Advocacy Organizations Urge Biden Administration to Ramp Up Enforcement of Federal Civil Rights Laws in Schools Across the United States

WASHINGTON – Four member organizations of Appleseed, a network of justice centers, submitted public comments to the United States Department of Education on Thursday, July 22, concerning the national state of school discipline. By focusing on four questions posed by the Department of Education to the public, Texas Appleseed, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, and Kansas Appleseed illustrate how school policing, gang databases, discriminatory dress codes, and classroom removals hinder millions of young people from achieving their full potential in classrooms across America.

“To remedy racial discrimination in the administration of school discipline, it necessitates more than data collection and analysis; more than investigating disproportionate representation of students of color in exclusionary discipline and law enforcement referrals; more than implementing intervention-focused discipline strategies to avoid perpetuating the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Dr. Vicky Luna Sullivan, Esq, a senior staff attorney for the Education Justice Project at Texas Appleseed.

“It demands confronting the root causes of the discriminatory administration of the student discipline, attacking the systemic racial discrimination that occurs by implicit bias and deficit thinking in our schools, and valiantly activating a fundamental transformation that is free of racial discrimination,” she continued.

The public comments examine the detrimental impact of the “hardening” of schools, namely through increasing budget allocations to policing, security, and surveillance. The Centers also uplift some of the approaches highlighted in the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter, which clarified that a school district’s federal funding is contingent upon the non-discriminatory administration of school discipline. These methods of engagement include, but are not limited to, positive behavioral strategies, restorative justice, and multi-tiered systems of support. 

“The Biden Administration should use all available tools to address the rampant misuse of exclusionary discipline and school policing in our nation’s schools,” said Mike Fonkert, the director of the Just Campaign for Kansas Appleseed. “For instance, memos of understanding can be very helpful tools to clarify that school police officers should not be involved in routine discipline. By creating a robust model framework that can be consistently applied across the nation, the Office for Civil Rights would make progress on ending the school-to-prison pipeline, which systematically harms Black and Brown students in Kansas at higher rates than White students.”

“We’ve seen horrendous cases occur, when local and state investments in school policing go unchecked, including sexual abuse of young people at the hands of school police officers on their school campuses. We need to make sure children can feel safe in their own schools,” said Jennifer Rainville, the education policy attorney for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. 

The public comments also emphasize that inadequate data collection stands as a grave hindrance to education justice campaigns across the United States. 

“If we’re going to push for policy change that repairs the harms of racial discrimination and the school-to-prison pipeline, especially those that impact girls of color, we need local education agencies and state education agencies to vigorously collect and report this data,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

The comments conclude with a call for the Biden Administration to fully reinstate and strengthen the 2014 Dear Colleague Letter. Drastic action is needed to mitigate the ongoing detrimental impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and the U.S. Department of Education could use several tools at its disposal to deliver long overdue equal educational opportunities to children across the nation. 

“We are proud to stand with these Appleseed Centers as they continually fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in their states and across the country,” said Benet Magnuson, the executive director of the Appleseed Network.

“These comments illustrate some key points for the Biden Administration to consider as the executive branch of the federal government maximizes its effort to end the pushout of so many children in the United States,” he concluded. 


About Appleseed Network

Appleseed is a network of 16 justice centers across the United States and Mexico working together to reduce poverty, combat discrimination, and advance the rule of law. Appleseed Centers unite research, organizing, policy advocacy, and impact litigation to build systemic solutions for their communities’ most pressing problems.

About Kansas Appleseed

Kansas Appleseed is a statewide advocacy organization dedicated to the belief that Kansans, working together, can build a more thriving, inclusive, and just Kansas.

About Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues.

About South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center

The South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center fights for low income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic, and legal injustice.

About Texas Appleseed

Texas Appleseed is a public interest justice center that works to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential. Our nonprofit conducts data-driven research that uncovers inequity in laws and policies and identifies solutions for lasting, concrete change.

Media Contacts:

Sarah Pacilio
Appleseed Network

Angelica Maldonado
Texas Appleseed

Melanie Rush
Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law & Justice

Christina Ostmeyer
Kansas Appleseed

Brandon Fountain
South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center


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Save the Date!
October 14, 2021
6:00 PM

Following an extraordinarily difficult year and in the wake of unprecedented challenges, it’s thanks to our community of support that we’ve been able to expand our work to end the systemic injustices and inequities harming our most vulnerable families and youth.

Now, it’s time to come together and celebrate!

Please save the date for Massachusetts Appleseed’s 2021 Good Apple Award Reception on October 14th. This year, we are thrilled to recognize and honor Karen Morton, Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance and recipient of the 2021 Good Apple Award!

Join us for this virtual celebration in the fall, and see below for details on tickets and sponsorship opportunities!



Karen Morton, Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance

Karen Morton, Executive Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Liberty Mutual Insurance and recipient of the 2021 Good Apple Award.

As the Global Chief Compliance Officer, Karen and her team are responsible for the enterprise compliance strategy and policies, compliance training, Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, conflicts of interest, regulatory investigations, oversight of market conduct examinations, privacy, financial crimes and the operational risk assessment process. Karen leads a team of approximately 180 compliance professionals in 29 countries and economies around the world.

Prior to her current role, Karen was the Deputy General Counsel for the Litigation and Coverage Group at Liberty Mutual. In this role she was responsible for the management of a team of legal professionals who handled litigation brought against Liberty Mutual Group and its member companies, oversaw various regulatory investigations, provided enterprise-wide coverage advice and opinions, managed electronic discovery services in support of litigation and all third-party subpoenas for the enterprise.

During her career at Liberty Mutual, which commenced in 2006, Ms. Morton also served as Vice President and Counsel for Employment, Benefits and Executive Compensation and Corporate Real Estate.

Prior to joining Liberty Mutual, Ms. Morton was an attorney with John Hancock Financial Services, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Manulife Financial Corporation. She held the position of Vice President and Counsel, responsible for the management of the Company’s litigation and employment law functions. Ms. Morton previously held various legal positions in the public sector.

Ms. Morton is a member of the Board of Trustees for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, where she serves as the Chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee and is a member of the Board for Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a non-profit agency which serves homeless and at-risk youth.

Ms. Morton received her B.A. from Tufts University and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law. She has also received numerous awards for championing diversity and inclusion.

We will also be recognizing Enrique Colbert, General Counsel of Wayfair and recipient of the 2020 Good Apple Award, following the cancellation of last year’s event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Join us for this virtual celebration and please contribute generously! Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened systemic injustices and sent Massachusetts families and youth spiraling further into poverty and crisis. At Massachusetts Appleseed, we’ve risen to meet this moment across multiple fronts – investigating inequitable access to the courts and educational opportunity, delivering know-your-rights resources and trainings, organizing to defend the legal rights of our most vulnerable communities, and more. 

The annual Good Apple Award Reception provides core funding for Massachusetts Appleseed’s work throughout the year, ensuring we can respond to urgent community needs and seize opportunities for action. Help us reach our $250,000 goal by sponsoring this event or making a personal donation.

Celebrate the good with us!


Please contact Madeline Poage, Development and Communications Associate, at with any questions.


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Boston, MA, July 14, 2021 – Today, Haitian-Americans United, the Greater Boston Latino Network, and Jane Doe, a mother and immigrant with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), filed a civil rights complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act against the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) in response to the agency’s failure to provide federally mandated language access to the LEP families they serve. The complaint, filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, asks the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to compel DCF to comply with legal mandates to provide language access services to Massachusetts families.

DCF’s failure to provide adequate language access to LEP parents directly results in the wrongful separation of non-English speaking families across the Commonwealth. As a recent report by Appleseed documents in detail, when DCF fails to prioritize language access, LEP parents are unable to comprehend or meaningfully participate in DCF’s processes. As a result, LEP families face an increased likelihood of separation compared to their English-speaking counterparts. In fact, Latinx families are more overrepresented in foster care in Massachusetts than in any other state.

“The level of harm we’re talking about is immeasurable,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “The wrongful and unjust separation of families leaves children traumatized and denies parents their fundamental rights. DCF must be held accountable and meet the needs of the non-English speaking populations they serve.”

DCF has been on notice of its civil rights violations for years and has had ample opportunity to remedy its discriminatory practices. In 2018, HHS investigated a Title VI complaint made by a Spanish-speaking person who had received inadequate language assistance from DCF. The investigation brought to light DCF’s woefully inadequate use of interpreters for LEP families. Following the investigation, HHS issued a set of voluntary compliance measures intended to bring DCF’s language access practices in line with federal law. But DCF refused to comply voluntarily. In the absence of ongoing monitoring and enforcement, DCF has continued to deprive non-English speaking families of meaningful language access, and consequently access to their children.

“Our foster care system has a long and disturbing history of separating families of color and immigrant families,” said Erin Fowler, attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights. “DCF’s failure to provide adequate language access is discrimination against immigrants and families of color. Federal intervention is critically needed to ensure that families are not wrongfully separated.” 

The complaint calls for immediate federal intervention and oversight to compel DCF comply with its federal obligation to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. Specifically, the complaint requests that HHS order DCF to adopt and implement a comprehensive remediation plan for meaningful access by LEP individuals. The remediation plan should:

  • require DCF to conduct a language access audit, create a meaningful language access plan, and hire Regional Language Access Coordinators, placing at least one Coordinator within each of DCF’s five regions;
  • set concrete targets for hiring bilingual caseworkers for languages frequently encountered, with a focus on the needs of individual area offices; 
  • require quarterly trainings for all caseworkers and contract interpreters on the importance of language access, tools and techniques for competent interpretation, the importance of confidentiality and impartiality, and DCF terminology and procedures; 
  • require that interpreters be present during all visitations, phone or video conversations, and interactions with LEP individuals;
  • expressly forbid the use of family members, relatives, friends, neighbors, and children as interpreters; 
  • require the translation of all vital documents into the preferred languages of LEP individuals;
  • require all community social service providers DCF contracts with to offer in-person interpretation services, or else allow providers access to DCF’s telephonic interpretation services;
  • require the creation of policies and procedures describing detailed steps for caseworkers to identify alternative social services for LEP families; 
  • require DCF to adopt more flexible protocol to acknowledge the difficulty many LEP families experience when attempting to receive non-English social services; 
  • require the creation of policies and procedures describing detailed steps DCF should take upon receipt of a language access complaint; and
  • require DCF to take any other steps that are necessary to achieve full compliance with federal law. 

“Due to DCF’s failures, we have been forced to try to do DCF’s job for them—by providing community interpreters or translating documents that members have received in English,” says Dieufort Fleurissaint, Chair of the Board of Directors of Haitian-Americans United, the lead complainant in the case. “This drains our limited resources and harms our LEP members. HHS must ensure DCF remedies these wrongs and complies with federal law.” 

Family separation is unfortunately not limited to our southern border—it happens right here in Massachusetts. DCF must provide adequate language access to LEP families and, put simply, stop tearing immigrant families apart.

The complaint is available here

About Massachusetts Appleseed

Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission is to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The nonprofit researches and identifies the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies have systematically failed impoverished and vulnerable communities, challenges harmful public policies that perpetuate injustices and inequities, advocates for statewide policy solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (


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