BY CLINTON DICK
Only a few years ago, Harvard Law School students interested in educational issues in the law had almost nowhere to go. No specific outreach program provided students with an opportunity to work in related educational community activities, and few classes were dedicated to law and education. But when 2L Brooke Richie (who did a joint degree at the Kennedy School) and 3L Brooke Abola arrived in 2000, the problem started to be solved.
“I got here and realized there were no outreach programs that combined education, law and policy,” Richie commented. “Over the course of our 1L year, [Abola] and I started to talk about forming a group that could dedicate itself to education issues, bring interested people together, and work to get classes that focus on education, law and policy.”
The result of their vision was a restructured and revitalized Advocates for Education, a then-defunct group which now boasts 60 members. The group’s primary mission is to become a nucleus of education and law information, especially as it relates to internships, speaker events and community outreach programs.
“Many people feel like when they get here, because they don’t have a channel to pursue educational issues, they may have to put those interests on hold,” Richie observed. “We want to provide students with the resources so they feel like they have options,” she stated.
Additionally, both students said they hope to use the organization to provide legal services to educational institutions. Among the current possibilities is a clinical program that would allow students to serve as educational advocates in administrative hearings.
Members of Advocates for Education also put together an annual symposium on educational issues. Last year’s seminar, “Children on the Fringes,” examined how the traditional functions of education were inadequate for the needs of homeless and foster children, as well as those in juvenile detention. Participants in the symposium discussed how traditional educators, since they assume that children have both a home and at least one parent, construct a system whereby students can best function only when those criteria are met.
Participants also looked at how children in juvenile detention are oftentimes placed in holding while the Department of Youth Services (DYS) waits for beds to become available.
“While they are either in holding or in DYS,” Abola said, “these children do not get an equivalent educational experience.”
This year’s symposium, which is tentatively scheduled for April, will focus on the “No Child Left Behind” legislation signed by President Bush last January. “We aim to focus on the way the legislation fails to deal with children with special needs, as well as the reasonableness of teacher qualifications,” Richie said.
Although both students stressed that Advocates for Education is a non-partisan group, it does have an interest in providing information on educational issues during elections. This year’s critical issue was Proposition 2, a ballot initiative in Massachusetts designed to immerse non-native speakers of English in English-only programs.
“Our goal was to raise awareness of the issue, not take a stand either way,” Abola said. However, Abola added that based on her teaching experience in Oakland, CA, after a similar proposition was passed, little changed because parents had the choice to opt out of the program.
Both students also praised the work of Prof. Martha Minow, who is serving as faculty advisor for the organization.
“I have great hopes that the group will simultaneously help to meet a real need among elementary and secondary school students for advocacy and a real chance for law students to gain experience and even potentially meet the pro bono requirement,” Minow said of the group.