Impact of Anti-Bullying Legislation
MA Appleseed's attention to and expertise in this area is particularly important in light of Massachusetts' recent anti-bullying legislation. While the new anti-bullying law is forward thinking in several important ways, it still leaves crucial concerns unaddressed and puts certain students at greater risk for punitive disciplinary action. We are at the forefront of ensuring that the Legislature, school districts, and other stakeholders know the potential pitfalls of implementing this new legislation in a highly charged political climate. Of primary concern is the potential shift of focus from bullying prevention and creating caring school communities to one of punishment and an increase in student suspensions and expulsions.
Read MA Appleseed's February 2011 testimony to the Commission to Review Statutes Relative to Implementation of the School Bullying Law.
Code of Conduct Advisory Council, Boston Public Schools (BPS)
MA Appleseed, along with other community stakeholders and advocates, proposed important revisions to BPS' Code of Conduct around its discipline provisions. In July 2010, the Boston School Committee adopted these revisions, signaling a long-hoped for shift away from a zero-tolerance attitude towards school discipline. At the same time, the School Committee created an advisory council to advise the Superintendent on the revised Code's implementation, to review the Code annually for further improvements, and to suggest best practices to reduce BPS's suspensions and expulsions. Comprised of parents, students, advocates, and community partners, the Advisory Council functions independently of and in cooperation with BPS. MA Appleseed's participation allows us to advocate for a departure from zero tolerance altogether, for robust data collection, and for creating a community collaboration replicable in other school districts.
Behavioral Health and Public Schools Task Force
MA Appleseed proudly contributed and participated in the Behavioral Health and Public Schools Task Force. This task force was established under Section 19 of Chapter 321 of the Acts of 2008: An Act Relative to Children's Mental Health. The task force created a framework that will serve as a guide for public schools to implement policies and protocols promoting school-wide behavioral health access and awareness in the hopes of reducing exclusions and keeping kids in class. Towards that end, the task force developed a behavioral health services self-assessment tool for public schools in order to gauge their capacity for implementing behavioral health protocols and policies. MA Appleseed successfully advocated to include questions assessing discipline issues and mitigation of zero tolerance policies. We also drafted a new section devoted to accurate and comprehensive collection of discipline data. Nearly all of our recommendations were included in the final draft, which you can read here.
Kinship Care Legislation
MA Appleseed was instrumental in initiating "An Act Relative to Caregiver Medical and Educational Consent" which was signed into law by Governor Patrick on January 14, 2009. The legislation allows parents to authorize a caregiverfor example, a relative or other person providing full-time care of a childto consent to medical treatment and to educational decisions on behalf of the child. Many people in Massachusetts provide primary care for children who are not their own, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and adult siblings. In many of these arrangements, the caregivers do not have legal custody or guardianship. As a result, they often face barriers to obtaining educational and medical services for the children in their care. The Act does not divest parents of any rights, but gives caregivers concurrent authority with the parents. Read "Kinship Care Reform: A Proposal for Consent Legislation in Massachusetts" by Laura Weinrib (Project Coordinator for the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in 2001).
MA Appleseed studied how funds are distributed to the trial courts and what types of cases require more resources than others. In addition, MA Appleseed has worked with the Citizens Coalition for an Independent Judiciary to implement the recommendations of the Monan Commission, established by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to study the administrative changes needed to ensure that all Massachusetts residents have equal access to the courts. To date, the Coalition has supported legislation granting the SJC increased authority over the trial courts. Read Staffing the Massachusetts Trial Courts: Recommendations From The Massachusetts Appleseed Center For Law And Justice.
Hancock v. Commissioner of Education
Former MA Appleseed Executive Director Alan Jay Rom represented 19 families from school districts across Massachusetts who claimed the state was not meeting its duty to provide an education to all children, regardless of their relative wealth. While the Supreme Judicial Court ultimately ruled that the state had not breached this duty, the Court recognized that many districts were underfunded and underperforming as a consequence. The Court thus officially acknowledged the educational disparities in the Commonwealth.
Juvenile Court Mentoring Program
Together with the Suffolk County Juvenile Court, Mass Mentoring Partnership, and Massachusetts Big Brother Association, MA Appleseed recruited mentors from the legal world for children and youth in need of positive adult role models.
MA Appleseed teamed with the Volunteer Lawyers Project and the Boston Bar Association to create a program where lawyers could offer pro bono counseling to unrepresented debtors in bankruptcy proceedings. With this program, MA Appleseed sought to enable pro se debtors to make informed decisions about "reaffirmation," which is a voluntary agreement by a debtor to pay off a creditor even though the debt could be dischargeable in a bankruptcy proceeding. The program was a great success and is now run by the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Immigrant Access to Financial Institutions
Many immigrants in the greater Boston metropolitan area depend upon money-lenders to cash their paychecksusually for high feesbecause they do not have bank accounts. As a result of a study which focused on the Brazilian, Haitian, and Dominican communities, MA Appleseed recommended changes in banking regulations that would make traditional financial institutions more accessible to the immigrant community.