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Agreement Sends Wrongfully Expelled Minority Students Back to Berkeley High

Publication Date: 
March 15, 2005
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Berkeley, Calif.--A closely watched civil rights lawsuit involving the Berkeley Unified School District was settled out of court yesterday. African American and Latino students who filed a federal class action lawsuit, Smith v. Berkeley Unified School District, in August 2004 for being wrongfully expelled from Berkeley High School will be 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 senior partner at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop LLP, who represented the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis. "Now that their due process rights have been enforced, the students can get back to the classroom and move forward with their education."

Pillsbury Winthrop joined Stanford Law School's Youth and Education Law Clinic and San Francisco-based Legal Services for Children in championing the rights of the Berkeley students in the Smith case.

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. Once the district court approves the settlement, the affected students will be reinstated to school and will 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," said 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."

The Youth and Education Law Clinic was launched at Stanford Law School in 2001 to provide first-rate services to low-income families, while serving as a valuable pedagogical vehicle for aspiring attorneys.

Students and attorneys at the law clinic participate in a wide variety of educational rights and reform work, including direct representation of youth and families in special education and school discipline matters, community outreach and education, school reform litigation, and policy research and advocacy.

Legal Services for Children was founded in 1975 as the first nonprofit law firm for children and youth in the country and since then it has provided free legal and social services to children and youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. Legal Services for Children provides assistance with dependencies, guardianships, emancipations, and hearings arising out of school discipline, special education, benefits, immigration, and other children's rights matters.

Pillsbury Winthrop LLP is an international law firm well known for its commitment to pro bono projects. It has 16 worldwide offices and core practice areas in capital markets, technology, real estate, financial services, litigation, intellectual property, and global energy.