Civil Justice Clinic Reaches Settlement in Federal Lawsuit Against Saint Louis Public Schools

New Child and Family Advocacy Project Continues Efforts to Address School-to-Prison Pipeline Issues  

The law school’s Civil Justice Clinic, partnering with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM), has reached a settlement with the Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS) in a federal lawsuit that challenged the appropriateness and constitutionality of recent disciplinary practices for two high school students.

In February 2010, the Civil Justice Clinic and LSEM filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the two students, CCJ and MCJ. The lawsuit, CCJ et al. vs. The Board of Education for the City of St. Louis, et al., alleged that SLPS violated the students’ constitutional rights when it unilaterally and indefinitely transferred them from an SLPS high school to an alternative educational program―without first affording the students a hearing or appropriate due-process protections. The clinic and LSEM further argued that the alternative program is substandard since it provides only three hours of schooling a day via computer programs.

Through advocacy efforts of Civil Justice Clinic students and faculty along with LSEM attorneys and staff, the settlement with SLPS was finalized and approved on May 6, 2010, before the Honorable E. Richard Webber, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri.

While the terms of the agreement are confidential, Mae C. Quinn, professor of law and Civil Justice Clinic co-director, noted: “Although we are not in a position to speak about the express terms of the agreement, we can say that our clients are pleased with the outcome and that we, as youth advocates, are heartened by its forward-looking provisions.

“Beyond addressing the individual educational needs of our clients, CCJ and MCJ, the school district also has agreed to work productively and collaboratively with both Washington University School of Law’s Civil Justice Clinic and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri to revisit and improve school discipline practices and policies in the weeks and months to come,” she continued. “We are pleased SLPS has pledged its commitment to ensuring that all St. Louis students receive a quality education and to improving the chances of success for our city’s children and youths.”

Washington University law students who worked on the case included graduating students Maureen Meredith, Abigail Browning, and Kate Lincoff, in addition to second-year law students Tiffany Ellis and Kevin Roberts.

The Civil Justice Clinic is part of the law school’s Clinical Education Program, which is committed to serving the legal needs of the community while meeting the educational needs of Washington University law students. The Civil Justice Clinic has engaged in a variety of projects over the years to deliver free civil legal services in the St. Louis area. With the arrival of two new faculty members―Quinn, formerly of the University of Tennessee School of Law, and Annette Appell, associate dean of clinical affairs and professor of law, formerly of University of Nevada at Las Vegasthe Civil Justice Clinic began a new project this school year. Joined by St. Louis native and child advocacy expert Kathryn Pierce, Quinn and Appell have created the Child and Family Advocacy Project, in which Civil Justice Clinic law students provide representation to St. Louis children and families in a range of legal matters. A primary focus is addressing school-to-prison pipeline issues.

Civil Justice Clinic students and faculty have been working with community partners―The Children’s Legal Alliance of LSEM and the ACLU―on traditional and non-traditional advocacy efforts in an attempt to shed light on such problems and engage in systemic reform.

Article in St. Louis Post-Dispatch [view]