Media Contact: Madeline Poage,
madeline@massappleseed.org
617-482-8686

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 26, 2022

Boston, Dec. 26, 2022 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a Boston-based research and advocacy nonprofit, announced it has received a $15,000 donation from global law firm Goodwin that will help expand its work to advance racial and gender justice in Massachusetts schools.

“Goodwin is a leader in the Boston legal community, and we are extraordinarily lucky to count the firm among Appleseed’s longtime partners,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of MA Appleseed. “This generous donation will provide critical support as we dismantle the policies and practices that harm girls of color caught in the intersection of racial and gender-based discrimination whose lives are disrupted by unjust school discipline. We are so grateful for Goodwin’s continued investment to help us move the needle on entrenched social justice problems.”

Racial disparities in education have long persisted, and COVID-19 left many students struggling with pandemic-related trauma and learning gaps. With the resulting surge in behavioral and mental health issues among students, concerns for school safety and subsequent calls for increased punitive discipline and policing have reemerged in the public discourse. MA Appleseed has joined fellow advocacy groups in condemning the use of harsh, exclusionary discipline and are instead pushing for solutions that center students’ health and well-being.

“Goodwin is thrilled to continue supporting MA Appleseed and its important mission,” said Alison Douglass, Goodwin partner. “As a member of MA Appleseed’s board, I have a front-row seat to their incredible work in the areas of social, racial and gender justice, and look forward to continuing our firm’s long-standing partnership with the organization.” 

This donation will help fund the expansion of MA Appleseed’s initiative to end the criminalization of girls of color, who face disproportionate levels of discipline that push them out of the classroom. Following the publication of their latest community-led report examining this issue, the organization has launched a multi-pronged advocacy campaign to create safe and affirming school cultures grounded in restorative practices where every student can succeed. The firm’s donation will also help MA Appleseed deepen its grassroots organizing power as the nonprofit continues to grow its community engagement capacity and expands its impact in Gateway Cities like Malden, Lawrence, and Lowell.

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About Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice

MA Appleseed is driven by a mission to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. Through policy analysis and research, coalition building, education and training, community organizing, and advocacy, the nonprofit seeks systems-level change so all Massachusetts families and youth can exercise their legal rights, build pathways out of poverty and crisis, and thrive. Responding to emerging and enduring inequities, MA Appleseed addresses an array of complex issues including self-representation in the civil justice system, language access for immigrant families, the school-to-prison pipeline, and youth homelessness. To explore recent research, find resources, sign up for opportunities to take action, or donate, please visit massappleseed.org.

About Goodwin

We are in the business of building authentic, long-term relationships with our clients, who are some of the world’s most successful and innovative investors, entrepreneurs and disruptors at the convergence of and within the life sciences, private equity, real estate, technology and financial industries. Our immersive understanding of these industries — combined with our expertise across high-stakes litigation and dispute resolution, world-class regulatory compliance and advisory services, and complex transactions — sets us apart. At Goodwin, we are committed to building a more diverse and inclusive community. Learn more about our Diversity, Equity + Inclusion efforts.

 

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According to current news reports, a staff member of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden recently cited an eighth-grader for wearing a hijab, which was deemed a “uniform infraction.”

Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, released the following statement:

“Policies like this harm students – there’s simply no other way to put it. Students cannot be expected to succeed if parts of their identity are judged and punished every time they enter the classroom, and the damage this has on students’ mental health, confidence, and emotional well-being can be severe. Dress codes are rarely neutral policies, perpetuating racist, misogynistic, and homophobic norms. Their enforcement feels especially inappropriate in schools where students are learning how to express themselves and discovering who they want to be.”

“Just a few years ago, the school’s harsh discipline of the Cook sisters for wearing their hair in braids with extensions motivated lawmakers to pass legislation banning hairstyle discrimination. To see yet another student endure this kind of over-policing just weeks after the CROWN Act was signed into law shows that Massachusetts still has a long way to go towards making sure our classrooms are welcoming and inclusive spaces for all.”

Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice published its latest community-led report, “I Just Want to Learn”: Girls of Color and the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Massachusetts, in July 2022. The report explores stories from girls of color about the impact of exclusionary discipline on their lives and touches on the role dress codes play in fueling racial and gender-based disparities.

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Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is a nonprofit driven by a mission to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. Through policy research, community collaboration, and statewide advocacy, the organization seeks systems-level change so all Massachusetts families and youth can exercise their legal rights, build pathways out of poverty and crisis, and thrive.

 

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, self-represented litigants faced an uphill battle in the civil justice system. For a person unable to afford an attorney and forced to walk into court alone, something as small as knowing how or where to file a form could be a confusing, anxiety-inducing process.

Then COVID-19 hit. Thousands lost jobs, fell sick, and struggled to stay afloat. The skyrocketing legal needs of Bay Staters overwhelmed existing services. Courthouses shuttered, shifting to conduct court hearings virtually over the phone and through Zoom.

At the beginning of the pandemic, MA Appleseed began exploring the impact these virtual hearings had on self-represented litigants. We chose to focus on small claims debt collection cases where self-representation is the norm and the consequences of a poor outcome can be severe. People can lose vital income, get saddled with a reduced credit score that haunts them for years, and even face threats of eviction or incarceration.

Law students from Western New England University gave up their school breaks, volunteering to spend hours observing virtual small claims sessions across the state. The students followed up by interviewing the litigants they observed, gaining more insight into their firsthand experience. With project partners, we examined the patterns and recurring problems that emerged from these observations.

This research project culminated in our most recent collaborative report, You’re Still Muted: Access to Justice Barriers in Massachusetts’ Virtual Small Claims Court. Our findings are all-too familiar. At every turn, those who are already the most vulnerable when interacting with the court – low-income litigants, individuals with disabilities, limited English proficient litigants – face barrier after barrier in their attempts to engage with the legal process and achieve a fair outcome. In addition to technology-related hurdles, like litigants dropping out of hearings unexpectedly, a lack of standardization across court practices increases accessibility problems. Deeply entrenched inequities embedded in financial and legal institutions and the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic mean this disproportionately harms communities of color, further widening the racial wealth gap.

Lack of a law degree and the inability to afford to hire an attorney should never be the reason a person loses their livelihood, their home, or is driven deeper into poverty. And as a state with vast racial wealth inequality, taking steps to eliminate these barriers is critical.

Some of the changes we recommended are simple, such as requiring clerk magistrates to introduce themselves and explain their role at the start of every court session. Others may require more coordination, like working with local legal service providers to establish “lawyer for the day” programs where there aren’t any now. Several recommendations seek to remedy issues of basic fairness. For example, standardizing how we treat litigants who appear late to a remote session or fail to show up at all, whether they’re a well-financed debt collection company or a single mother without an attorney.

Solving this problem is possible and the potential benefits are enormous. A study from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation found that closing the racial wealth gap would grow the state’s economy by $25 billion in just five years. When people successfully navigate the civil justice system and resolve their legal problems, they can break out of cycles of upheaval and help build stronger, thriving communities. As for the courts, improved accessibility during virtual hearings will increase court efficiency and improve public perception of the courts as a fair institution.   

Court systems across the country have a reputation for being slow to change. They are built on tradition and precedence. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to rapidly adapt in the face of emerging crisis. The Massachusetts Trial Court rose to that challenge and showed that it can be done – that change is possible. At the height of the pandemic, we saw how court staff and Court Service Center managers worked with creativity and dedication to meet the needs of the thousands of people who sought their help. Amid statewide aspirations for an equitable pandemic recovery and the reality that disparities burdening low-wage workers and communities of color have intensified, these efforts to transform the courts and meet the goal of “justice for all” must continue. 

Virtual court, in one form or another, is here to stay. The rapid transformation that the civil justice system went through has provided Massachusetts with a treasure trove of data, information, and powerful lessons about the role technology can play in our future, both good and bad. And unless the needs and experiences of our most vulnerable litigants are centered in that future, a fair outcome in court and all the collateral benefits that come with it – stability, prosperity, and opportunity – will remain accessible only to those able to afford it.

 

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In April, you joined us in calling on the House to prioritize equity, justice, and opportunity in the Massachusetts state budget, especially for those who have been hit hardest during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re so thankful to everyone who took action, sending more than 100 letters to representatives across the Commonwealth! This was an extraordinary show of support, but we can’t back down.

The budget is now in the hands of the Senate and with debates right around the corner, we need you to raise your voice once again and join us to expand language access, create safe and supportive school environments, and increase support for youth experiencing homelessness. Find more details below and take action today!

 

Amendment #139 (Sen. DiDomenico) would provide $8 million to improve the capacity of our public-facing state agencies to meet the critical language access needs of our Commonwealth’s increasingly diverse population.

Massachusetts is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the country, with nearly 1 in 10 residents estimated to be limited English proficient. But the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inability of state agencies to provide desperately needed information and services in languages other than English. It is urgent that limited English proficient residents have equal access to public health information, education, unemployment assistance, healthcare, housing, and other crucial services

 

Amendments #645 and #646 (Sen. Chandler) would support public schools and school districts in transitioning to safety models that do not rely on stationing police in schools. Research has shown that while having police in schools does not improve school safety (particularly with respect to preventing school shootings), police presence in schools has been tied to greater numbers of suspensions, lower graduation rates, and lower college enrollment rates, as well as contributing to the criminalization of Black and Latinx students.

Amendment #673 (Sen. DiDomenico) would increase funding for safe and supportive schools, helping expand and improve strategies and tools so all students are empowered to succeed in school.

Amendment #824 (Sen. Crighton) would ensure limited English proficient parents and students are provided with competent interpretation services at school, helping protect the civil rights of limited English proficient parents and enabling them to fully participate in their child’s education

Together, these amendments will help disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, address disparities in education, and create safe, welcoming, and supportive school environments for all students.

In the wake of the many disruptions and traumas students have endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure they are set up for success and able to thrive in school is essential. Please send a message to your State Senator urging them to co-sponsor budget amendments #645, #646, #673, and #824!

 

Amendment #475 (Sen. Chang-Díaz) would increase funding for the budget line item “Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Youth” (4000-0007) from $8.5 million to $10 million.

It is impossible to ignore the lifetime toll homelessness can have on young people, increasing their risk of poor health outcomes, exposure to violence, susceptibility to exploitation, and dropping out of school. Challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have only increased the scale of need across the state, while the availability of services has a direct correlation to the number of youth experiencing homelessness advocates are able to identify and help

This increased investment in supportive services for our most vulnerable youth is vital to help create a sustained and effective response to end youth homelessness. Please reach out to your State Senator and ask them to co-sponsor and actively support Sen. Chang-Díaz’s budget amendment #475!

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter and Instagram! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

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Sign up for our mailing list.

 

The state budget is a reflection of our values and an opportunity to secure essential funding for services across the Commonwealth. As our communities work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the budget prioritizes equity, justice, and opportunity for those who have been hit hardest is more urgent than ever.

The Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means recently released its FY23 budget proposal. MA Appleseed is supporting several budget amendments that would expand language access, disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, and increase support for youth experiencing homelessness. And with the full House scheduled to debate soon, we need you to raise your voice. Learn more and take action below!

 

Amendment #1381 (Rep. Cabral) would provide $8 million to improve the capacity of our public-facing state agencies to meet the critical language access needs of our Commonwealth’s increasingly diverse population.

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inability of state agencies to provide desperately needed information and services in languages other than English. As one of the most linguistically diverse states in the country, we must ensure that limited English proficient residents have equal access to public health information, education, unemployment assistance, healthcare, housing, and other crucial services

 

Amendments #1133 and #1138 (Rep. Uyterhoeven) would utilize existing funds in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education budget to provide targeted interventions (#1133) and school supports (#1138) to reduce the use of suspensions among students in pre-K through 3rd grade.

Amendment #1321 (Rep. Khan) would create a $600,000 grant program, administered by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to support public schools and school districts in transitioning to safety models that do not rely on stationing police in schools.

Both excluding students from the classroom at an early age and maintaining a police presence in schools have been shown to lead to worse educational outcomes, especially for Black and Latinx students, students with disabilities, and students who are economically disadvantaged. Together, these amendments will help disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and keep students in class where they are safe, supported, and available for learning.

It’s time to end the over-policing and criminalization of students of color and ensure all students have the care and support in school they need to thrive. Please send a message to your State Representative urging them to co-sponsor Rep. Uyterhoeven’s budget amendments #1133 and #1138 and Rep. Khan’s budget amendment #1321!

 

Amendment #494 (Rep. O’Day) would increase funding for the budget line item “Housing and Services for Unaccompanied Youth Experiencing Homelessness” (4000-0007) from $8.5 million to $10 million. When young people experience homelessness, they are at a greater risk of poor health outcomes, exposure to violence, susceptibility to exploitation, and dropping out of school. This increased investment in supportive services for our most vulnerable youth is vital to match the scale of need across the state and help create a sustained and effective response to end youth homelessness

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter and Instagram! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

 

Thanks to the swift action of supporters like you, the Judiciary IT Bond bill was reported out of the Judiciary Committee favorably earlier this year! Now, it moves to the Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets.

We cannot miss this opportunity to invest in access to justice at an unprecedented scale. Take action today and tell your legislators to support the Judiciary IT Bond bill!

The civil justice system is designed by lawyers and for lawyers, and trying to navigate complex court processes without legal representation can be almost impossible. But for thousands of people facing life-changing challenges like wrongful eviction or crushing debt who cannot afford an attorney, representing themselves is their only option.

In 2019, we issued a report detailing how technology could help solve this crisis. Specifically, we recommended that the Massachusetts Trial Court create a centralized, online legal help center. But because the courts’ IT systems are so out-of-date, technology-based solutions remain out of reach

H.4499, the Judiciary IT Bond bill (An Act to Improve and Modernize the Information Technology Systems and Capacities of the Judiciary), would update the Massachusetts Trial Court’s severely outdated IT structure and fund online innovations that can help people successfully advocate for themselves and protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families.

Massachusetts residents shouldn’t need a law degree to avoid catastrophe. By funding these essential and long-overdue technological improvements, the legislature can reduce disparities between wealthy and low-income litigants, ease burdens on working families, provide language access for immigrant and limited English proficient residents, and empower everyone to resolve their civil legal problems – whether they can afford an attorney or not.

We’re one step closer to making access to justice for all a reality, but we need your help to keep the pressure on and make it clear that ensuring fairness in our justice system must be a priority!

The Joint Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets is holding a hearing on the Judiciary IT Bond bill TOMORROW at 10 AM. Please take this one-minute action NOW and urge your legislators to support H.4499 by asking the Joint Committee to issue a favorable report for this bill.

 

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

 

Budget season is in full swing in Massachusetts, and we need you to raise your voice for language access.

Earlier this week, the Massachusetts House released a supplemental budget bill (H.4479) allocating about $1 billion in federal funds. In exciting news, Chairman Antonio Cabral of New Bedford has filed an important amendment in support of language access for immigrant and limited English proficient families!

Please contact your State Representative by 1:00 PM today and tell them: we need to invest in language access for all.

Amendment #42 (Rep. Cabral) would apply $8 million in federal funds to improve the capacity of our public-facing state agencies to meet the critical language access needs of our Commonwealth’s increasingly diverse population. 

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inability of state agencies to provide desperately needed information and services in languages other than English. As one of the most linguistically diverse states in the country, we must ensure that non-English speaking state residents have equal access to public health information, education, unemployment assistance, healthcare, housing, and other crucial services.

When we invest in language access, our communities are healthier, safer, and stronger. Now, we need to act fast. Please take this one-minute action TODAY before 1:00 PM and urge your State Representative to co-sponsor budget amendment #42.

 

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
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The civil justice system is designed by lawyers and for lawyers, which means trying to navigate complex court processes without legal representation can be almost impossible. But thousands of people facing life-changing challenges like wrongful eviction or crushing debt cannot afford an attorney, so representing themselves is their only option.

Contact your legislators and tell them: Massachusetts residents shouldn’t need a law degree to avoid catastrophe. Expand access to justice by supporting the Judiciary IT Bond bill!

Right now, people are continually thrown into the civil justice system on their own and unaware of their fundamental rights. The impact of this can be devastating – sending families spiraling into poverty and upheaval, further disenfranchising our most vulnerable communities, and perpetuating systemic inequities.

In 2019, we issued a report detailing how technology could help solve this crisis. Specifically, we recommended that the Massachusetts Trial Court create a centralized, online legal help center. But because the courts’ IT systems are so out-of-date, technology-based solutions remain out of reach

H.1520, the Judiciary IT Bond bill (An Act to Improve and Modernize the Information Technology Systems and Capacities of the Judiciary), would update the Massachusetts Trial Court’s severely outdated IT structure and fund online innovations that can help people successfully advocate for themselves and protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families.

This is an opportunity for Massachusetts to invest in access to justice at an unprecedented level. By funding these essential and long-overdue technological improvements, the legislature can reduce disparities between wealthy and low-income litigants, ease burdens on working families, provide language access for immigrant and limited English proficient residents, and empower everyone to resolve their civil legal problems – whether they can afford an attorney or not.

And as the COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized families and heightened legal needs, this bill is more urgent than ever.

An important deadline is fast approaching: on February 2nd, the legislature will decide which bills from this legislative session move forward and which will not. Please take this one-minute action TODAY and urge your legislators to support H.1520 and ensure the Judiciary Committee issues a favorable report for this bill.

 

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

 

Last year, we published a collaborative, data-driven report which found that Black girls in Massachusetts schools are nearly 4 times more likely to be disciplined than their white counterparts.

Now, we’ve brought together a Community Advisory Board – made up of students, educators, advocates, and organizations from around the state – to conduct a new study that will explore the stories behind these statistics, dig deeper into disciplinary disparities, and amplify how we can change current discipline practices to build school environments where all students are safe and supported.

We want to hear from girls of color about their experiences with discipline in Massachusetts schools, and recruitment to participate in this community-led study is OPEN.

We encourage female-identifying students of color who have experienced suspension, expulsion, or a school-related arrest to take this brief survey to see if you qualify to be a part of this research study

Girls who participate in the study will be compensated and receive $25/hour.

Please share this opportunity with your networks, and reach out to Melanie Rush, Research and Policy Associate, at melanie@massappleseed.org if you have any questions.

 

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The Massachusetts Legislature is preparing to break for the holidays soon. But before that happens, we have an exciting opportunity to move the Young Student Exclusion Ban Act forward and eliminate harsh disciplinary policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.

This bill is scheduled for a legislative hearing next week – which means we have just a few days to consolidate as much support behind it as we can. Contact your legislators and tell them: our youngest children belong in class where they are safe, supported, and available for learning.

The Young Student Exclusion Ban Act (H.3876) aims to improve educational outcomes by replacing the use of exclusionary discipline in response to minor offenses by students in pre-K through 3rd grade with effective, alternative approaches like restorative practices, mediation, and other forms of conflict resolution. As young students return to school from traumatic experiences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time to ensure they remain in the classroom where they can get back on track.

Excluding students from the classroom at an early age makes it increasingly likely they will experience expulsion or suspension in later grades, contributing to poor academic performance, failure to graduate on time, or even dropping out altogether. 

And with Black and Latinx students, students with disabilities, and students who are economically disadvantaged disproportionately more likely to experience exclusionary discipline at an early age, the Young Student Exclusion Ban Act will help address long-standing inequities and opportunity gaps in education.

We need to make sure this bill has strong support heading into next week’s hearing, but that can only happen with your help. Please take this one-minute action today and urge your legislators to support the Young Student Exclusion Ban Act!

 

Keep informed & stay involved!

Stay tuned for more opportunities to take action and support Massachusetts families and youth by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter! Check out our website for our most recent publications and action alerts.

To support our work, please consider giving a donation today.

Thank you for advancing social justice in Massachusetts!

 

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.