Smith v. Berkeley Unified School District, No. C-04-3306 WDB (N.D. Cal.)
In a closely watched civil rights lawsuit involving the Berkeley Unified School District, YELP and its co-counsel, Legal Services for Children, Inc. and Bingham McCutchen LLP, achieved a notable settlement for students of color who were subject to unlawful school discipline procedures. Under the agreement, African American and Latino students, who filed the federal class action lawsuit in August 2004 for being wrongfully expelled from Berkeley High School were allowed to return to classes. The students alleged that they were denied their constitutional right to a formal hearing before being excluded from school for various disciplinary reasons. "This is a noteworthy victory for the students and the community," said William Abrams, co-counsel on the case and current partner at the law firm, Bingham McCutchen. "Now that their due process rights have been enforced, the students can get back to the classroom and move forward with their education." As part of the settlement in the case, the Berkeley School District has committed to respect the constitutional rights of students, and to reduce the disproportionate impact of its policies on students of color. In addition, unlawfully excluded students were to receive tutoring and other services to compensate for the time they were wrongfully excluded. "I am very pleased with the settlement because it not only affects my son, but it will prevent other students from being mistreated in the future," commented Lagertha Smith, mother of Yarman Smith, one of the student plaintiffs in the case. "Being involved in this lawsuit has given my son more self esteem, since he was empowered to stand up for his rights." Bill Koski, director of the Youth and Education Law Clinic added, "To Superintendent Michelle Lawrence’s credit, the Berkeley School District recognizes that students are entitled to due process. The agreement reached yesterday shows that the District is committed to ensuring that students will no longer be wrongfully excluded from Berkeley schools."