The Youth Law Center has a long history of focusing on educational equity issues impacting foster care and juvenile justice youth. Unfortunately, these youth comprise two of the most educationally disadvantaged and academically at-risk student groups enrolled in our schools. For foster care students, it is estimated that: 75% are working below grade level; 83% are being held back by the third grade; and, 46% become high school dropouts. Researchers have found that the average incarcerated youth reads far below grade level and disproportionately (30-50%) suffer from disabilities that qualify them for special education services. Another study found that one year after release, only 28% of juvenile justice youth were enrolled in school. California’s juvenile court schools have the state’s highest dropout rates.
- Addressing the reentry/reenrollment rights of juvenile justice youth, YLC sponsored SB 1088 (Price), a bill to prohibit school districts from denying enrollment or readmission to a youth because he or she has had contact with the juvenile justice system. Juvenile justice-related contact includes: arrest, adjudication by a court, probation supervision, and detention for any length of time. The bill went into effect January 1, 2013. YLC also sponsored AB 2276 (Bocanegra), which makes clear that juvenile justice youth have the right to be immediately enrolled in school upon reentry back into the community, even if they lack proof of immunizations and other records or have unpaid fees. The bill also requires county probation and county offices of education to develop joint transition and planning policies to ensure that these youth are effectively reintegrated into the district school system. The bill went into effect on January 1, 2015.
- Ensuring that juvenile court schools are included in the state’s monitoring process, YLC challenged the state’s failure to include these schools in its special education verification review process, despite the fact that juvenile justice youth are disproportionately identified as disabled. Juvenile court schools from some 24 counties have now been reviewed and all have been found in non-compliance with state and federal requirements.
- Ensuring the juvenile justice and foster youth are not forced to attend alternative schools, YLC sponsored SB 1111 (Lara), which clarifies and narrows how and when a youth can be involuntarily transferred to a county community school. The bill emphasizes that all placements should promote a student’s educational interests and specifies when students can return to their schools.
- Challenging the denial of education to detained youth, YLC successfully advocated, on behalf of juvenile justice youth who were denied access to educational services while detained in one of Los Angeles County’s juvenile halls.
- Challenging “gang profiling” practices by school districts, YLC worked with other advocates and successfully challenged a school district’s “gang attire” policy that was used to target Latino youth for suspension and expulsion.
- Through the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, YLC staff has trained juvenile detention staff around the country on improving educational services for detained youth.
- Through the “Court School Equity” project, funded by the California Wellness Foundation, YLC staff is conducting a statewide assessment of the educational status of juvenile justice youth enrolled in California’s juvenile court school system. Through this project we hope to identify best practices, recommendations for policy improvement, and practice recommendations that support the educational attainment of youth in California’s juvenile court schools.
- Addressing harsh disciplinary policies, YLC participates on the California Endowment’s discipline policy work group and has sponsored and worked on several bills that seek to reduce the number of youth currently suspended and expelled from California schools. YLC also participates on the “Truancy & School Discipline” workgroup of the Judicial Council’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Children in Foster Care, which focuses on keeping court involved youth in school.
- Through the “Educational Equity for Foster Care and Juvenile Justice Youth” project, funded by the State Bar’s Equal Access Fund, YLC works to improve the ability of other legal advocates to identify education issues unique to foster care, juvenile justice and other “at risk” youth, to investigate and evaluate these issues, and to advocate effectively on behalf of the educational rights of these student groups. Through this project, YLC staff co-chairs both the Statewide Education and the “School to Nowhere” Task Forces, administers the Education Access Listserv and the Education Equity library, provides technical assistance and has conducted numerous trainings on educational issues impacting these student groups.
- Addressing the language access needs of limited English proficient and migrant youth, through the State’s regulatory and rule making processes, YLC has taken steps to ensure that both foster and juvenile justice youth are properly identified as limited English proficient and/or migrant, so that they are given access to appropriate services to address their unique needs. YLC has also conducted trainings for social workers on this issue.
- Banuelos v. Tracy YLC co-counseled with California Rural Legal Assistance on this federal civil rights action on behalf of a Latino high school student who had been improperly detained, searched, and identified as a potential gang member at school.