The Youth Law Project (YLP) works with children and teenagers who are facing long term suspensions and expulsions from school, delinquency or CHINS petitions, and youth at-risk of having such petitions filed against them. The YLP seeks to get these young people the educational, health, mental health, and other services necessary to stay in their homes and communities and out of the juvenile justice system. The type of work the YLP does includes representation at school disciplinary hearings and special education meetings and proceedings.
The YLP does not provide representation in delinquency or CHINS cases, but works closely with the public defenders and court-appointed counsel who do to determine how best to meet the youth’s needs.
To determine your eligibility for services, we encourage you to call the New Hampshire Legal Assistance local branch office nearest you, or visit www.nhlegalaid.org.
Mary came to NHLA as a 15 year-old transgender youth who identifies as female. While advanced academically, she had acquired few credits her freshman year due to longstanding emotional issues and a pattern of disrupted residential placements through the juvenile justice system. Because she is so bright, her family and juvenile case worker had been unable to secure the necessary services and accommodations to allow her to make progress academically. NHLA negotiated with Mary’s school district to provide an appropriate service plan, which allowed Mary to not only get back on track, but gave her the confidence she needed to take on extra courses and graduate with a regular high school diploma at seventeen.
Sabrina and Molly
Sabrina called the NHLA Youth Law Project when she heard about it from her post-adoption case worker. Her adopted daughter, Molly, then 11, was having trouble at school, and Sabrina felt overwhelmed trying to advocate for her.
Molly has a diagnosis of autism. She entered the foster care system when she was an infant, arriving with her new family four days before Christmas when she was just 8 months old.
Sabrina works full time to support the family, which includes her husband, who is disabled, and their adopted teenage daughter. She had to take dozens of hours off work each month to attend meetings at Molly’s school, adding financial worries to the emotional stress of Molly’s difficulties at school.
“I’m an educated person,” Sabrina said. “I’ve even worked in schools. But walking into those IEP meetings was utterly overwhelming. Our lawyer was our voice when we didn’t know what to say,” she said. “To have someone be that voice for us, it meant the world.”
Molly used to experience anxiety on Sunday nights about returning to school. Now, “she jumps up and down excited about school,” Sabrina said. “She is learning. She is happy to come home and tell me what she learned. I have a happy kid now. There are possibilities, now, for her future.”
NHLA Youth Law advocacy in the news:
January 2019: Report shows NH students of color, those with disabilities twice as likely to be suspended:
In the 2014-2015 academic year, around 5 percent of New Hampshire students received out-of-school suspensions.
Students of color, who make up abour 14 percent of the general student population, comprised about 23 percent of student suspensions.
Students with disabilities, who make up about 20 percent of the population,comprised around 40 percent of students suspensions.
"What's even more concerning is that students of color who also have a disability are 5.5 times as likely as their white non-disabled peers to be suspended out of school," says Michelle Wangerin, a member of the Juvenile Justice Reform Group.
Wangerin represents students facing suspension and expulsion as the Youth Law Project Director at New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
"We've had several students who have been suspended upwards of 30, 40, 50 days in a single school year, despite the fact that they have an identified disability," she says.
Mirroring national trends, certain types of students in New Hampshire are getting kicked out of class at much higher rates. A recent University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy study looked at statewide data from 2010 to 2014 and found that male students, students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, students of color, students with disabilities, and homeless students were much more likely than their peers to experience exclusionary discipline – discipline that sends kids out of school.
The study also found that certain types of schools – namely, urban schools in Hillsborough County – were much more likely to send kids home. In fact, students attending urban middle and high schools were roughly three times as likely to experience out-of-school suspensions compared with students at non-urban middle and high schools. Not surprisingly, those schools were more diverse and had high poverty rates.
“There is no doubt in our mind the problem is the discretion the schools have,” said Youth Law Project Director Michelle Wangerin.
In her experience, a lack of guidance in the law results in harsher punishments for kids who are already disadvantaged, like CJ French. In his first year of junior high, CJ missed 86 days of school. He just couldn’t stand to go. CJ has a learning disability, and he was often taunted for it – or worse - while the school’s administration basically looked the other way.In frustration, CJ started acting out – sometimes violently. He would hit back when students would go after him, or sometimes just leave a classroom, go out into the hall, and punch a locker. His outbursts earned him a series of suspensions, and finally, last January, an expulsion.
After working with NHLA, CJ now attends the Longview School in Deerfield, a private school for kids with behavioral and emotional disabilities. There, with more individualized attention, CJ said he’s learning – and not getting into trouble.“I’ve been a lot better,” he said. “Less kids in the classroom. I get more work done.”
Know Your Rights: School Discipline and Juvenile Justice
Endowment for Health
N.H. Department of Children Youth & Families