The Education Law Clinic is part of a program called the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a nationally recognized collaboration between Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC), whose mission is to ensure that children impacted by family violence and other adverse childhood experiences succeed in school. To achieve this mission, TLPI uses multiple strategies to seek remedies for individual children, as well as laws and policies that provide schools with the knowledge and resources they need to meet the needs of all children. TLPI’s advocacy is based on interdisciplinary research and collaboration across a wide array of professional disciplines: education, psychology, neurobiology, medicine, social work, and public policy. Students in the Education Law Clinic help further TLPI’s mission by employing knowledge from these fields to advance the interests of traumatized children through legal representation and in the policy arena.
Direct Client Representation
Students in the Clinic provide direct representation to parents/guardians whose children have been affected by family violence or other adverse experiences and who are not getting the special education services they need. Students receive direct one-to-one mentorship and develop a working knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Massachusetts special education laws.
- interview and counsel client;
- conduct factual investigation and legal research;
- develop case strategies;
- collect and analyze school records;
- draft discovery and pleadings;
- work with experts; and
- negotiate with school personnel at team meetings.
In cases scheduled for full administrative hearings, students appear for pre-hearing motions and conduct direct and cross-examinations of witnesses. In addition to learning the basic knowledge and skills associated with special education practice, clinical students gain an understanding of the impact that trauma from exposure to violence can have on a student’s learning and behavior and then factor this understanding into the analysis of a child’s special education needs. The legal remedies law students obtain through their representation have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of individual children.
Clinic students use the insights learned from their individual cases to ensure that the voices of vulnerable children and families are heard at the policy level. Students participate in projects that utilize TLPI’s multiple advocacy strategies (legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy, community outreach, report writing, coalition building, and media strategies) in order to transform systems that affect the lives of children and families.
Past students have:
- organized legislative briefings at the Massachusetts State House on the impact of trauma on learning;
- helped draft legislation;
- made presentations to expert evaluators and child welfare attorneys on special education law;
- organized a domestic violence shelter outreach program; and
- collaborated in a statewide legislative campaign to promote children’s mental health.
Education Law Clinic: Externships
The Education Law Clinic: Externships focuses on the educational rights of students with an emphasis on the educational success of at-risk, low income students, particularly those who have been traumatized by exposure to adverse experiences, have disabilities, have been or are homeless, or have experienced other barriers to success such as the achievement gap, bullying, truancy, suspensions and expulsions. Many are caught in the school to jail pipeline. Law students will intern with organizations that are addressing these issues. Each student will be placed in either a non-profit organization (such as Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) or a government agency (such as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Legislature, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals).
Placements: Students who enroll in this clinic will be contacted by Liz Solar in the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs to begin the placement process of matching students with externship organizations. Some of the placement organizations ask for a minimum of 15 hours of work. Students will have occasional check-ins with the clinic supervisor throughout the semester. The clinic participants will also come together four times over the course of the semester for 1-hour lunch discussions (lunch provided) on themes relevant to the landscape of Massachusetts education law from the perspective of advocates and the government as well the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s Massachusetts agenda to create safe and supportive schools. Students doing externship opportunities through the Graduate School of Education may join in these interdisciplinary discussions and supervisors will be invited. The dates of the lunch time meetings are: September 22, October 20, November 10, and December 1.
How to Register
The Education Law Clinic is offered in the Fall and Spring semester. You can learn about the required clinical course component, additional requirements, and the clinical registration process, by reading the course catalog description and exploring the links in this section.
In the News
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The Education Law Clinic: Advocating for the children who ‘fell through the cracks’Continue Reading about The Education Law Clinic: Advocating for the children who ‘fell through the cracks’
For Spencer Churchill ’15, one of the most enduring lessons of law school so far has come not from a reading assignment or a research project. He learned it from a child.
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Advocating for students impacted by traumaContinue Reading about Advocating for students impacted by trauma
The first time I met Jessica*, she sat quietly in her living room as her mother explained to us that she had suffered serious abuse and had missed a significant amount of school work. The traumatic experiences had left her with post-traumatic stress. …But what struck me the most about her was not the incredible amount of adversity that she had overcome at a young age; it was her dedication to education.
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