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. (https://massappleseed.org)

 

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Boston nonprofit receives 4 years of funding from Cummings Foundation

For Immediate Release

Contact: Deborah Silva, Massachusetts Appleseed, 617-482-8686, deb@massappleseed.org
Contact: Alison Harding, Cummings Foundation, 781-932-7093, aeh@cummings.com

BOSTON, June 1, 2021 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is one of 140 local nonprofits to receive grants of $100,000 to $500,000 each through Cummings Foundation’s $25 Million Grant Program. The Boston-based organization was chosen from a total of 590 applicants during a competitive review process. It will receive $100,000 over four years.

Massachusetts Appleseed is a nonprofit organization that works in partnership with community organizations, pro bono attorneys, coalitions, and community members to promote equal rights and opportunities for Massachusetts residents by developing and advocating for systemic solutions to social justice issues. The organization uses policy-driven investigations and powerful advocacy to remove the systemic barriers that prevent Massachusetts’ vulnerable populations from accessing their legal rights, education, and economic stability.

Staff from Massachusetts Appleseed celebrate generous support from Cummings Foundation.

Massachusetts Appleseed staff celebrate Cummings Foundation’s generous support.

“We are deeply grateful for this extraordinary and generous support from Cummings Foundation,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Over the past year, we have seen the needs of our communities rise, systemic inequities worsen, and the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately devastate the most vulnerable among us. This grant will help us meet this historic moment and push for community-informed solutions to ensure Massachusetts families and youth can exercise their legal rights, build pathways out of poverty and crisis, and achieve meaningful access to essential services and opportunities.”

These funds will support and grow Massachusetts Appleseed’s many initiatives to expand access to opportunity and rebalance the scales of the civil justice system to ensure fair and equitable outcomes for all. In particular, this award will support the organization’s work to end language discrimination immigrant families face in state courts and agencies and to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, focusing on the ways girls of color are unjustly targeted and punished in schools. This funding will also support Massachusetts Appleseed’s work to help young people experiencing homelessness overcome legal barriers and build safe, stable futures.

The Cummings $25 Million Grant Program supports Massachusetts nonprofits that are based in and primarily serve Middlesex, Essex, and Suffolk counties.

Through this place-based initiative, Cummings Foundation aims to give back in the area where it owns commercial buildings, all of which are managed, at no cost to the Foundation, by its affiliate, Cummings Properties. This Woburn-based commercial real estate firm leases and manages 10 million square feet of debt-free space, the majority of which exclusively benefits the Foundation.

“We aim to help meet the needs of people in all segments of our local community,” said Cummings Foundation executive director Joel Swets. “It is the incredible organizations we fund, however, that do the actual daily work to empower our neighbors, educate our children, fight for equity, and so much more.”

With the help of about 80 volunteers, the Foundation first identified 140 organizations to receive grants of at least $100,000 each. Among the winners were first-time recipients as well as nonprofits that had previously received Cummings Foundation grants.

“We have adopted a democratic approach to philanthropy, which empowers an impressive roster of dedicated volunteers to decide more than half of all our grant winners each year,” said Swets. “We benefit from their diverse backgrounds and perspectives; they benefit from a meaningful and fulfilling experience; and the nonprofits often benefit from increased exposure and new advocates.”

This year’s grant recipients represent a wide variety of causes, including social justice, homelessness prevention, affordable housing, education, violence prevention, and food insecurity. The nonprofits are spread across 43 different cities and towns.

The complete list of 140 grant winners, plus more than 800 previous recipients, is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.

Cummings Foundation has now awarded more than $300 million to greater Boston nonprofits.

About Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. 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 long-term solutions, and develops know-your-rights resources for those impacted. (https://massappleseed.org)

About Cummings Foundation

Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, Inc. was established in 1986 by Joyce and Bill Cummings and has grown to be one of the three largest private foundations in New England. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including New Horizons retirement communities in Marlborough and Woburn, and Veterinary School at Tufts, LLC in North Grafton. Additional information is available at www.CummingsFoundation.org.

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA, May 20, 2021 – Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice welcomed Alison V. Douglass, Partner at Goodwin Procter LLP, Laura E. Martin, Litigation Associate at Mintz, and Peter P. Tobani, Senior Counsel of Global Retail Markets at Liberty Mutual Insurance, to its Board of Directors on March 25, 2021. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, education, and youth homelessness, is pleased to have these three stellar members of the legal community join the Board.

Alison V. Douglass, Goodwin Procter LLP

Alison V. Douglass, Goodwin Procter LLP

Alison Douglass works as a partner in Goodwin’s Complex Business Litigation and Dispute Resolution, Financial Industry Litigation, and ERISA Litigation practices, primarily focusing on commercial litigation in the areas of ERISA, mutual fund, and securities litigation. She brings to the Board extensive pro bono experience from her work as a volunteer with the New England Innocence Project representing incarcerated individuals and serving as a Committee for Public Counsel Services Bar Advocate representing indigent criminal defendants.

“I am thrilled for this opportunity to join the Board of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice,” said Alison Douglass. “Equal rights and access to justice are causes dear to my heart, and Appleseed is at the forefront of the fight to close critical gaps in services and opportunities available in our community. I look forward to contributing to the Center’s important mission.”

Laura E. Martin, Mintz

Laura E. Martin, Mintz

As a Litigation Associate at Mintz, Laura Martin’s practice encompasses labor and employment litigation, government investigations and enforcement proceedings, internal investigations, and white collar criminal defense for clients in a variety of industries. Ms. Martin’s dedication to expanding access to justice began early in her career when she served as a Student Public Defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services of the Plymouth County Trial Office and a Law Student Intern for Greater Boston Legal Services’ CORI & Re-Entry Project.

“I am honored and excited to join the Massachusetts Appleseed Board of Directors,” said Laura Martin. “The organization’s broad mission and dedicated staff are the foundation to create much needed changes within our community. I look forward to supporting Massachusetts Appleseed as it strives to improve access to justice for all.”

Peter P. Tobani, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Peter P. Tobani, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Peter Tobani works as corporate counsel for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s Global Retail Markets Strategic Business Unit where, among other things, he provides legal and regulatory guidance to their small commercial underwriting department and Strategic Partnerships Group. Mr. Tobani first came to Massachusetts Appleseed as a volunteer when he joined dozens of fellow attorneys from Liberty Mutual to help create the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, a know-your-rights resource aimed at helping youth experiencing homelessness understand and exercise their legal rights.

“I am honored and excited to join Massachusetts Appleseed and contribute to their very important mission of addressing systemic injustices throughout the Commonwealth,” Peter Tobani said.

“Alison, Laura, and Peter all bring a wide range of skills and experiences to the Board, but what they share is their absolute commitment to building a future guided by justice and equity,” said Melanie Todman, Chair of the Board. “We are thrilled to welcome them during one of the most difficult and extraordinary times our organization has seen, as our advocacy to meet the rapidly growing needs of our communities continues to gain momentum. To have such exceptional attorneys join us in this work, at this moment, is a true gift.”

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

Pro bono lawyers from Baker McKenzie, Boston Scientific and Liberty Mutual, and Staff of Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, co-author handbook

For more information, please contact:
Leah Schloss
Associate Director, NA Communications
leah.schloss@bakermckenzie.com
+1 212-626-4474

Boston, MA, February 23, 2021 – Global law firm Baker McKenzie, Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Boston Scientific, and Liberty Mutual are pleased to announce the publication of the Massachusetts Homeless Youth Handbook, an online resource designed to empower young people to understand their legal rights and take action to build safe, stable futures with Massachusetts-specific information.

More than 3,780 unaccompanied youth were identified as living on their own and without consistent access to shelter in Massachusetts in 2018. In Massachusetts schools, more than 23,500 students are estimated to be experiencing some form of homelessness, and their struggles have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Handbook is an online resource written in plain-language and in a youth-friendly question-and-answer format to ensure young people can use it themselves. The resource will be shared with schools, libraries, public agencies, social advocates, and others throughout Massachusetts, and Massachusetts Appleseed will be organizing trainings around its use.

“Youth experiencing homelessness in Massachusetts face extraordinary challenges related to their path to self-sufficiency and stability, and that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “Our aim is to empower these young people to navigate through their struggle against homelessness, and equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to move beyond their current realities and find safety and support.”

More than 60 volunteer attorneys and staff committed hundreds of hours to researching, writing, and editing the handbook, which covers a range of topics including education, domestic and dating violence, healthcare, and more. Volunteer attorneys were guided by community-based experts, who provided essential insights throughout the process.

“We are so pleased to contribute to this worthy effort in providing support to homeless youth and their advocates,” said James Kelleher, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Liberty Mutual. “With this easily accessible handbook, we can help lift young people out of homelessness and change their trajectory toward independence and stability.”

“We know that supporting underserved youth isn’t just the right thing to do for today—it’s also fueling a diverse talent pipeline of problem-solvers for the future,” said Desiree Ralls-Morrison, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Massachusetts-based medical technology leader Boston Scientific. “We are hopeful that the new Handbook will help homeless young people to find security and build a better future.”

Participating youth from the organizations My Life My Choice (an organization that works to end commercial sexual exploitation of children) and Bridge Over Troubled Waters (a Boston-based agency providing services for homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth) reviewed specific handbook chapters to ensure the content includes information most pertinent to their needs and effectively simplifies legal terminology.

Baker McKenzie has partnered with other organizations to produce handbooks in 8 different states, as well as Washington D.C. Learn more here.

“The Homeless Youth Handbook project is an excellent example of how collaboration among in-house counsel, non-profits and law firms can exponentially increase assistance to those in need, particularly the most vulnerable among us during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Colin Murray, North America Chief Executive Officer at Baker McKenzie. “Through partnerships like this, we are able to provide these youth in the US, and their advocates, with clear guidance on young people’s legal rights. Thank you to the talented teams at Liberty Mutual, Boston Scientific and Massachusetts Appleseed for their collaboration with us on this important project.”

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. (https://massappleseed.org)

About Liberty Mutual

At Liberty Mutual, we believe progress happens when people feel secure. By providing protection for the unexpected and delivering it with care, we help people embrace today and confidently pursue tomorrow.

In business since 1912, and headquartered in Boston, today we are the sixth largest global property and casualty insurer based on 2019 gross written premium. We also rank 77th on the Fortune 100 list of largest corporations in the U.S. based on 2019 revenue. As of December 31, 2019, we had $43.2 billion in annual consolidated revenue.

We employ more than 45,000 people in 29 countries and economies around the world. We offer a wide range of insurance products and services, including personal automobile, homeowners, specialty lines, reinsurance, commercial multiple-peril, workers compensation, commercial automobile, general liability, surety, and commercial property.

About Baker McKenzie

Baker McKenzie helps clients overcome the challenges of competing in the global economy. We solve complex legal problems across borders and practice areas. Our unique culture, developed over 70 years, enables our 13,000 people to understand local markets and navigate multiple jurisdictions, working together as trusted colleagues and friends to instill confidence in our clients. (www.bakermckenzie.com)

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 26, 2021

Media Contact:
Melanie Rush
Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
melanie@massappleseed.org

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice today released a report citing the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) for failing to provide federally mandated language access to limited English proficient (LEP) families involved with the agency. As a result, LEP parents cannot meaningfully comprehend or participate in the DCF process and subsequently face an increased likelihood of separation compared to their English-speaking counterparts.

“A lack of DCF investigators who speak a family’s language or dialect or are not completely fluent often leads to miscommunication about events and circumstances, which in turn can lead to erroneous conclusions about the family by DCF,” said Jessica R. Salinas-Thomas, Esq., an attorney with the Committee for Public Counsel Services who represents DCF-involved families. “… These problems can lead to a delayed reunification for a family or even the termination of a parent’s rights and a child’s loss of its family and community.”

The report examines the various ways in which the Department of Children and Families violates the civil language access rights of parents, the reasons for this systemic failure, and outlines steps that DCF, the Massachusetts Legislature, and the Massachusetts legal community should take to prevent the unjust separation of families and ensure the Commonwealth’s child welfare system complies with federal civil rights law.

“This research shows that even at the most basic level, DCF is failing to provide adequate language access, as well as the very real and irreparable harm LEP families consequently endure,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “Because of the trauma and instability children separated from their parents experience, which can have a profound and devastating impact on their mental health, emotional development, and ability to succeed in school, it is urgent that we take action to address this now. We call on DCF and our state legislators to make the changes necessary to ensure and protect the civil rights of all Massachusetts families.”

The findings of this report show that child welfare decisions involving LEP parents are often unjustly impacted by language access. The report’s findings include:

  • Despite a few individual “superstar” caseworkers, the majority of LEP parents do not receive sufficient interpretation services, document translation services, or social services in their primary language.
  • A lack of competent and impartial interpretation plagues DCF casework; it is estimated that an interpreter is present in only 25% of the LEP home visits the agency conducts.
  • LEP families regularly do not receive Action Plans, letters, notices, and agreements translated into their primary languages.
  • Often LEP parents experience wait times double those that English-speaking parents face when trying to attend the social services (such as therapy, substance use disorder meetings, or parenting classes) that are mandated by DCF.

“Language-based discrimination denies families and workers across the state equal access to their own government and the services they need,” said State Representative Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston). “It has no place in the Commonwealth, and as Massachusetts Appleseed’s report shows, the destructive impact it has on families can be permanent. If Massachusetts is truly committed to the principles of fairness, equity, and justice, then we need to guarantee language access and inclusion for all.”

A new state bill developed by the statewide Language Access Coalition, of which Massachusetts Appleseed is a member, and championed by Representative Madaro and Senator Sal DiDomenico would help remedy this problem by strengthening and standardizing language access requirements for state agencies. But the Massachusetts Legislature, DCF, and the legal community must take additional steps laid out in the report, including:

  • Improved policies and practices at DCF, such as implementing language access trainings for DCF staff, prioritizing hiring bilingual staff, ensuring contracted interpreters are competent and impartial, and publicizing the process for making language access complaints.
  • Increased trainings for staff of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, who should strongly advocate for their LEP clients’ meaningful access to DCF services through all means available, including the submission of complaints, if necessary.
  • Statewide legislation that provides a right for individuals to sue state-level government entities for disparate impact discrimination.
  • The exploration of alternative legal strategies for enforcing the rights of LEP families, including but not limited to impact litigation.

Representatives Joan Meschino and Adrian Madaro intend to file a civil rights bill, entitled An Act to create access to justice, which would restore the right of an individual to bring a claim in state court against a government agency when policies have a disparate impact on individuals designated as a protected class under Massachusetts state law. In this instance, the rights and case outcomes of limited English proficient families and parents are compromised by the department’s failure to provide language access during proceedings and services.

“Disparate impact discrimination is discrimination, regardless of intent,” said State Representative Joan Meschino (D-Hull).  “Our bill, An Act to create access to justice, enfranchises those who are discriminated against to take legal action in defense of their civil rights.  Access to state courts is essential to safeguard the civil rights of Massachusetts families, and Representative Madaro and I look forward to introducing the bill in the coming weeks.”

“The day-to-day work of DCF caseworkers is hard, and the stakes are high,” said Thomas Roy, a court-appointed attorney representing indigent clients who has worked closely with DCF. “But ultimately, it’s about communicating effectively with parents, and when that doesn’t happen, families are the ones who bear the consequences which can include a termination of parental rights. The end of the legal relationship between parent and child, the equivalent of a death sentence to a family.”

The report, “Families Torn Apart: Language-Based Discrimination at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families” is available online: https://massappleseed.org/reports/families-torn-apart/

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

 

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Report Finds Black Girls are Subject to Discriminatory School Disciplinary Action in Kansas, Massachusetts, and Alabama

WASHINGTON, DC, September 2, 2020 – Three members of the Appleseed Network, a non-profit network of independent organizations in the United States and Mexico working towards social and legal justice, today announced the release of their comprehensive report, “Protecting Girls of Color from the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” the final product of a year-long research project examining disparities in school disciplinary treatment for Black girls in Massachusetts, Alabama, and Kansas. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, an international law firm, served as pro bono partner throughout the project. 
 
The report is part of the Network’s extensive efforts to dismantle the complex school-to-prison pipeline, a continuum encompassing the steps that drive children out of school and into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.  Understanding how states approach school discipline is key: disciplinary policies including suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests may act as “gateways” to the criminal justice system later in their lives. 
 
The report’s findings illuminate a stark truth: girls of color, particularly Black girls, are consistently disciplined at a rate much higher than their white peers. Often, discipline is incurred more or to a greater extent by Black girls than their white peers for similar behavior. The findings also emphasize the significant change needed in school district disciplinary policies and data collection methods in order to protect girls of color from being funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline by means of excessive school discipline.
 
“This research helps to shine a light on one of the many ways that systemic racism continues to play out in Alabama,” says Akiesha Anderson, Policy Director at Alabama Appleseed. “The data irrefutably shows that Alabama’s public schools discipline Black girls more harshly than their white counterparts. As state leaders continue to grapple with criminal justice reform, the school-to-prison pipeline and its impact on Black girls should not be left out of the conversation.”
 
Key findings in the report include:

  • Across Alabama, Kansas, and Massachusetts, Black female students are roughly 5.2 times more likely to be disciplined than white female students.
  • In Alabama, Black girls are roughly 3.7 times more likely to be disciplined than their white female classmates
  • In Kansas, Black girls are roughly 6.2 times more likely more likely to be disciplined than their white female classmates.
  • In Massachusetts, Black girls are roughly 3.9 times more likely to be disciplined than their white counterparts.
  • State level data that is disaggregated by race, gender, and ethnicity is not widely available. The data also do not account for multiple forms of discipline and do not typically state the cause for discipline.

Policy proposals include:

  • More state and federal legislation mandating the consistent collection of data on school disciplinary action and ensuring databases are publicly accessible, cross-tabulated, and disaggregated to account for age, gender, race, and ethnicity.
  • More transparent data and incident reporting is a key step to further advocacy aimed at making schools safe environments for all students.

Deb Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed and a key partner on this project, said of the report, “It demonstrates the devastating impact that the intersection of gender and racial discrimination is having on Black girls in Massachusetts schools, and the indisputable need to include our classrooms in the ongoing dialogues about systemic racism currently sweeping the country. The school-to-prison pipeline is very much alive in Massachusetts, and this report is an important step forward in our work to advocate against the unjust school discipline policies that target and punish girls of color and promote a more inclusive and supportive vision of education.”
 
“The report exposes a dramatic imbalance in our school system and highlights the continued need for us to investigate and eradicate systemic racism at every level of our society.  It is impossible to ignore the lifelong consequences that such a disparate school discipline system has on young people of color,” says Mike Fonkert, Campaign Director of Kansas Appleseed. “We must do better.”

Willkie Farr & Gallagher worked with representatives from Alabama Appleseed, Massachusetts Appleseed, and Kansas Appleseed to collect and analyze federal school disciplinary data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection database, as well as state-level data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The report analyzes data available for five discipline categories: in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, referrals to law enforcement, and school-related arrests.

About the Appleseed Network
Appleseed is a network of 16 justice centers across the U.S. and Mexico working for a more just, inclusive, and hopeful future for us all.
 
For more information, please contact:

Alabama Appleseed
Carla Crowder, Executive Director
205-305-0735
carla.crowder@alabamaappleseed.org

Massachusetts Appleseed
Deb Silva, Executive Director
617-482-8686
deb@massappleseed.org

Kansas Appleseed
Mike Fonkert, Campaign Director
mfonkert@kansasappleseed.org

Massachusetts could increase access to justice through just one website

BOSTON, October 3, 2019 — A research report released today by the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice explores how the Massachusetts Trial Court could develop a new, online help center for court users.

The report details how the court system could use innovative technology, a free help line, and a revamped collection of informational materials to assist court users who are forced to represent themselves because they cannot afford to hire an attorney or do not qualify for legal aid. Over half of all civil court users in the Commonwealth represent themselves without the assistance of an attorney, according to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission.

“Today in Massachusetts, most people who find themselves in civil court are there alone, without a lawyer to assist them. Usually, this is because they can’t afford to pay for legal help. They’re at risk of losing their families, homes, and livelihood not because they’ve done something wrong, but because they don’t know how to protect their rights,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. “One proven solution to this growing problem is for courts to provide free online self-help services.”

Court users and the staff who serve them report a need for answering basic logistical questions, providing legal information on case processes, and help with filling out court forms as the most in-demand services from court users.

Today’s report recommends options for expanding legal self-help services that also meet the needs of court users in Massachusetts, including:

  • Creating a LiveHelp center where court users could call or message attorneys with questions about their cases.
  • Developing new document assembly programs that would allow users to easily fill out legal forms online.
  • Revamping the existing informational webpage the court system provides to make it more complete and user-friendly.

As the report details, many other states have taken steps to provide expansive, more effective legal self-help materials through their court websites. Most states – including Massachusetts – have information on how to navigate court proceedings and different types of civil court cases, such as divorce, guardianship, housing, or small claims cases, available online. In addition, state courts in Maryland and Alaska have also developed LiveHelp centers where court users can call a free phone line and receive information and guidance from attorneys and paralegals. In New York, the court system has developed an extensive collection of document assembly programs that allow users to enter their personal information and then receive completed legal forms that they can file with the court.

“We hope the Virtual Court Service Center will be a lasting contribution to increasing access to justice in Massachusetts,” Silva added. “This report represents an exciting vision of how we can use technology to help an even greater number of people with their legal issues than ever before.”

The report, “Turning on the Lights: How the Massachusetts Trial Court Could Deploy a Virtual Court Service Center to Assist Self-Represented Litigants” is available online: https://massappleseed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Court-Service-Center-Report-Final.pdf

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

Contact Jake Hofstetter at 617-482-8686 or email jake@massappleseed.org for more information about this report.

 

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For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice welcomed Kevin J. Curtin, Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, to its Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting on June 27, 2019. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, youth homelessness, and education is pleased to have Mr. Curtin, a talented attorney and professor and resolute advocate for social justice, join its Board of Directors as it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. 

“It is a great honor to be asked to serve in this role,” said Mr. Curtin. “I have known about the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice for as long as I can remember and I have deep respect for this remarkable institution, especially its focus on the underlying causes of core inequities in our society that trouble us all. I’m talking about issues like poverty, homelessness, racial and economic segregation, inefficient courts, ineffective governmental service providers and governmental social policies that – wittingly or unwittingly – create systemic unfairness and injustice.”

“I look forward to working with this talented Board and with our dedicated staff to advance Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission to provide meaningful access to justice for all,” he said. “Together, I hope we will continue to help bend what the Rev. Martin Luther King called the long ‘arc of the moral universe,’ so that the idea of justice may become a little more real in the world.” 

Kevin J. Curtin, Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director for the Office of the Middlesex District Attorney.

Kevin J. Curtin serves as Senior Appellate Counsel/Grand Jury Director for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan. He supervises the grand jury practice, writes and supervises appellate briefs, conducts oral arguments, manages Superior Court post-conviction matters, and advises the District Attorney and bureau chiefs. Mr. Curtin is a graduate of Boston College Law School and previously served as a judicial law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young. Mr. Curtin teaches at Boston College Law School, the National Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia School of Law, and in the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Workshop. He is a vice-chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section Council and co-chairs the Section’s Committee on Appellate and Habeas Practice. Since 2016 he has served on the ABA’s Working Group on Building Trust in the American Justice System. He has consulted extensively for the Republic of Uzbekistan since 2015, visiting the developing constitutional democracy six times since then and participating in the historic law reform efforts ongoing in that nation. In 2017, he was named Prosecutor of the Year by the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association and was honored by the Massachusetts Bar Association with one of its annual “Access to Justice” Awards. In November 2018, he received the American Bar Association’s Norm Maleng Minister of Justice Award. He joins the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Appleseed following in the footsteps of his father Jack Curtin, who was a leading advocate for legal aid and a former member of the Massachusetts Appleseed Board.

“Kevin Curtin is a true advocate for justice, and it is an honor to have him bring his years of expertise and his dedication to expanding access to opportunity for all to the Board of Directors,” said Melanie Todman, Chair of the Board. “To have Kevin continue the powerful and profound legacy of his father, Jack Curtin, on Massachusetts Appleseed’s Board is a remarkable gift, particularly as we celebrate our 25th anniversary.”

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice Board of Directors unanimously voted to appoint Melanie L. Todman, Associate at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, to Chair of its Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting on June 27, 2019. She succeeds Martha Mazzone, Executive Vice President of Legal Transformation at Cobra Legal Solutions LLC, who served as Board Chair since 2014 and who will remain on the Board of Directors.

“It has been an honor to serve as Chair of the Board over the past several years, and I thank my fellow Board members for the opportunity,” said Martha Mazzone. “I join my colleagues in congratulating Melanie, a true advocate of social justice with a deep commitment to moving Massachusetts Appleseed’s mission and projects forward. I am confident that under her leadership, Appleseed will continue and expand its essential work to reform the systemic barriers that keep access to justice and equal opportunity out of reach for so many in our state.”

Additionally, the Massachusetts Appleseed Board of Directors elected John A. Shutkin, General Counsel at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, as the new Vice-Chair. Justin J. Wolosz of Choate Hall & Stewart LLP has stepped down as Vice-Chair and will also continue to serve on the full Board of Directors. Massachusetts Appleseed, a nonprofit organization that advocates for systemic reform in areas such as access to justice, youth homelessness, and education is pleased to announce that Ms. Todman and Mr. Shutkin have assumed their new leadership roles.

Melanie L. Todman, Associate at Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP

Ms. Todman is an associate in Nutter’s Litigation Department. Her practice focuses on advising clients in internal governmental investigations and complex civil litigation relating to securities, insurance and reinsurance, commercial and product liability, government procurement, and municipal law. She has also spent time as a volunteer attorney in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and prior to that, was a legal fellow at Heartland Alliance International in Chicago. While serving on the Board of Massachusetts Appleseed, she has been a champion of the organization’s access to justice work, devoting hours of pro bono time to its pilot project, Turning on the Lights: How the Massachusetts Trial Court Could Deploy a Virtual Court Service Center to Assist Self-Represented Litigants.

“I want to extend my deepest thanks to Martha Mazzone for her tireless work as Chair for so many years, and to the Board of Directors for their confidence in me to serve in this new role,” said Ms. Todman. “Appleseed’s work to break down systemic barriers affecting our most vulnerable residents is more important than ever, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Board to continue moving Appleseed’s vital mission and projects forward.”

John A. Shutkin, General Counsel at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP.

John A. Shutkin is the General Counsel of CliftonLarsonAllen LLP, based in its Lexington, Massachusetts office. His extensive legal experience includes serving as General Counsel for KPMG International and the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP. Throughout his career, he has devoted his time to working for communities in need, serving on the boards of Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund, Partnership for After School Education (PASE), the Bank Street College of Education, and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. Mr. Shutkin is a committed member of the Appleseed network and in the past, served on the Board of Directors at Massachusetts Appleseed’s sister center, Connecticut Appleseed. In his time on the Board of Directors, Mr. Shutkin has generously supported the organization’s programs and will be heading the new Governance Committee.

“There is nothing more critical right now than continuing to expand justice and equal rights for all of our residents in Massachusetts, and I am honored to have the opportunity to do so as Vice-Chair of Massachusetts Appleseed,” said Mr. Shutkin. “I thank my fellow Board members as well as Martha Mazzone for her years of leadership and wisdom, and I look forward to working with Melanie to make a real difference for Massachusetts’ most vulnerable communities.”

Massachusetts Appleseed is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is thrilled to have Ms. Todman and Mr. Shutkin at the helm as the organization charts its path forward.

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. We research the ways in which the justice system, schools, and government agencies are systematically failing our most vulnerable residents. We collaborate with community partners to ensure that recommended plans of action are practical and comprehensive. We advocate for the implementation of solutions that will create lasting change.

For Immediate Release

BOSTON, May 29, 2019 – The Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice applauds the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s conclusions in its recently released report that courthouse cell phone bans create “unacceptable hardships” for court users and visitors. The Commission’s report recommended that cell phone bans “should be phased out in favor of alternative security measures” that prevent the misuse of cell phones in courthouses while allowing court users access to their devices.

These findings echo a July 2018 report by Massachusetts Appleseed that detailed how cell phone bans prevent people without attorneys from presenting critical evidence stored on their phones or referencing relevant legal resources during their legal proceedings. Appleseed also found that these bans create serious hardships for low-income court users who are often unable to coordinate childcare, transportation, and their absences from work without access to their cell phones.

“The burden of courthouse cell phone bans falls especially hard on people with business before the court who cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them, many of whom are also members of other vulnerable populations,” said Deborah Silva, Executive Director of Massachusetts Appleseed. “I’m thrilled to see the Massachusetts court system take another step closer to ensuring justice for all and am grateful to the Access to Justice Commission’s working group for its thorough and thoughtful study of this issue.”

Cell phone bans exist in 56 court facilities across Massachusetts, but the Commission recommended that the bans be reviewed and eliminated in most courthouses while providing exemptions for self-represented litigants in all courthouses during the transition period. In high-security risk courthouses where restrictions are deemed necessary, the Commission recommended that the bans could be replaced with either in-court storage facilities or Yondr pouches (tamper-proof containers that the phone’s owner can carry but have to be unlocked by security personnel). The Commission’s report also emphasized that the court system’s portable electronic device policies should focus on regulating the use of devices rather than the possession of them.

Massachusetts Appleseed’s report, Cell Phones in the Courthouse, an Access to Justice Perspective, can be found on its website: www.massappleseed.org.

 

About the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and 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. Appleseed uses research, collaboration, and advocacy to advance social justice across the Commonwealth. For more information about Massachusetts Appleseed, visit www.massappleseed.org. Follow us on Twitter: @MassAppleseed.

Media Contact:
Deborah Silva, Executive Director, Massachusetts Appleseed
617-482-9111, deb@massappleseed.org