The Suspension Representation Project (SRP), a law student organization that represents New York City public school students facing long-term suspensions, has garnered national recognition with an Exemplary Public Service Award for Student Groups from Equal Justice Works (EJW).
Ari Cohen ’11, founder and co-chair, and Kathryn Wood ’11, co-chair, were acknowledged for their leadership of Brooklyn Law School’s SRP chapter, which is one of five chapters that work together, including those at NYU School of Law, CUNY School of Law, Fordham Law School, and Pace Law School. The award is meant to “recognize the work of an individual student or student group that utilizes an innovative approach to meeting the needs of an underserved or marginalized person or community.” It will be presented at a ceremony in October in Washington D.C.
SRP was formed in 2007, following a 76 percent increase over five years in the number of public school suspensions, which can have many negative effects. Suspended students, often disabled or low-income students of color, are more likely than others to fall behind or to drop out of school. Although they have the right to representation at suspension hearings, there are very few lawyers available to them.
Elizabeth Kane, Director of the Public Service Program Office at BLS, said, “The award recognizes the initiative and accomplishment of students who organized and now run a pro bono project providing an important service to the community. They provide advice and representation to inner city high school students struggling to remain in and graduate from high school. SRP also gives the law students practical legal experience conducting hearings and seeing the impact of their legal skills on the quality of people’s lives.” SRP is a collective project, she said, with student leaders devoting a tremendous amount of time and energy to run their chapters.
Cohen said, “SRP routinely helps to shorten the length of the suspension or eliminate the suspension, helping kids stay in school.” Cohen and Wood noted that the value of the program went far beyond assisting families faced with suspension because “the process is empowering for all involved.”
Since its inception, SRP has trained over 200 student advocates and, during the past academic year alone, represented public school students at almost 79 hearings. SRP also participates in coalitions in NYC, seeking to improve the ways that schools respond to students’ behavior. In almost every case BLS students managed, either the charge was dismissed and the student was reinstated, or the length of the suspension was shortened.
Equal Justice Works promotes and coordinates public service programs at law schools and in the legal profession. It is the national leader in creating summer and postgraduate public interest opportunities for law students and lawyers. More information can be found on its website: www.equaljusticeworks.org.