From a Lawyer’s View: Resolution of complaints against Guilford and Vance County school systems

Resolution of complaints against Guilford and Vance County school systems means better services for incarcerated students with disabilities

By Tessa Hale, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina’s statewide education justice project, Advocates for Children’s Services.

The first time I visited my client at Vance County Jail, an adult facility, I asked him what he did to fill his time.  He told me that he did push-ups.  He was just 17 years old at that time.  As his education attorney, I knew that as a student who had long ago been identified as needing special education, he was entitled to an education provided by the local school district.  His mother had alerted us to the fact that as he sat in jail, he had not been receiving any educational services whatsoever.  At that time, this client’s case was one of three in our office in which the client had received no educational services while incarcerated in adult jail.  The other two had been incarcerated in Guilford County.  Our education team at Legal Aid decided to file two systemic state complaints on May 29, 2020 with the Department of Public Instruction.

We are proud to announce that the systemic state complaints Legal Aid of North Carolina filed against Guilford County Schools and Vance County Schools have recently been resolved.  The Guilford County Schools complaint was resolved via confidential agreement. The Vance County complaint was resolved following an investigation by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. More information, including links to documents, follows. 

Guilford County

Legal Aid was pleased with the opportunity to work with Guilford County Schools (GCS) to advance policies and procedures, some of which were already underway by the district, that will enable GCS to improve services for incarcerated students with disabilities by:

  • Reviewing and revising current procedures to require that all GCS students with disabilities incarcerated in any Guilford County jail receive appropriate special educational services;
  • Designating an employee to be responsible for ensuring legally compliant special educational services for students incarcerated in local jails for more than ten school days as well as continuity of educational services when the students exit from local jails;
  • Training special education staff regarding appropriate special educational services for incarcerated students; and
  • Conducting an internal audit for the 2019-2020 school year to determine whether special education services and related safeguards were properly afforded to GCS students with disabilities who were incarcerated in local jails for more than 10 school days and had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) during incarceration.

Learn more

Vance County

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s investigation into our complaint uncovered widespread violations of the rights of incarcerated students with disabilities in Vance County Schools (VCS). The department has mandated VCS to follow a corrective action plan, which includes:

  • Various trainings for staff, not only regarding incarcerated students but also concerning other general procedural requirements for students with disabilities;
  • Development of procedures to serve students incarcerated in the local jail;
  • Compensatory education for the named student in the complaint; and
  • Identification of eligible students who were incarcerated with the named complainant and did not receive appropriate services, for the purposes of providing them with compensatory education.

Learn more

The resolution of these complaints comes at a time when the population of youth incarcerated in adult jails has shrunk significantly. As a result of a new state law that went into effect on August 1, 2020, no more minors will be held in adult jail. Still, because the right to special education continues for students who are 18 to 21 and have not yet graduated, the developments in both the GCS and VCS resolutions will help ensure that eligible incarcerated students at all stages receive the special education services they are entitled to. Further, some students who may be identified through audits and who were improperly served before the law was passed will now be entitled to remedies.

Week in Review: Sept 7-11

Happy Friday Readers! Another week down in 2020 and we’re still all trying to figure it out. But no worries, OJD is here to help along the way. Before we get started, we take a moment to recognize the importance of today, and remember those lives lost and the heroes from September 11, 2001.

Tip of the Week – Prior Record Level Matters

If your client’s prior record places him/her in a position for the judge to enter a level 1 OR 2 dispositional level, ALWAYS argue for a level 1 disposition.  You can find a copy of the disposition chart here.  Make sure to check the final written order for accuracy.

Who could turn down free learning? CLE OFFER!

Friday September 25, 2020, 2:30-3:30 PM OJD is hosting “Defend Children From ICE.” Presented by Helen Parsonage, Board Certified Immigration Specialist and FREE to the first 35 DEFENDERS who register. Discussing the topic of children and immigration, strategies in your defense and other great information, You DON’T want to miss this training. Register herePLEASE PUT YOUR BAR NUMBER IN THE JOB FIELD BOX.

Symposium: The Roles of Prosecutor and Public Defender in Criminal Justice Reform

October 2, 2020 from 10:00AM-3:00PM (EST). This will be a virtual symposium presented by the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities (NC CRED) in collaboration with the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. The Keynote Speaker is Jonathan Rapping, Founder and President, Gideon’s Promise, Atlanta and will also feature presentations from prosecutors and defenders from across the country and of course, North Carolina. You can see a list of speakers and topics, by clicking HERE. To register, click HERE. Thank you!

“A Lawyer’s View” Needs an October Submission

LaTobia is looking for guest bloggers to contribute to our Week in Review. Defenders and those in juvenile justice are welcome to write in on topics of their expertise: secure custody, mental health in juveniles, etc! We want to hear from you! There’s plenty more weeks left in the year! Reach out to LaTobia here for more information.

From a Lawyer’s View: The Importance of Creativity in the Representation of Juveniles at Disposition

Happy Friday Readers! No Week in Review this week, but please keep reading for our 2nd installment in our new series: “A Lawyer’s View.”

The Importance of Creativity in the Representation of Juveniles at Disposition: Advocating for Alternative Dispositions

Dispositional hearings often feel a bit like the players are on the scene of the Bill Murray movie “Ground Hog Day.” The juvenile court counselor presents his or her recommendations to the court. The attorney has no questions but desires to be heard. The attorney says a few nice things about his or her client. The Court makes findings, and then adopts the recommendations of the court counselor. This scene is repeated regularly every day in delinquency court.

Although much of the time the recommendations of the juvenile court counselor are well-suited to address the juvenile’s rehabilitative and treatment needs, it is the duty of the juvenile’s attorney to make recommendations for alternative solutions when appropriate. Often, that necessitates a bit of creativity on the part of the attorney for the juvenile.

N.C.G.S. §7B-2506 provides a comprehensive list of dispositional alternatives available to the court for delinquent juveniles. These dispositional alternatives are affected by the dispositional limits for each class of offense and the delinquency history level of the juvenile. (See N.C.G.S. §7B-2506-2508)

The first step to making creative suggestions to the court regarding the dispositional alternatives is for a juvenile’s attorney to make themselves knowledgeable about the services available in their community. Attorneys who represent juveniles in delinquency cases should also get to know their clients, and the client’s parents in order to determine the juvenile’s rehabilitative and treatment needs.

Oftentimes, parents of the juvenile are well-equipped to ensure that the juvenile’s needs are being met. Attorneys should meet with their clients ahead of the scheduled court date and make inquiry of the parents regarding the needs of the juveniles, and what provisions can be made prior to the disposition to show the Court that the parents can meet these rehabilitative and treatment needs. Parents can arrange for therapy, substance abuse treatment, private community service, or any number of other services. Parents can implement in-home punishments such as a curfew, attend school regularly, remain on good behavior, not associate with anyone deemed inappropriate by the parent, or be at any place deemed inappropriate by the parent. These are typical conditions of a juvenile’s probation that do not necessarily require supervision by a juvenile court counselor. The juvenile’s attorney should prepare to inform the court regarding the conditions put in place by the juvenile’s parents, the parents’ plans for implementation, and provide examples of how the parents’ plans are being carried out in the home.

When an appropriate plan can be implemented by a juvenile’s parents, the juvenile’s attorney can ask the court to dismiss the disposition, or to place conditions on the juvenile under the parents’ supervision. Remember not all juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent require the supervision of a juvenile court counselor to address their rehabilitative and treatment needs. Attorneys should not rely on the juvenile court counselor’s court report to determine what those rehabilitative and treatment needs are. Attorneys should be prepared at disposition to advise the court regarding the needs of the juvenile and to make recommendations regarding the best way to address those needs.

Attorneys can get too comfortable with the “groundhog effect,” walking into court on the disposition court date, reading the recommendations of the juvenile court counselor, and not coming prepared to make their own recommendations. Oftentimes, this is because they assume that the judges are also on autopilot and reflexively adopt those recommendations. Judges look to the juvenile court counselor, the assistant district attorney, and the attorney for the juvenile to inform them of the juvenile’s rehabilitative and treatment needs and to make suggestions tailored to address these needs. Taking a little time to educate yourself about resources available in the community and to inform yourself about the needs of the client will assist you with becoming more creative in your suggestions to the court, and in achieving a better outcome for your client.

Written by: Honorable Christine Underwood. Judge Underwood presides over district court in Judicial District 22A, which includes Alexander and Iredell counties. She has been on the bench since January 2009. Before that, Judge Underwood was in private practice. She held a contract with the State of North Carolina to represent juveniles in delinquency court. Her other areas of practice included parent representation in Abuse/Neglect/Dependency court, criminal law, and family law. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Appalachian State University in 1994 and received her Juris Doctor from Campbell University’s Normal Adrian Wiggins School of Law in 2004.

Week in Review: Aug 10-14

Another Friday in the books! Thanks for stopping by to read up on OJD’s week! And stay tuned next week for a brand new A Lawyer’s View installment!

First, an Announcement from AOC:

NCAOC’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) has provided legal advice and guidance to court officials around the State regarding remote juvenile hearings and confidentiality of exhibits. This is a brief FAQ regarding technology, sharing screens and other topics surrounding WebEx hearings in juvenile court. Please read the full document here. It is not intended and should not be interpreted as legal advice or guidance to parties to individual proceedings before the courts.

Tip of the Week

Suppression motions aren’t often used in the District Court setting (outside DWI cases), however juvenile court offers many opportunities for suppression.  The juvenile code outlines the procedure for filing a motion to suppress (§7B-2408.5) and it may be made either in writing before the adjudicatory hearing or orally during the hearing.  Consider whether or not your client’s statement or identifications may be subject to suppression.  Remember – “in custody” is an objective test!  The test is whether a “reasonable juvenile” in the position of the respondent would believe him/herself to be in custody OR that s/he had been deprived of freedom of action in some significant way, and is not based on the subjective intent of the interrogator or the perception of the person under questioning.  That means if your client is in the principal’s office and the SRO is standing in front of the door, would your client feel free to leave?

Thank You!

To everyone that joined our Covid-19: State of our Mental Health Part II webinar last night! Thank you to our speakers, Dorothy Hairston-Mitchell, Jesse Edmonds & Nikki Croteau-Johnson you three did wonderful, giving great insight into our youth in and out of the juvenile system and how best to serve them during these times. From discussions about school, detention, ways to get active and to monitor our children’s mental health, we discussed it all. A bit of everyone joined too, from students to law professionals to the general public. Such great questions and comments! Big takeaway: It takes a village to raise a child.

Don’t Forget!

OJD is looking for guest bloggers to contribute to our new series: A Lawyer’s View. Defenders and those in juvenile justice are welcome to write in on topics of their expertise: secure custody, mental health in juveniles, etc! We want to hear from you! There’s plenty more weeks left in the year! Reach out to LaTobia here for more information.

Week in Review: July 27-31

Good morning readers! It’s the last week in July, can you believe it? Is time flying by or is it just us? Let’s start your weekend off with a new OJD blog.

Raise the Age Tip of the Week

How Do I Know the State Will be Seeking the Gang Enhancement Against My Juvenile?

Under current law, there is no process for notice to the juvenile and the juvenile’s attorney that the state is seeking the gang enhancement.  As the juvenile’s attorney, you should consider the following:

  • Get a copy of the gang assessment from DJJ prior to adjudication
  • Argue that the notice of gang enhancement be presented pre-adjudication
  • Develop a theory of defense against client’s involvement in gang activity
  • Prepare for a hearing on the issue
  • Request a hearing, similar to an adjudicatory hearing
  • Request the court make findings on the record and appeal where  appropriate

A Bit of Housekeeping!

OJD is working from home for now and if you need to reach us for a case consultation, upcoming training, or have a question about court? Don’t forget you can email us for a faster response! Click here for links to our email addresses.

Upcoming Events

August 7, 2020 from 3:00-4:00 PMJen Story, Tessa Hale, Mary Stansell are presenting a new CLE: Making the Connection- Education Advocacy and Juvenile Defense. Come to this session to learn the basics of special education laws and school-based intervention plans; how to issue-spot when students’ unaddressed needs in schools are exacerbating their behaviors; and how to incorporate this knowledge into your advocacy in a way that sets juveniles up for long-term success.  You can register for this CLE here and will be sent the meeting link information afterwards.

Thursday, August 13, 6:00-7:30 please join us for COVID-19: The State of Our Mental Health Part II. This session will focus on the mental health and issues younger adults and youth are facing due to this pandemic. Featuring Nikki Croteau-Johnson, MA, LPA, Clinical Program Director at NC Child Treatment Program and Dorothy Hairston-Mitchell, Clinical Associate Professor and Supervising Attorney for the Juvenile Law Clinic at NCCU. Please click here to register for the event. You will receive the Zoom link afterward registering.

Opportunity!

LaTobia is looking for guest bloggers to contribute to our Week in Review. Defenders and those in juvenile justice are welcome to write in on topics of their expertise: secure custody, mental health in juveniles, etc! We want to hear from you! There’s plenty more weeks left in the year! Reach out to LaTobia here for more information.

THAT’S ALL FOR JULY! HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

Week in Review: July 6-10

Happy Friday Readers! 2nd week in July done and over, but was plenty busy for OJD. Webinars, meetings, court, you name it! So here’s your weekly recap plus a great tip.

Tip of the Week:

Tip of the Week – My Client is in Detention… How Do I Find Them?

There are currently eight detention centers in North Carolina:

  • Alexander Juvenile Detention Center in Taylorsville
  • Cabarrus Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Concord
  • Cumberland Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Fayetteville
  • New Hanover Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Castle Hayne
  • Pitt Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Greenville
  • Wake Juvenile Detention Center in Raleigh
  • Durham County Youth Home in Durham
  • Guilford County Detention Center in Greensboro

Check with your court counselor’s office to find out which location your client is being held, and check here for contact information to visit and call your client.

Webinar, Anyone?

  • NC CRED is hosting a webinar, Wednesday, July 15th from 3:00-4:30 PM entitled, “Balancing The Scales: The Injustice Of Confederate Monuments In Public Spaces.” This webinar how these figures are antiethical to equality under the law and it’s placement at courthouses, plus more. To read more about the presenters and to register for this event, please click here.
  • Join NACDL for a Free Virtual Discussion on Race + Pretrial Practices, Tuesday, July 14th at 4:00 PM entitled, “Policing Black Bodies: Race and Pretrial Practices.” This webinar will discuss the issues of racial bias and racial disparity and how they are pervasive in the criminal legal system. To read more on the details of this webinar and to register, click here.
  • DEFENDERS! DON’T MISS OUT ON A FREE CLE! July 24, 2020 at 3:00-4:00 PMInterviewing and Counseling Youth: Presented by Dorothy Hairston-Mitchell, Clinical Assistant Professor & Supervising Attorney, Juvenile Law Clinic at NCCU. You can register here and will be sent link information afterwards.

OJD is covering CLE costs for the first 30 registrants and CLE is pending.

Want to meet our Summer 2020 Interns? Read below!

Alex Palme

My name is Alexander Jeffrey Palme and I am from Sanford, NC. I am 24 years old and am married.  I have been playing various sports since I was very young and currently play professional soccer in the UPSL for Moros FC in my free time. I have degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where I also wrote a study that I self-published on the recommendation of my professor. I will be in my third year of law school at NCCU and am currently operating under a practicing certificate from the NC bar. I plan to take the UBE next summer and would ultimately love to be on the bench. Last summer I clerked for Legal Aid’s Senior Law Project in Asheville, NC. 

Alex is currently assisting in case research with our Assistant Juvenile Defenders and helping outline our Pocket Guides which will be distributed to defenders soon!

Terris Riley

Mrs. Terris Riley, a native of South Carolina, is law student at North Carolina Central University School of Law with an expected graduation in 2022. As a non-traditional student, she has over 22 years of experience in the Information Technology industry—both private and public sector. She has received numerous local, regional and national awards for her leadership in technology. In 2013, Mrs. Riley’s IT firm was awarded and recognized as South Carolina’s No. 3 Best Performing Business in the State. She later founded a non-profit to pursue activism work for Justice Reform. Prior to relocating to North Carolina for law school, Mrs. Riley served as the Director of Constituent Support for Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and South Carolina House Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the longest serving Member of the SC General Assembly. Upon graduation, she desires to work as an Assistant United States Attorney.

Terris is currently assisting with webinar series and communications, and she brings with her experience with the Virtual Justice Project.

We can’t wait to see the work you two do this summer with OJD!

Week in Review: May 4-8

Thanks for stopping by for another Week in Review! Plenty of meetings and calls this week as NC gears up to reopen our courts and we’re so ready to share new ways to pursue juvenile justice in this new time. Remember, if you have any questions or suggestions, we are more than willing to help.

Also! OJD is looking to develop and provide webinar training to our Juvenile Defenders throughout this pandemic. We are currently requesting topics and information you would like to have discussed. Please email Austine Long with your thoughts. Thank you.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Youth Development Center commitment

We are focusing our Tips of the Week on stages of juvenile proceedings that disproportionately impact youth of color. This week we are considering commitment to a youth development center (YDC):

  • Whenever disposition is being entered for your client, always argue for the lowest level of disposition.  A small number of points, or a violation of probation, can quickly send your client to YDC.
  • Consult with the court counselor and the ADA on their recommendations to the court.  If possible, negotiate a lesser disposition than YDC commitment before court.
  • Meet with your client before the dispositional hearing and provide the court with an alternative disposition plan that considers the safety of the community and your client’s needs.
  • Provide in court testimony from supportive community members.
  • Consider offering the court recent recidivism studies which indicate that commitment to YDC is factor for increased recidivism in juveniles. 

Resources

  • May 14, 2020 at 11 AM: NC CRED presents an interactive round-table webinar with leading experts in the North Carolina public health and criminal justice systems. The webinar will explore current conditions in North Carolina and discuss actionable steps to help mitigate the adverse effects on people in North Carolina who is a webinar about preparing and conducting video conference secure custody hearings. The speaker will discuss best practices, confidentiality and other important issues concerning video conferencing hearings.are involved with the criminal justice system. To register for this webinar, click HERE.
  • From the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network member call, “COVID-19: The Heightened Dangers of Confinement” here are some resources they discussed.
  1. Distinction between medical isolation and solitary (AMEND at UCSF)
  2. A list of disability specific issues/resources (NDRN)
  3. Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings
  4. Council of Juvenile Justice Administrators
  5. National Commission on Correctional Healthcare
  6. National Partnership on Juvenile Service
  7. Stop Solitary for Kids
  8. Tolerance.org

Thanks for stopping by!

Week in Review: Apr 27 – May 1

Welcome to May Readers! April went by a whole lot faster than March and we’re glad everyone is still safe and joining us for another OJD Week in Review.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Secure Custody

We are focusing our Tips of the Week on stages of juvenile proceedings that disproportionately impact youth of color. This week we are considering secure custody:

  • If possible, find out if your client is being detained before the initial secure custody hearing.  It’s critical to start the attorney-client relationship early and inform your client of their rights as well as what to expect at the hearing.
  • If you meet your client for the first time at the initial secure custody hearing, take a few minutes to introduce yourself, describe your role, and answer any questions about the hearing.
  • Come up with a plan for release:  reasonable conditions on your client, alternative placements, or other information that will help the court support a decision for release.
  • If your client is shackled, argue for the removal prior to court starting.  Shackling has an intense, lasting impact on your client and removal can be a good first step to developing confidence with your client. 
  • If your client is not released, make a plan to contact or visit them in detention to discuss next steps.  Make sure the parent/guardian has the contact information for the detention center as well to facilitate calls or visits.
  • If your client is released, make an appointment to meet before the next court date.  Review any conditions of release and encourage your client to contact you with any questions.

JOB OPPORTUNITY

IDS is seeking applicants for the Contracts Administrator and the position has been posted here:

https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/northcarolina/jobs/2768601/contracts-administrator

The position closes May 7 at 5pm. This is a great way to contribute to indigent defense in North Carolina for a detailed and energetic individual.

RESOURCES

  1. Resources from Racial Justice for Youth: A Toolkit for Defenders can help you advocate for your many detained clients who are youth of color:

Sign up to access the Toolkit’s defender-only resources.

2. SAVE THE DATE: THURSDAY, MAY 14 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM

COVID-19: Implications of the Pandemic within the Criminal Justice System

NC CRED presents an interactive round-table webinar with leading experts in the North Carolina public health and criminal justice systems.

3. Rewatch Strategies for Youth Webinar: Improving Law Enforcement/Youth Interactions in Times of Crisis

HOPE THE START OF YOUR MONTH AND WEEKEND ARE GREAT!

THANKS FOR READING! JOIN US NEXT FRIDAY!

Week in Review: April 20-24

Hello from Friday with OJD. Another work from home week means that OJD is rounding up resources and information for you, anything we can do to help. It always goes without saying but thank you so much for your dedication to continuing the good (juvenile justice) fight, even from your homes.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Complaints Received

We are focusing our Tips of the Week on stages of juvenile proceedings that disproportionately impact youth of color. This week we are considering complaints received:

Attorneys are appointed to cases once a complaint is received by juvenile justice, then filed as a complaint.  So generally attorneys can’t impact whether or not a complaint is received.  But attorneys can prevent the case from going to adjudication by:

  • Asking for a dismissal for various reasons, such as the victim no longer wishes to prosecute or the juvenile has already made amends through a mediation program or restitution.
  • Continue the case for an opportunity for the juvenile to participate in a program such as suggested above, or Teen Court if your jurisdiction has one.
  • After an admission, ask the court to informally defer prosecution without an adjudication.

Resources

  1. IDS recently released information on how PAC can file fee apps for teleconferencing and interim fee apps. Please visit ncids.org for more information.
  2. Legal Aid-ACS has synthesized the federal and state guidance that has come out to date and offer concrete tips and resources for advocating for students during school closures. You can get more information here. There are five documents: 
  3. On Friday, May 1st from 11 AM to 12 PM, Legal Aid-ACS is also hosting a Coronavirus-and-Education Know Your Rights training via Zoom and Facebook Live.  The ZOOM link is at: https://zoom.us/j/91168580266. This session will include overviews of recent guidance, along with lots of practical tips for advocating for students. For those who can’t attend the live session, a video recording will also be available on Legal Aid of NC’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/LegalAidNC ) for families and advocates to access whenever they are available.

THANKS FOR READING!!

AS ALWAYS, HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND AND BE SAFE!!

Week in Review: Apr 13-17

Happy Friday Readers! It’s been another hard (at home) working week for OJD, but with a constant focus on providing the most beneficial and practical information during this time. This week we don’t have a tip for you, rather an important message regarding racial justice for juveniles of color and secure custody. With COVID-19 affecting our detention centers and YDCs, it’s vital to remember that fair treatment includes every juvenile. Read below for viable resources to combat that.

In June 2019 a new study on North Carolina disproportionate minority contact was published.   Using data from DJJ, the study showed that the race of a juvenile contributes to disproportionate negative outcomes, especially for black youth.  Specifically, black youth were more likely to have complaints filed against them, be placed in secure custody, or committed to a youth development center (YDC).  In an attempt to better serve youth color in the system, here are several resources on representing youth of color:

Other Resources from the National Juvenile Defender Center

In addition, the next three tips of the week will focus on the stages of complaints filed, secure custody, and youth development center commitment.

You can also download this post here for your keeping.

North Carolina Defenders

Yesterday we released an important notice regarding operational changes to instituted by state juvenile justice officials in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that may affect youth held in detention. Please continue to refer to that release for resources on how best to serve your clients in secure custody and for the encouragement of alternative options.

THANKS FOR READING AND STAY TUNED FOR NEXT WEEK!

BE SAFE AND STAY HEALTHY!