by Nancy Kinnally
The Florida Bar Foundation board March 9 approved $1.47 million in grants to 21 Children’s Legal Services projects that address the needs of foster youth, children with disabilities and health problems, children fleeing violence, LGBTQ youth, incarcerated minors and others. Several of the grants support the work of legal aid attorneys specializing in protecting the educational and civil rights of children in public schools and shutting off the school-to-jail pipeline.
For example, the Education Justice Collaborative, a joint project of Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. (LSGMI) and Disabilities Independence Group, will protect the rights of at-risk students and those with disabilities who are threatened with or have been subjected to a school-initiated Baker Act petition.
“Three times each school day, a student in Miami-Dade County is put in handcuffs and taken from school by the police because school personnel have initiated a Baker Act petition against the student,” LSGMI wrote in the grant application, adding that of 2,300 Baker Act examinations of minors in Miami-Dade County, 700 were initiated at a school. A statewide task force on involuntary examinations of minors issued its final report in November, which found that children are inappropriately Baker Acted for behavior that does not meet Baker Act
The project will provide outreach and education as well as direct representation of children by legal aid staff attorneys as well as pro bono attorneys. All of the educational materials created will be translated into Spanish and Haitian Creole.
“The outcome for children is that they will remain in school, avoid the stigmatization and harm caused by inappropriate Baker Act petitions, and will receive services necessary for school attendance and completion because their parents and other adults will have information to understand and enforce their legal rights,” the application stated.