Mar 27

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri Wins Pivotal Case Against Local School District

Luz Maria Henriquez, Lead LSEM Attorney

In one of the first cases of its kind in Missouri, the St. Louis City 22nd Judicial Circuit has approved a settlement with a cash award for a parent when the school district failed to follow the required procedures for suspending a child and for failing to provide an adequate, alternative form of education.  The settlement also provides for the district to change its policies and practices for students similarly disciplined.  The student in the case, a child of color, was put out of school for 125 school days his freshman year and earned zero credits that year.  This action was taken without affording the child his basic due process rights.   

“This case is part of an initiative to ensure that all children receive access to an ‘adequate and quality education’ required by the Missouri Constitution,” stated Luz María Henríquez, lead attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Missouri who represented the family and student.

“Schools are supposed to be treasures in our communities, the places that exemplify the equality of opportunity promised by our Constitution. Instead, research proves that Missouri students of color are treated differently than white students,” continued Ms. Henriquez. 

According to a recent ACLU report, suspended students are less likely to graduate and more likely to be suspended, repeat a grade, or drop out and become involved in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems. Students who are forced out of school because of suspensions or expulsions are 10 times more likely to drop out, which increases their likelihood of incarceration.

To help address these inequities and break the school-to-prison pipeline, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri sponsors the Education Justice Program that addresses the root causes of education inequity by representing clients, filing formal complaints with the Office of Civil Rights and providing community workshops for families and stakeholders.

The Court-approved settlement agreement also requires the school district to change policies and procedures for students who are disciplined by being placed in a Virtual Learning Program but not allowed to access that program from school.  The school district must closely monitor these students’ progress and to provide additional opportunities to appeal this form of discipline.

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About Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has served more than 1 million families since 1956. Legal Services has four offices in St. Louis, Clayton, Hannibal and Union serving 21 counties in eastern Missouri.