By Jake Hofstetter | Research and Policy Associate

In the wake of the massacres in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, the Trump administration proposed several steps, such as arming teachers, to improve school safety. In addition to these proposals, the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her Commission on School Safety released a report that also contained an unrelated policy change — rescinding the Obama administration’s school discipline reforms. Doing away with this policy doesn’t decrease the chances of school shootings. It doesn’t make schools safer. But it does allow schools to discipline students more freely and without considering the harm and racial discrimination that occurs when kids are removed from class.

The Obama administration’s school discipline recommendations were a step in the right direction. The 2014 guidelines recommended school administrators use removals from class or school less frequently due to the harm caused to students’ academic performance. Besides the lack of evidence showing removals improved behavior, these practices were (and still are) having a disproportionate impact on minority students and those with disabilities. To take the place of removals from class, the Obama guidelines encouraged more restorative discipline practices. These policies focused on students’ social and emotional well-being in order to foster safe, nurturing schools. To enforce these guidelines, the Obama administration warned of investigations into schools with serious racial disparities in discipline. Despite the evidence against harsh school discipline practices, the Secretary DeVos’ Commission cancelled the Obama guidelines, citing concerns for school safety and local control over education. School safety matters of course, but there’s something willfully old-fashioned in the administration’s desire to allow harmful school discipline practices to continue for the sake of “maintaining order.”

Admittedly school discipline may seem straightforward and uncontroversial to a lot of Americans. A student breaks the rules, his or her name gets called over the loudspeaker to report to the principal’s office, and the student gets punished. Yet the type of punishment matters a lot. Taking students out of class through detention or suspension harms their chances at academic success. Plus, there’s evidence the practice doesn’t stop misbehavior. We also shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that disciplining students is neutral. Black and Latino students are disciplined at greater rates than their white peers even when controlling for poverty and discipline type. Without the threat of federal investigation, there’s no way to tell how school districts across the country will respond. The Obama guidelines may have converted some districts to more effective discipline approaches, but others may return to harmful practices that will lead to worse outcomes for minority, disabled, and LGBT students.

Even though we can’t guarantee what will happen in schools across the country, Massachusetts can continue this important work. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education deserves praise and recognition for its commitment to the principles laid out in the Obama administration’s guidelines despite the new stance of the federal government. Massachusetts Appleseed will also remain committed to our efforts to reform school discipline practices and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. Through our Keep Kids in Class project, Massachusetts Appleseed has provided know-your-rights guides for parents, advocated for less exclusionary discipline practices in schools, and published original research on the state of school discipline across Massachusetts. Despite changes in Washington D.C., we remain dedicated to removing barriers to access to public education and supporting at-risk youth to keep kids in class where they are safe, supported, and free to learn.


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It’s over! The formal session of the Legislature ended at midnight on Tuesday, which means, although the Legislature will continue to meet in informal sessions, action on the most remaining controversial legislation will be tabled until January 2019.

So what are the results? Read more below about how our priorities fared in the FY19 budget and what happened with a bill to break down barriers for homeless youth.

The FY19 State Budget

The state budget is incredibly important to the people in need we fight these legislative battles on behalf of. We’ve seen what happens when funding disappears – just last year, a Cambridge shelter serving LGBTQ youth came within inches of closing its doors for good.

Not this time.

I couldn’t be more pleased to report that all – yes, ALL – of the priorities you helped us fight for made it in!

You raised your voice in the House. You emailed your Senators. You pushed the Conference Committee. You picked up the phone and called Governor Baker. You took action, and it worked.

That means:

Civil Legal Aid: Funded at $21.04 million, a mere $2 million shy of MLAC’s initial request and a $3 million increase over last year. That’s $3 million more going to provide critical free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney!

The Housing Court Expansion: Fully funded at $2.6 million, a huge win for expanding access to justice into areas of the state where people need it most!

Language Requiring Schools to Publish Meal Charge Policies: Included, and an important step forward in the ongoing fight to end lunch shaming and protect low-income students.

Support for Homeless Youth: Funded at 3.3 million, a huge increase from last year!

Task Force to Tackle Language Access in Schools: Language was included in the budget to establish this task force which will help to ensure schools are fulfilling their obligation to communicate effectively with limited English proficient parents about their child’s education!

For joining us in this series of budget battles and sticking by us for months, thank you.

For standing up and demanding a better, fairer Massachusetts, thank you.

For these remarkable victories, thank you.

Homeless ID Bill

Now the bad news.

Despite our best efforts, Senate Bill 2568, An Act to provide identification to homeless youth and families, did not pass before the end of the formal legislative session. This bill is a common sense reform measure that would make it easier for homeless youth to obtain state identification.

Without state ID, homeless youth cannot apply for a job, enroll in education programs, get a library card, or accomplish a number of other important, everday tasks. This bill would have eliminated the $25 fee and eased the path towards getting a state ID for homeless applicants. It could have made a big difference in the lives of homeless youth around the state.

We’re disappointed the Legislature was unable to pass Senate Bill 2568 before the formal session ended. But we aren’t giving up. This bill passed the Senate unanimously and we still have hope that, working with our community partners, we can get it passed by the House during informal sessions. Stay tuned as we work to make this happen!


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Many thanks to our generous hosts at the Envoy Hotel and everyone who came to help us celebrate the release of our latest report, Cell Phones in the Courthouse: An Access to Justice Perspective. Cell phone bans disproportionately impact litigants who are unable to afford an attorney, and can have critical access to justice consequences.

We’re so grateful to everyone who participated, with special thanks to Jade Brown from Greater Boston Legal Services and Erin O’Leary for sharing their personal experiences with cell phone bans and the harmful impact they can have.

To learn more about Erin’s story and how a cell phone ban affected her when she went to court facing a possible eviction, click here.

To read more about this issue and what we’re doing about it, visit our current projects or click here to see the final report.


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Innovators for Access to Justice Panel

A panel of innovators in access to justice will present immediately following the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Annual Meeting.

Dan Jackson
Northeastern University

Gabriel Teninbaum
Institute on Legal Innovation & Technology
Suffolk Law School

Bill Palin
Access to Justice/Technology Fellow
Harvard Law School










Join us to hear these experts from local law schools discuss their work using technology and other innovations to expand access to justice.

Date: Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Time: 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Location: Sherin and Lodgen LLP, 101 Federal Street, Floor 31, Boston, MA 02110

Northeastern University, Suffolk Law School, and Harvard Law School alumni are especially encouraged to attend!

The panelists’ presentation will be followed by a brief reception with refreshments.

Email Madeline at to RSVP today!

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A Letter from the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

You did it!

After so many months of tireless advocacy, you did it. On Friday, Governor Baker signed the omnibus criminal justice reform bill into law. The bill is now Chapter 69 of the Acts of 2018. And with that, you’ve brought us one step closer to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

This is huge.

Thanks to you, we can now stop kids in Massachusetts schools from being arrested for the vague crime of “disturbing school assembly.” We can keep school resource officers from involving themselves in routine disciplinary situations they are not trained for. And we can start collecting important data on school arrests in the state.

For every phone call you made to your senators and representatives, for every email you sent in support of our provisions, for your time and energy – thank you. 

This was no easy journey, and there were moments when it looked like our provisions to keep kids in class might not make it to the finish line. But you raised your voice time and time again and because you did, we won!

Find your legislators here and thank them for leading the charge to make this bill a reality.

The fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline is by no means over. But together, we just took a huge step forward.

Thank you for your continued involvement and support.


Deborah Silva
Executive Director

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Dear Friends:

Thank you so much for your work on behalf of vulnerable immigrants and refugees, and your interest in Appleseed’s Manual, “Protecting Assets and Child Custody in the Face of Deportation: A Guide for Practitioners and Immigrants.”

Late in 2017, we began working on a few updates to the Manual, particularly about the Executive Orders issued in early 2017. Those updates are now complete and both the full version of the Manual, as well as individual chapters, are posted to our website.

We hope you will download, review, and share individual chapters or the entire Manual with as many people as possible. We also have a limited number of print copies to share with those of you doing direct service work in your communities; to request a copy, fill out the form at the bottom of the Manual page. Our goal is to provide an indispensable product for you and other groups and people who are so incredibly dedicated to helping vulnerable immigrants and refugees. We are proud to be part of this effort, and to work with so many of you.

And we are not done yet! You can stay tuned over the next several weeks and months for a full Spanish translation of the Manual, shorter, more user-friendly versions of various chapters and more. If you know someone who should be subscribed for these updates in the future, please forward this email and encourage them to sign up for email updates.

Finally, we want to extend our deepest thanks to the many pro bono partners that researched, wrote, and edited chapters of the manual. They include: Adams and Reese LLP, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-based Violence, ASISTA, Ballard Spahr LLP, Cooley LLP, Hogan Lovells LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright, O’Melveny & Myers, The William Alanson White Institute Center for Public Mental Health and White & Case. We also want to thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation for their support of this work.

Thank you for your support, comments, suggestions and for the work that you do every day to help immigrant families. We look forward to continuing to work with you!

The Appleseed Team

Kick off the holiday season right and participate in Giving Tuesday on November 28! Join us in celebrating the global day of giving by creating positive impact in our communities.

Giving Tuesday is about working together to make a difference. How will you give this Giving Tuesday?


Give your time on Giving Tuesday and volunteer! With thousands of unrepresented litigants across the state, there’s an urgent need for pro bono representation. Don’t feel comfortable in a courtroom? Contact us at for volunteer opportunities at MA Appleseed. We welcome any skill set, from research, to legal expertise, to marketing, and everything in between!


Give a gift to support access to justice in Massachusetts! We envision a world where everyone gets their fair day in court, regardless of how much money they have or what language they speak. Your generosity can make this vision a reality. Join the movement and give back on November 28!

Become a Fundraiser

This year, we’re taking part in the Newman’s Own Foundation 500k Holiday Challenge! Participating organizations compete for up to $500,000 from when the Challenge launches on November 21, 2017 to when it ends on January 3, 2018.

Join us for the #GivingTuesday Bonus Challenge, where the organization that raises the most on November 28 will win $50,000. Click here to create your own fundraiser to spread the word and support our cause!


Your voice is your most powerful tool – so use it! Share on Facebook and Twitter why you care and what inspires you to give. Enter the #MyGivingStory contest to win up to $10,000 to donate to a charity of your choice, post a pic of you volunteering, or reach out to friends and family – why do they give? Start a conversation online and be sure to tag us @MassAppleseed!

For more information, please contact Madeline Poage, Development and Communications Assistant, at

2017 Fall Harvest Friendraiser

Join us on October 11th to learn about our recent projects to expand Access to Justice and the status of our Keep Kids in Class project.


Massachusetts Appleseed joins over three dozen civil rights and education groups on letter condemning Mystic Valley Regional Charter School dress code policy

Massachusetts Appleseed joined the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and other civil rights and education groups on a letter to the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School demanding it permanently rescinded its dress code policy that bans hair extensions and hair that is more than 2 inches in height to ensure that African American students receive equal treatment. The letter also calls for the school to remove all detentions and suspensions imposed on students for violating these rules from the students records.

Our friends at the Greater Boston Legal Services School to Prison Pipeline Intervention Project have created these helpful fact sheets to guide students and parents of students who have been subjected to school discipline. Please note that these are for information purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney client relationship between Massachusetts Appleseed and any visitor to our website. Note also that there are two “know your rights” fact sheets below – one that applies only to Boston Public Schools students and the other that applies to students at all other public school districts. Additionally, the statewide know your rights fact sheets apply to district schools and charter schools, but they do NOT apply to parochial or other private schools. Finally, a student who is accused of possessing drugs, possessing weapons, or assaulting educational staff, will be subject to rules that are slightly different than presented on these sheets. If a student is accused of any of those offenses or charged with a felony, they should seek legal help.

Fact Sheets