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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

ACLU Secures Major Victory in Education Rights Case with Yale Law School Clinic

Last week, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California announced a major class action settlement in an education rights case supported by the Yale Law School Education Adequacy Project (EAP) Clinic, ending a practice in which routine misbehavior in school put children in a diversion program similar to criminal probation.

“With this settlement, Riverside County ensures that diversion does not result in net widening and respects the due process rights of youth,” Sylvia Torres-Guillén, director of education equity at the ACLU Foundations of California and attorney of record for the litigation, said in an announcement on July 25. “This is a big step forward in re-envisioning a diversion program that supports and protects students instead of setting them up for failure.”

READ:  ACLU’s commentary on the case. 


On behalf of all affected students and Sigma Beta Xi, a local nonprofit serving at-risk youth, the ACLU, the National Center for Youth Law, and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP filed a lawsuit in 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California challenging the “Youth Accountability Team” (YAT) program run by the Riverside County Probation Department in public schools across Riverside County, California.

Under the YAT program, children as young as 12 were handcuffed in school and funneled into a supervision regimen akin to criminal probation for mundane childhood misbehavior, such as kicking around an orange in the schoolyard. Moreover, a disproportionate number of low-income and Black and Latinx students were referred to YAT for the most negligible offenses — a credible sign of racial discrimination in the program’s enforcement regime, according to the plaintiffs. Since 2001, thousands of students have been under YAT supervision.

In collaboration with the ACLU, the EAP Clinic participated in the case at its inception, including pre-litigation research and analysis, legal drafting, and litigation strategy.

“Children deserve to be inspired and empowered in our public schools — not handcuffed and criminalized,” said Matt Nguyen ’19, an alumnus of the EAP Clinic. “Today’s landmark victory represents a crucial step in dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and in building a more equitable future for kids across California.”

Last week’s announcement follows months of settlement negotiations and marks the end to a yearlong legal battle. Pursuant to the settlement, Riverside County will make sweeping reforms to its YAT program. In particular, Riverside County has agreed to:

  • Stop referring students to YAT for childish misbehavior and absences

  • Expunge the probation records of many students previously referred to YAT

  • Furnish court-appointed counsel for students subsequently referred to YAT

  • Provide more positive and individualized support for vulnerable students

  • Refrain from violating students’ rights under the 1st and 4th Amendment

  • Ensure mandatory training in revised program policies for YAT personnel

  • Guarantee community representation and oversight over the YAT program

  • Distribute grants totalling $7 million to youth development nonprofits

  • Cooperate with independent monitoring from juvenile justice experts

“Creating learning environments conducive to the success of all California children is essential,” said Brandon Levin ’21 of the EAP Clinic. “The clinic is fortunate to have been able to contribute to this effort.”

Nguyen and Levin, both Southern California natives, were principal architects of the ACLU-EAP partnership. Their collaboration with Torres-Guillén brought the EAP Clinic’s pro bono consultancy to ACLU litigation. Other EAP members who worked on this matter include co-directors Lydia Fuller ’19 and Sesenu Woldemariam ’19, alongside Arjun Ramamurti ’18, Justin Smallwood ’19, John Gonzalez ’20, Katrin Márquez ’20, and Megan Mumford ’20. Clinical professors David Rosen ’69, Alex Knopp, and Alex Taubes ’15 supervised the EAP effort.