PUBLISHED:January 28, 2014

Clinic faculty and students assist efforts to prevent bias in school policing

Duke’s Children’s Law Clinic has joined a legal challenge to school policing policies in Wake County, North Carolina. The clinic signed on to a complaint filed in mid-January by Advocates for Children’s Services of Legal Aid of North Carolina alleging discrimination and unlawful criminalization caused by school policing policies in the Wake County Public School System. Two of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit were represented by clinic faculty and students.

The complaint comes on the heels of new recommendations from the Obama administration intended to eliminate a “school-to-prison pipeline” for minority students, and has been the subject of extensive media coverage. Clinic Director Jane Wettach has offered her analysis of the school-to-prison pipeline as it applies to North Carolina in a short film produced by students at Duke’s Center for Documentary studies, and in an article about Durham County’s school discipline policies.

Clinic Supervising Attorney Brenda Berlin, said that W. David Maxwell ’14 and Aasma Aasma Ahmad LLM ’14 “met with and developed the stories in the complaint of two of the eight individual complainant witnesses.” In both cases, the students successfully challenged  their suspensions from school but still faced criminal charges stemming from the incidents.  

“Funneling students into the prison system is a devastating outcome for minor student misbehavior, especially in our state, where 16 and 17 year old students are treated as adults in the criminal system,” says Berlin, who signed on to the complaint on behalf of the clinic. “With this complaint we hope that Wake County and the law enforcement agencies providing services in their schools carefully reexamine the consequences of excessive school policing and take meaningful efforts to stop punishing students in ways that are significantly disproportionate to their behavior, have devastating long-term consequences and disproportionately impact African American students and students with disabilities.”

The federal complaint has been widely reported, including stories in the following outlets: