Although it just officially launched within the last few weeks, the new Education Law Clinic in the law school is already receiving attention and accolades for its role in helping students and their parents with legal issues related to school disciplinary, suspension and expulsion hearings.
Assistant Clinical Professor Tiffany Sizemore-Thompson, the supervising attorney for the new clinic, previously worked as a public defender and noted a direct correlation between students being expelled or dropping out of school and entering the juvenile/criminal justice system.
“Once a child drops out of school or is permanently expelled, he or she is at great risk for a myriad of other undesirable outcomes in life—unemployment or underemployment, likelihood of staying or falling into poverty, increased likelihood of homelessness, less access to meaningful health care, etc.,” said Sizemore-Thompson. “School exclusion also increases a child’s chances of dropping out of school altogether. Exclusionary forms of discipline can lead to long-term consequences that oftentimes can’t be reversed.”
The Education Law Clinic seeks to stop what Sizemore-Thompson calls the pipeline of school “pushout.” “We owe our children more than a closed door,” she added.
After publishing an article on the new clinic, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial board published an editorial touting the clinic’s potential to help school administrators provide “orderly educational environments that promote learning while taking the right tone with students who act out.”
Potential clients are referred to the clinic by the courts, social service agencies, parent advocacy organizations and even the law school’s Juvenile Defender Clinic, among others. Sizemore-Thompson screens all cases for initial intake and assigns cases to one of the student attorneys, who are trained to understand the “collateral consequences” that may result during a delinquency case. They also learn about the importance of written and oral advocacy in the context of administrative hearings.
Doctorate-level students from Duquesne’s school psychology program in the School of Education and master’s level social work students from the University of Pittsburgh provide assistance to clients as part of a “team defense” or holistic representation model practiced by the clinic.
“The mission of this clinic is to provide no-cost, holistic representation to families who are facing school discipline matters,” explained Sizemore-Thompson. “The holistic representation model—which is one of the unique things about this and the Juvenile Defender Clinic—seeks to solve more than just the single legal matter that brought the client in the door. It brings an interdisciplinary group of professionals to the table who can solve as many of the clients’ other problems as possible.”
For more information about the Education Law Clinic, call 412.396.4704 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.