simon@justice4all.org, 703-720-5605
Jen Fuson, SPLC, 202-834-6209, jen.fuson@splcenter.org
Marion Steinfels, SPLC, 202-557-0430, marionsteinfels@gmail.com
  
Trump Administration’s Policy between ORR, ICE Violates Due Process Rights of Immigrant Children, Sponsors
Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of 10,000 Children Detained by Trump Administration

Alexandria, Va. — The Legal Aid Justice Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox PLLC have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of over 10,000 children currently being held by the Trump administration in over 100 detention centers across the country.

The lawsuit, originally filed last August in the federal district court in Alexandria, Va. on behalf of a group of youth being held in Virginia, reveals that the alarming number of children that continue to be held for long periods of time is now at a crisis level. The lawsuit charges this situation is primarily the result of the ongoing cooperation between the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which, hand-in-hand with family separation, is a deliberate strategy to deter vulnerable migrants from traveling to the U.S.  A memo drafted in late 2017 and obtained January 17, 2019 reveals the Administration intended the very result this policy has caused: the prolonged detention of children. 

The lawsuit is asking for the release of children who have sponsors available to take them into their homes and to reform this system that has resulted in prolonged detention for thousands of children around the nation.

“If the President is really interested in taking on a crisis in regard to the immigration situation – this is one he has the power to solve, since his Administration created it,” said Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “We have over 10,000 children in custody right now because this administration is using them as bait. This deplorable, deliberate policy means that these children are languishing in detention for months at a time.”

In April 2018, ORR entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), whereby ORR agreed to share with ICE the information it gathered during the family reunification petition process about sponsors and others living in the household. This policy, an effort to facilitate DHS’s efforts to arrest and remove possible sponsors who may be undocumented, has led to far fewer individuals coming forward on behalf of the children in detention. 

This scheme is laid out in internal documents provided by a whistleblower that were made public last Thursday. The documents demonstrate that this policy is a part of the same strategy as the infamous family separation policy, and that the government knew it would result in fewer sponsors coming forward and children remaining in custody for longer periods of time.

“Children belong in homes with families, not warehoused in government detention centers,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program and the Legal Aid Justice Center. “But the government is still using sponsors’ information for ICE immigration arrests.  They’re still targeting the sponsors themselves, and as a result over 10,000 immigrant children are still stuck in detention for longer than ever before.”

Despite the Administration announcing in mid-December the policy would be altered to only apply to sponsors and not family or household members, little has changed. The partnership between ORR and ICE remains in place and continues to have an enormously chilling effect on potential sponsors coming forward on behalf of these children. 

The lawsuit also outlines the completely disorganized and arbitrary sponsorship process, which has created an impenetrable maze for potential sponsors. Together these unlawful and abhorrent policies are having an incredibly negative impact on these already vulnerable immigrant children including:

  • C.L., 14 years old, fled Mexico last fall. She was forced to leave her home after a series of events involving a group of violent men. They killed three of her uncles, broke into her family’s home, and threatened her at gunpoint. The teen hoped to rejoin her mother in San Francisco. Instead, she was taken to a shelter in Florida, a 2,350-capacity facility not subject to state licensure and corresponding child welfare inspections. 
  • Y.S.R. will turn 18 in three months at the Crittenton facility in Orange County. After a terrifying odyssey from El Salvador where she was routinely sexually abused by a relative, a high-ranking member of a Salvadoran gang, A.Y.S.R. and her 1-year-old son presented themselves at a port of entry in Arizona in September 2018. When immigration officials tried to separate them, she resisted and was sent to a Border Patrol holding facility commonly known as the “icebox” for its freezing temperatures and lack of adequate facilities to care for children.

The plaintiffs include a dozen immigrant children who are currently detained and their sponsors, as well as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), organizations that assist immigrant youth and their family members as well as nonprofits to navigate the immigration system, including the ORR sponsorship process.

“When a government agency takes custody of a child, it should always be looking out for the child’s best interests. But the Trump Administration has instead seen children as a way to go after their parents or relatives,” said Jorge Baron, Executive Director for NWIRP.  “We hope this court case will lead to families being reunified as soon as possible.”

 “CLINIC’s mission is to welcome the stranger and provide support for the most vulnerable among us. Implementing a policy that intentionally keeps children apart from their families is antithetical to CLINIC’s mission,” said Jeanne M. Atkinson, Executive Director of CLINIC.

Please find the complaint and key attachments at the following links: LAWSUIT, ORR/ICE MOU and LEAKED MEMO.

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About Legal Aid Justice Center
Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses.  More information is available at http://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/fighting-family-separation/.

About Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox
Based in Washington, D.C. and renown for more than four decades for dedication to the protection, transfer, and enforcement of intellectual property rights, Sterne Kessler is one of the most highly regarded intellectual property specialty law firms in the world. Its team of attorneys, registered patent agents, students, and technical specialists include some of the country’s most respected practitioners of IP law, tackling innovations across a broad spectrum of industries. The firm’s practitioners hold nearly 50 masters and 50+ doctorate degrees in science or engineering and represent Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, start-ups, inventors, venture capital firms, and universities in a client service driven environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and intellectually stimulating. The firm also has an award-wining pro bono practice. Visit the firm online at sternekessler.com.

About Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.

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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!

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Contact:
Angela Ciolfi, (434) 529-1810, aciolfi@justice4all.org

Court Issues Injunction Against Virginia Department of Corrections:
Judge finds VDOC to have breached its duty under the Settlement Agreement in Scott v. Clarke to provide adequate medical care at the Fluvanna women’s prison

Charlottesville, Virginia (January 2, 2019) —This evening, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued an injunction against senior officials at the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) ordering them to comply with the Settlement Agreement approved by the Court in 2016 in Scott v. Clarke.

Citing “egregious facts” and “material and significant” breaches, Judge Norman K. Moon found that the VDOC Defendants are in violation of eight of the standards outlined in the Settlement Agreement governing medical care at FCCW. “[T]he record shows that VDOC’s and FCCW’s own officials had—by their own admission—actual knowledge that FCCW was not complying with parts of the Settlement Agreement.” The opinion concludes, “Over six years ago, women at FCCW filed this lawsuit, seeking a remedy for pervasive constitutionally deficient medical care. Their quest continues. Some women have died along the way. But this case has survived because Defendants have upheld neither their Eighth Amendment obligations nor the Settlement Agreement they reached to effectuate those obligations.”

“The state was willing to blame everyone else for their failures—the lawyers, the media, the settlement agreement, even the patients themselves,” said Shannon Ellis, attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center. “Today’s opinion flatly rejects the state’s attempts to point the finger elsewhere and confirms that the state has only itself to blame for the tragic state of healthcare at FCCW.”

The Court’s opinion tersely rejects each of the Defendants’ defenses:

  • Rejecting the contention that the Settlement Agreement was too vague and subjective to be enforced, the Court writes: “No reasonable person could read the Settlement Agreement and think that it was permissible, e.g.: for Andrea Nichols to wait three years for a colonoscopy while cancer rotted her body and invaded her liver; or for a medical prison to lack ready access to emergency medical equipment; or for nurses to fail to (and even not know how to) reorder medications; or for extreme chest pain, wheezing, and excessive weight changes to go uncharted and unexamined by a doctor.”
  • Rejecting Defendants’ arguments that they were not given enough time to comply with the Settlement Agreement, the Court’s opinion chides, “The Settlement Agreement does not condone lollygagging.”
  • Rejecting the Defendants’ suggestion that they were prevented from complying with the requirements regarding adequate staffing due to bad publicity, the Court notes that “the bad publicity surrounding FCCW is Defendants’ own fault, as it stems from FCCW’s original failures and the underlying lawsuit challenging them.”

Although the Court held that technical reasons and Fourth Circuit precedent prevented it from holding the Defendants in contempt, the Court wrote: “Yet if ever a case evinced forfeiture of a Rule 65(d) argument, or warranted a functional rather than formalist approach to the rule, it would be this one.”

The Court’s injunction orders the Defendants to correct the violations, including but not limited to:

  • Maintaining a nursing staff equivalent to 78 full-time nurses
  • Training nurses on dispensing medication and ensuring continuity of supply
  • Outfitting FCCW buildings with basic emergency equipment and supplies
  • Developing a protocol to ensure unimpeded access to timely medical care
  • Improving the medical grievance system

Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law on Plaintiffs’ Motion to Show Cause

Injunction order

Overview:
Scott v. Clarke is a class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), Wiley Rein LLP, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, challenging the constitutionality of the medical care provided at FCCW. The lawsuit asserted that the 1,200 women incarcerated at FCCW are being provided constitutionally inadequate medical care, leaving their health and lives at serious risk. 

On November 26, 2014, the Legal Aid Justice Center announced that it had reached a settlement. The settlement came in the wake of two sweeping opinions in favor of the Plaintiffs from the court—an order granting class certification and an order granting Plaintiffs’ partial motion for summary judgment and denied Defendants summary judgment with respect to all their defenses. The Settlement Agreement was approved by Judge Norman K. Moon on February 5, 2016, and required an independent Compliance Monitor to supervise the medical care systems at the prison for at least three years. The settlement provides a framework for significant reforms of the medical care at FCCW. The settlement also outlines a process by which the parties will jointly review and revise the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) policies regarding health care. 

In September 2017, the women incarcerated at FCCW filed a motion for contempt in the Federal District Court in Charlottesville. The motion asked the court to enforce the class action Settlement Agreement decided upon in February 2016. The women charged that prison continued to fail to provide constitutionally adequate medical care in violation of the agreement. The law firms of Consumer Litigation Associates, P.C. and Kelly & Crandall PLC joined the plaintiffs’ legal team to prosecute the contempt motion.

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, workers’ rights, 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.

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Contact:
Tim Wallace, (434) 529-1853, twallace@justice4all.org

 Preliminary Injunction Granted in Driver’s License Case:
Judge finds driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and orders DMV to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds.

Charlottesville, Virginia, (December 21, 2018) —This afternoon, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia issued a preliminary injunction against DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb ordering him to reinstate the driver’s licenses of the three named plaintiffs in Stinnie v. Holcomb who lost their licenses automatically when they were unable to pay court costs and fines.

Judge Norman K. Moon found that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in establishing that Virginia’s license suspension statute is unconstitutional, and that the plaintiffs have suffered irreparable harm as a result of its enforcement. The opinion states, “While the Court recognizes the Commonwealth’s interest in ensuring the collection of court fines and costs, these interests are not furthered by a license suspension scheme that neither considers an individual’s ability to pay nor provides him with an opportunity to be heard on the matter.”

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Constitution and for common sense. The Court stated unequivocally that Virginia’s driver’s license suspension statute likely violates procedural due process rights,” said Angela Ciolfi, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “This week, two branches of state government have weighed in against continued enforcement of this counter-productive policy, and there is strong bipartisan support for repeal in the General Assembly. It is time to end the devastating cycle of debt, unemployment, and incarceration once and for all.”

Judge Moon’s ruling comes on the heels of Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement earlier this week of his support for ending license suspension in Virginia of people too poor to pay court debt, and rulings earlier this year by two federal courts in Tennessee and Michigan declaring similar statutes unconstitutional. The ruling currently affects only the five named Plaintiffs unless and until the Court rules on Plaintiffs’ pending motion for class certification. Repeal legislation sponsored by Senator Bill Stanley will be considered by the General Assembly during the upcoming 2019 session.

Memorandum Opinion (PDF)

Order Granting Preliminary Injunction (PDF)

Overview:
Stinnie v. Holcomb is a class action lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) and McGuireWoods LLP, challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute automatically suspending the driver’s licenses of nearly one million Virginia drivers who cannot afford to pay court costs and fines. The case was originally dismissed at the Circuit Court, but it was revived by the Fourth Circuit this summer when the appeals court allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. When LAJC filed the amended complaint, they also asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have the effect of ordering the DMV Commissioner to stop suspending driver’s licenses for non-payment of court debt while the lawsuit is pending.  On November 15th, Judge Moon took evidence and heard arguments for and against the preliminary injunction.  On December 21, Judge Moon granted the preliminary injunction finding the driver’s license suspension statute likely unconstitutional and ordering the DMV Commissioner to reinstate Plaintiffs’ licenses while litigation proceeds. The Court also rejected the Commissioner’s arguments that the federal court lacked jurisdiction.

National and Statewide Implications:

  • Virginia is one of 43 states that suspend driver’s licenses for non-payment of court costs and fines related to traffic and/or criminal offenses. Since Stinnie was originally filed in 2016, six more statewide lawsuits have been filed (or almost filed) in California, Tennessee, Michigan, Montana, Mississippi (settled pre-filing), and North Carolina, and advocates have won legislative reforms in many states, including California and, most recently, D.C.
  • A federal judge recently issued a statewide injunction against a similar enforcement scheme in Tennessee.
  • This ruling will not impact the nearly one million Virginia drivers who, as of December 2017, currently have at least one suspension on their license for failure to pay, including approximately 650,000 people whose licenses are suspended solely for not paying court costs and fines. 
  • For many drivers, a license suspension means giving up their only mode of transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking jail time for driving on a suspended license. These long-suffering Virginia drivers will continue to endure a never-ending cycle of debt and incarceration, so long as the law forces them to choose between driving illegally and forsaking the needs of their families. 

To read more about the lawsuit, or to download the briefs, go to http://www.justice4all.org/drive.

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, workers’ rights, 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.

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

LAJC Condemns Federal Recommendations to Rescind Student Civil Rights Protections

Richmond, Virginia (December 19, 2018) – Recommendations from the Federal Commission on School Safety to rescind important school discipline guidance will make schools less safe for Virginia’s children. The Commission’s final report, released yesterday, recommends rescission of the 2014 “Rethink School Discipline” federal guidance package, which instructed school divisions on how to identify and avoid discriminatory discipline practices. The guidance emphasized the duty of every school district to create and maintain safe, fair, and nurturing schools for all students without relying upon harsh, overly broad disciplinary practices that push children out of school and into the criminal justice system.

“Years of research indicate that overly punitive school discipline policies can have a disproportionately harmful effect on students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students,” said Rachael Deane, Legal Director of LAJC’s JustChildren Program. “Yesterday’s recommendation is yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to restrict student civil rights, but make no mistake: our public schools still have a legal and moral obligation to educate all children, regardless of race, color, national origin, immigration status, sex, gender, or disability.”

In October, Legal Aid Justice Center released a report, Suspended Progress 2018, which documented astonishing racial disparities in the use of exclusionary discipline in Virginia’s public schools during the 2016-17 school year. The report showed that Virginia public schools issued over 127,800 out-of-school suspensions to over 73,000 individual students and that Black students were 4.5 times more likely to be suspended than Hispanic and white students.

In 2018, Virginia lawmakers have begun to make significant bipartisan progress on school discipline and school safety. In June, Governor Northam signed two new school discipline laws that limit the use of exclusionary discipline in Virginia’s K-12 schools. In November, the House Select Committee on School Safety issued a comprehensive set of school safety recommendations that emphasize a holistic approach to student safety, including examining the role of school counselors in keeping all students safe. And last week, Governor Northam announced a budget amendment that would add more counselors to Virginia’s schools.

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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, civil rights, employment rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

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

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

LAJC Celebrates Governor Northam’s School Safety Budget Amendment

Richmond, Virginia (December 13, 2018) – Today’s budget proposal from Governor Northam to dramatically increase funding for school counselors across the Commonwealth is a huge victory for students, parents, and educators!  The Governor is proposing to increase funding for school counselors by $36 million next year as part of a three-year plan to reduce caseloads from the curent ratio of one counselor per 425 students to the nationally-recognized best practice of one counselor per 250 students.      

This policy victory is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of different players and partners—most obviously the amazing community mobilizing by teachers in recent months—but this proposal would not have happened without LAJC’s advocacy. We helped to bring this idea to the table, connecting mental health and school safety though direct advocacy with lawmakers, including many in-person meetings over the last six months, a report we released with the the Commonwealth Institute, and through public relations.
   
Of course, this is just a proposal until it is passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. LAJC and our allies will be working hard over the next few months to help make that happen!
 

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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, civil rights, employment rights, immigration, healthcare and consumer finance.

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

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December 3, 2018

Press contacts:
Lizette Olmos, lolmos@weareacasa.org (240) 706-2624 mobile
Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, simon@justice4all.org, (703) 720-5605 direct dial

Fourth Circuit to Hear Arguments in Key Immigrants’ Rights Cases
Plaintiffs, Attorneys, and Supporters Gather After Hearings on DACA Cancellation and Racial Profiling of Immigrants to Weigh in on Cases

WHO: DACA-mented Plaintiffs, Litigators, CASA, Legal Aid Justice Center, and supporting organizations including Church World Service

WHERE: Steps of US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Corner of Bank and N. 10th Street, Richmond, VA

WHAT: Press Conference and Rally Featuring Immigrants Challenging the Trump Administration in Court

WHEN: Tuesday, December 11th at 11:30 a.m.

RICHMOND, VA (Monday, December 3, 2018) – Immigrants will gather outside the U.S. Court of Appeals next Tuesday to describe their efforts to challenge the actions of the Trump Administration and ICE agents before a court of law. The press conference and rally is being held at a rare confluence of separate cases that together challenge core pillars of the Trump administration’s attempts to permanently alter the lives of immigrants in America.

The first case, Casa de Maryland v DHS, is brought by 16 DACA-mented immigrants and 9 immigrant rights organizations to challenge the administration’s cancellation of the DACA program. This case joins others across the country that seek to reverse the administration’s discriminatory and illegal termination of the program; a decision that has left in limbo the lives of people brought to the US as children.

The second case, Mynor Tun-Cos v. B. Perrotte, is brought by the Legal Aid Justice Center on behalf of nine plaintiffs whose constitutional rights were violated by ICE agents during raids in Fairfax and Arlington Counties involving racial profiling and warrantless home invasions. In response to the lawsuit, the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice is arguing to the Court of Appeals that individuals may never sue ICE agents under any circumstances for violating their constitutional rights.

A third case, Reyna v. Hott, also filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center, will be heard the following day and challenges ICE’s practice of separating families by transferring immigrant detainees to out-of-state detention centers away from their U.S.-born children. A group of leading child development specialists from Harvard University and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry filed a brief in support of the class action, describing the mental harm to children when their parents are detained far away without the possibility of visitation.
                                       
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With almost 100,000 members, CASA is the largest Latino and immigrant organization in the Mid-Atlantic region spanning Maryland, Virginia and South Central Pennsylvania. More information about CASA’s services, organizing, and advocacy work is available at www.wearecasa.org or follow us on Facebook CASAforAll or Twitter @CASAforall.

Legal Aid Justice Center is a statewide Virginia nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen the voices of low-income communities and root out the inequities that keep people in poverty. We provide legal support to immigrant communities facing legal crises and use advocacy and impact litigation to fight back against ICE enforcement and detention abuses. More information is available at https://www.justice4all.org/current-initiatives/fighting-ice-enforcement-abuses/ .

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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.

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