New student discipline policies, practices and training this year in Henry

Georgia Legal Services Program handled nearly 100 school discipline cases last year, including many in Henry County as mentioned in the article below. 

Originally published in The Henry Herald, by Johnny Jackson.

This summer, the school board reached a consensus on changes to its student discipline policies and practices. The decision came after months of surveys and studies by a review committee tasked with researching best-practices in identifying student misbehavior and instituting fair penalties for misconduct.

Virgil Cole, the district’s assistant superintendent of administrative services, led the committee established in the summer of 2014.

“I find it very exciting to see it come to life,” said Cole.

He and members of the committee presented to the board in February recommendations on student discipline policy and procedure changes. They also proposed school-level training to help educators develop so-called “positive behavioral interventions and supports.”

Officials said the idea is to improve school cultures by cultivating understanding among students, teachers and administrators. They expect the training will yield greater empathy in the school community — more positive interactions and fewer discipline referrals.

The district was criticized heavily in 2013 for its perceived unfair discipline practices against minority students.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) blasted the district as a leading offender among Georgia school districts with discriminatory student discipline practices.

Jones called for a statewide study committee and has been active in his pursuit of legislation to address the disparities throughout the state.

Georgia Legal Services Program attorneys have also been busy appealing individual cases of students expelled or suspended from schools in Henry County.

Attorney Mike Tafelski regularly attends appeals hearings, representing mostly minority clients fighting school suspensions and expulsions for “often minor infractions” or misunderstandings.

Tafelski said the district, in recent years, has claimed a lion’s share of appeals cases in his office, which serves clients throughout the state.

He pointed to district reports that confirmed his suspicions of unequal outcomes in student discipline.

For example, in a monthly cumulative report for elementary school students ending June 6, 2014, black students were shown as likelier to be disciplined than any other racial subgroup.

The district’s report showed most policy violations were minor. There were 23 Section-1 offenses — six for detrimental behavior, six for disrespect, four for bus violation, three for inappropriate contact and one each for insubordination, non-physical fighting, “inappropriate item” and bullying.

There were 30 offenses between Section III and Section IV, including 20 for weapons, five for use or exchange of a drug, two “felony” violations and four for physical contact.

Of the resulting 51 discipline hearings, only four cases were found not guilty or with insufficient evidence. Seventeen cases received out-of-school suspension, 14 of which were long-term without the option of alternative education.

The data stated that 40 of those hearings were attended by black students compared with 10 for white students and one Asian student during the 2013-14 school year.

Black middle and high school students were also nearly three times as likely to be subjected to a disciplinary hearing — 548 blacks to 161 whites, according to district data.

The demographics districtwide — across school levels — were 48 percent black, 37 percent white, 4 percent multi-racial and 3 percent Asian in 2013-14, according to attendance data provided through the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

However, district data revealed those schools reporting most of the hearings had large minority populations, such as Stockbridge High with 95 hearings and Luella High with 91 hearings.

The Stockbridge student body was 69 percent black in 2013-14, while Luella’s pupil population was 57 percent black, according to GOSA reports.

Board policy and student handbooks have been adjusted to reflect changes gleaned from recommendations put forth by the student discipline review committee in February.

Cole said he believes the edits to board policy are clearer and more current than before. The changes also provide for more administrative discretion on disciplinary matters and alternative penalties for certain policy violations and student misconduct.

He recalled an experience he had some 15 years ago as a school-level administrator when a Navy JROTC cadet was disciplined for having a pocket knife he likely forgot he had on his person. He said it fell out of the student’s pocket during a physical training exercise.

“It was one of those things,” said Cole. “I remember being sick about that. Most teachers always want to do what’s best for the student.”

He said the experience demonstrated the dilemma some teachers and administrators have when they are unable to use their discretion, even though the outcome for that cadet might still be the same today.

Cole said the district will work next on offering training through the aforementioned positive behavioral interventions and supports framework, also known as PBIS.

PBIS training will be funded and incorporated with existing professional development opportunities as decreed in Jones’s Senate Bill 164 amendment, which passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate this past spring.

The bill defines PBIS as an evidence-based, “data-driven framework to reduce disciplinary incidents” and increase a school’s sense of safety at it aims to improve academic outcomes.

“It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of training,” said Jones. “The next step is to monitor the process and continue to look at the data. I strongly hope that they (Henry County Schools) continue to get the community involved and dialogue with them in an open discussion.”

Jones said he is hopeful efforts to reduce discipline referrals will continue in districts across the state.

He opined too many young students are deprived time in the classroom because of suspensions for minor behavior issues and as a result are more susceptible to falling behind academically.

“The whole goal is to teach students in school,” he said.

Jones said the movement toward PBIS is necessary “so that you don’t have third-graders expelled from school.”

He lauded school officials in Henry County for taking significant initial steps in reforming the district’s disciplinary practices partly by appointing its first director of discipline and safety.

Earlene Crump, formerly the principal at Eagle’s Landing Middle, entered that position this summer. She is tasked with acting as a liaison between the district and the Sheriff’s School Resource Officer Program.

Her department is charged with gathering and analyzing data, conducting surveys on discipline and building community relations on the issue of student discipline.

“I’m under no illusion that just because Henry County put someone in place, all problems will be solved,” said Jones.

“I think they’ve made a really good choice in Earlene,” he added. “My only reservation is that she does not have a legal background. (But) I think what she lacks in legal knowledge she makes up for in classroom experience and administrative experience.”

Visit the district’s website to learn more about changes to its student discipline policies and procedures, which are outlined in this year’s student handbooks.

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#StudentsHaveRights Campaign Launch

Minor Offenses of Children Threaten Expulsion
Legal Representation in Disciplinary Hearings May Keep Kids in School

Georgia Legal Services Program, Inc. (GLSP) launched an education campaign this week, #StudentsHaveRights. The civil legal aid organization handled nearly 100 school discipline cases last year, working to keep students charged with minor, non-violent offenses in school. Most were facing expulsion before attorneys stepped in.

“Understanding children’s rights can ensure that your child is not being unfairly disciplined,” Kenji Roberts says, speaking from experience. Her granddaughter, 12 years old at the time, was threatened with expulsion for yielding to the pressure of a bully who demanded she write “Hi” on the bathroom wall— the student’s first and only offense.

Given the high numbers of disciplinary hearings that take place each week in school districts throughout the state, it’s believed that thousands of students go without the legal representation they need in these proceedings.

“Parents often don’t realize how serious these matters can be until they get there,” GLSP Attorney Jessica Stuart told WABE’s Rose Scott and Denis O’Hayer in a July 30th appearance on their radio show, Closer Look. “In our organization, we provide free services. We can represent students at these hearings.”  GLSP offers legal representation to families in Georgia with low incomes who live outside the five-county metro area.

The #StudentsHaveRights campaign is targeted toward students and parents in Georgia, as well as attorneys who are interested in representing students in school discipline matters.

 

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GLSP Attorney Jana Edmondson-Cooper Awarded

Jana J. Edmonson Cooper.  Photo by John Disney/Daily Report.

Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper Photo by John Disney/Daily Report

Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper was selected by the National Bar Association (NBA) to receive its Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Under 40 Award during the NBA’s 90th Annual Convention held in Los Angeles, CA July 19 -23, 2015. The award recognizes the nation’s top lawyers under 40 who exemplify a broad range of high achievement, including in innovation, vision, leadership and legal and community involvement. In addition to the 40 Under 40 recognition, five of the forty awardees were deemed to have distinguished themselves further by exemplifying Excellence in Activism, Excellence in Innovation, Excellence in Leadership, Excellence in Service and as Best Advocate of the Year, respectively and honored with a second award to that effect. Jana was honored with the Excellence in Service Award for exemplifying service to low-income and underrepresented individuals, particularly those who have limited or no ability to communicate in English.

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Effort Initiated by GLSP Attorney to Improve Access to Justice

Effort initiated by GLSP Attorney Jana Edmondson-Cooper, a member of the Supreme Court of Georgia Commission on Interpreters, aims to increase access to justice for non-native English speakers. Originally published on GeorgiaCourts.gov.

The Georgia Supreme Court Commission on Interpreters has received a $15,000 technical assistance grant to develop a model protocol that will help state courts meet their obligations to provide interpreters and other language services. Funding for this project was made available by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) as part of a larger national initiative supported by the State Justice Institute (SJI). SJI was established by federal law in 1984 to award grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts and to foster innovative, efficient solutions to common issues faced by all courts.

“SJI remains committed to improving language access in the state courts, and continues to support national, state, and local court efforts addressing this critical issue,” said Jonathan Mattiello, SJI Executive Director. “We are happy to assist the Commission and its stakeholders in developing this model protocol, which will contribute to language access in Georgia.”

The grant will allow the Commission to draft a step-by-step administrative guide for the provision of language services. The guide, the first of its kind in Georgia, will promote the reliable and efficient provision of language services in state courts throughout Georgia, both for persons with limited English proficiency and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. The guide will be adaptable to local needs.

“The goal of the project is to help Georgia trial courts identify the best ways in which they can address the language needs of our population, from an individual’s first contact with a court to his last,” said Justice Keith R. Blackwell, Chair of the Commission. “We are grateful to the National Center for State Courts and the State Justice Institute for funding this critical project.”

“We understand that trial courts in different parts of the state face different problems,” Justice Blackwell said. “We want to help them identify their options for meeting their obligations to provide language services.”

In addition to creating an administrative guide, the project will identify best practices that courts can use to collect data and assess the specific language needs of the populations that they serve. The project will also identify tools for everyday use in the courts, such as educational brochures for community members and attorneys, and reference materials for judges to use to ensure the proper appointment of qualified interpreters.

Commission member Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper, Bilingual Staff Attorney at the Georgia Legal Services Program in Macon, initiated the effort and will work collaboratively with Shinji Morokuma, staff director for the Commission, to spearhead the project on the Commission’s behalf. Edmondson-Cooper and Morokuma will work closely with consultant Cristina Llop as well as key language access stakeholders to develop the guide. Llop, an attorney and federally certified interpreter, recently served as a consultant for the Judicial Council of California’s Strategic Plan for Language Access, which was unveiled in early 2015.

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GLSP Attorney Jana Edmondson-Cooper Awarded

Jana J. Edmondson-Cooper has been selected to receive an Award of Achievement from the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) of the State Bar of Georgia . Jana has been active with the YLD for several years including graduating from the YLD’s Leadership Academy in 2012 and serving as a Middle District Representative from 2012-2014.  Last year, Jana was appointed to serve on the  2014-2015 YLD Board of Directors as Director of Membership Outreach.   Jana will be honored for her distinguished service to the YLD and presented with the award during the Young Lawyers Division Dinner , which will be held during the State Bar of Georgia’s Annual Meeting at the Marriott Evergreen Conference Center in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The Dinner will take place on Friday, June 19th starting at 7:30pm

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GLSP President of Board of Directors Nears Finish Line for Fundraiser

Damon-Elmore

As published in The Daily Report by Kathleen Baydala Joyner.

By next week, lawyer Damon Elmore will have biked across all 159 of Georgia counties.

Elmore, president of the Georgia Legal Services Program’s board of directors, began his trek last year to raise money for civil legal services. On Thursday, he told lawyers gathered at the State Bar of Georgia’s annual meeting at Stone Mountain that he will bike the last two counties—Union and Towns in north Georgia—on Monday.

As a warm-up, he’s leading a seven-mile ride through Stone Mountain Park on Friday morning.

He’s also hoping to bridge the roughly $2,000 gap toward reaching his goal of $15,900.

The Daily Report caught up with Elmore at the bar meeting to ask what he’s learned on his journey.

How did this idea come about? Why are you biking 159 counties?

It’s just a marriage of two different things that I love: legal services for the poor and cycling. And the cycling gives me the real opportunity to see and sort of feel what the communities that we help and the people that we help look like and sort of be a part of it more directly.

I saw real tangible images of poverty: a lot of businesses out of business, dilapidated houses, long lines outside medical clinics.

What is the financial need right now for legal services?

“Critical” seems cliché but appropriate. And that’s because traditional sources are tighter, and the needs are larger and greater. For legal services, we give help with the private attorneys who work with the clients on cases, but there are so many other things that the money can go toward.

We have lawyers in our satellite offices who are helping six, eight, 10 different counties, having to drive to all of those counties.

What have you learned about the need for legal services as you’ve seen different parts of the state?

Legal services are part of the essential, basic, critical needs of men and women. Legal services help with benefits. They help keep families together. They help ensure students receive fair treatment in schools so they don’t turn into statistics, getting in the pipeline to prison.

Legal services are so connected to a better state overall. I really didn’t put that together at first.

What did you learn about yourself on your tour?

I did a ride two weeks ago in Dade County that sort of summarized what I’ve learned about me. The ride started in Trenton, which is in the Lookout Mountain valley, and the route I planned took me up Cloudland Canyon and up Lookout Mountain. So in the first eight miles, I went up 2,300 feet. And three times, I thought about turning around, because it would have been a descent. But I didn’t.

So, I think the two things that were made manifest for me on that day were: the [Nelson] Mandela quote that it only seems impossible until it is done, and it was the first time in this initiative that I’ve really been proud of what I’ve done.

We haven’t raised $1 million or eradicated poverty, but we’ve had a lot of buzz. And we’ve brought legal services back into the conversation without it being threatening or sounding like the same story line.

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Former GLSP Attorney Named Georgia’s Magistrate of the Year

Patricia Barron was named Georgia’s 2015 Magistrate of the Year at the Georgia Council’s annual meeting in May. Judge Barron, currently Athens-Clarke County Chief Magistrate Court Judge, worked at Georgia Legal Services Program throughout the state for twenty years.

“She was devoted to her clients and set a high standard for her staff during her service as Managing Attorney of the Gainesville office,” GLSP Executive Director Phyllis Holmen remembers of Judge Barron’s work. “We’ve watched her career as Magistrate in Athens, and are proud of the innovations she has brought to that court to underscore her commitment to access to justice.”

Patricia Barron, a native of Atlanta and an alumna of Georgetown University Law Center, also worked at the University of Georgia School of Law’s Family Violence Clinic, where as a managing attorney she trained law students on representing victims of domestic violence. The judge has served at the Athens-Clarke Magistrate Court for nearly fifteen years, and was appointed chief judge in only her second year at the Court.

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GLSP Silent Auction 2015

GLSP Logo

3rd Annual

GLSP Silent Auction

Stone Mountain’s Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort

Stone Mountain, GA

June 18-21, 2015

Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to bid on a variety of wonderful new and unused items for you and your family!  Proceeds will support GLSP’s mission to provide civil legal services to persons with low incomes, creating equal access to justice and opportunities out of poverty in 154 of Georgia’s 159 counties.

If you have a hobby that you’re excited about, here’s your chance to showcase your artwork, photography, floral designs, paintings, illustrations, hand-crafted jewelry, pottery, crocheted or knitted items, and more.  Please send in your donation item with a completed donation form by June 1, 2015 to GLSP, Attn: Silent Auction, 104 Marietta Street, Suite 250, Atlanta GA 30303!  Please contact the Development Office at 404-206-5175 about volunteer opportunities.  Thanks for your support!

Artwork

Jewelry

Gift Baskets

Restaurant Gift Cards/Certificates

Floral Arrangements

Frequent Flyer Miles

Books

Paintings

Photography

Vacation Homes

Hotel Stays

Fashion Accessories

Spa Packages

Tickets to Amusement Parks, Museums, Zoos

Stuffed Animals

Toys

Excursions

And More!

Find the donation form here…

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Honoring Phil Bond

Phil Bond, Senior Staff Attorney and former Managing Attorney of our Macon office, has been chosen by Mercer Law School as this year’s Outstanding Alumnus. The Alumni Board unanimously agreed that his commitment to his work, his clients, and the pursuit of public service made him an ideal candidate for this award. Phil has been with GLSP for 31 years.

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