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Case of Alberto R.*

During the Winter 2015 quarter, YELP celebrated a wonderful victory with their fourteen-year-old client, Alberto R.,* and his family.  YELP students Holly Mariella (JD ’16) and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan (JD ’16) took on Alberto's intertwined expulsion and special education cases and worked hard to reach an outstanding outcome: Alberto’s school district agreed both to drop a pending expulsion case and to place him in a small special education school with robust behavior supports.

Alberto is a ninth grader in special education.  He has ADHD and has struggled with extreme behavioral problems in the school environment, including talking back to teachers, skipping classes, and a general difficulty with impulse control, for many years.  By December of his ninth-grade year, he had already been suspended for more than 20 days and was facing a recommendation for expulsion from his school district.  Expulsion in ninth grade would have been catastrophic for this young man.

This wasn’t an easy case.  Although it was initially apparent that there were some legal levers, for example the school district had suspended Alberto for more days than the law permits, none of those levers alone had the kind of weight needed to stop Alberto's expulsion, let alone secure him a more appropriate special education placement.

Holly and Rylee had to do the footwork required in direct services lawyering – in-depth factual investigation and analysis, difficult client interviewing and counseling, and ultimately creative and collaborative problem-solving – to reach this outstanding outcome.  In particular, this case taught Holly and Rylee first-hand the value of knowing “the facts” inside and out and the importance of building and understanding relationships in lawyering.

Unlike legal casebooks might inadvertently suggest, “the facts” do not come neatly prepackaged and analyzed in the first few paragraphs of an appellate decision.  On the ground, “facts” are messy and subject to an infinite number of interpretations.  It was Holly and Rylee’s in-depth review of Alberto’s voluminous school record that uncovered the few critical documents that changed the game completely in Alberto’s case.  Without this field work and development of “the facts,” Alberto would probably be serving a year-long expulsion right now rather than attending his new special education school full-time and getting back on track to graduate in three years.

Alberto is determined to use this opportunity to learn to manage his behaviors so that he can return to his local high school in the future.  If he is successful, Holly and Rylee will have helped to change the course of this young man’s life.  Rather than ending up in juvenile hall in the near future (and perhaps remaining in the system for years to come – another victim of the school-to-prison pipeline that pulls in many of our local low-income youth of color), Alberto now has the chance to finish and graduate from high school with a diploma and then choose any education or career path.

His mother has been tearful with gratitude for the changes she is seeing and her new-found relief and hope.  YELP wishes Alberto and his family continued success at school in the coming years!

*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.