April 19, 2023
Children's Rights Clinic Students Win Remarkable Victory for 12-Year-Old Client
In February, two student advocates from the Children's Rights Clinic, Alin Abrahamian (2L) and Philip Schuler (3L Part-Time Evening), achieved a remarkable victory for their 12-year-old client. Their client, who had always been a strong student who had never been in trouble at school before, had been struggling with mental health challenges following the Covid pandemic. He engaged in a cry for help on school grounds, and instead of providing support, the school district attempted to expel him. He was being removed from school for behavior correlated to his social and emotional needs. Phil and Alin recognized this as discriminatory behavior and began their work.
From the second week of the semester, they met with the client and his family, drafted a letter of reconsideration to the district, requested a comprehensive psycho-evaluation, and prepared a persuasive brief arguing against expulsion. To grasp complex legal concepts about a novel area of law is one of the challenges of clinic work, but Phil and Alin were able to understand and utilize their legal knowledge starting in Week Two.
At the client's expulsion hearing, the hearing panel recommended expulsion to the school board, despite compelling legal and policy arguments against it. Undeterred, Phil and Alin prepared a persuasive 7-minute argument that Alin presented to the school board using appellate advocacy techniques. She not only highlighted the district's failure to meet its legal burden at the hearing but also pointed out procedural violations and policy justifications for not expelling the student. Most poignantly, she also cited the words of State Superintendent Thurmond and Dr. Darling-Hammond, the President of the California State Board of Education, emphasizing the need for support and education rather than suspension: "Our communities are crying out for support and education, not suspension. In this moment of extraordinary need, the most successful schools will partner with communities to better understand and support students' mental and physical health needs…."
The school board was compelled by Phil and Alin's advocacy, their client's academic success and history, and the concern for his social-emotional needs to vote unanimously against expelling him from the school district. The victory was most evident in the smile on the client's face upon hearing the news, which had not been seen since the start of his representation. Phil and Alin's advocacy was so impactful that it overturned the first expulsion recommendation made by the school board in over 12 years.
The impact of this advocacy cannot be overstated. A student on track to graduate and go to college, who is well-liked by teachers and peers, but who has struggled for the last several years with anxiety, sadness, fear, and stress, now has the opportunity to continue his education, in his community, with the requisite support and services. Without Phil and Alin, he would have been removed from his community and sent to an alternative school, where his education inevitably would have faltered. The statistics for students at these alternative schools are staggering — with shocking drop-out rates, ongoing discipline issues, and even involvement in the juvenile justice system, the challenges for our client may have been insurmountable.
In the Children's Rights Clinic, the belief is that every child should not be judged solely on their mistakes, and second chances should be given whenever possible. This victory was a testament to that belief, and thanks to Phil and Alin, their client gets his second chance.