The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
December 2, 2011

It Gets Better

Approximately one in every five high school students is bullied, demoralizing young victims and endangering their lives.  When schools fail to prevent bullying, the targets feel isolated, lonely, and depressed. Many cannot focus on their studies because they are haunted by fear.  Sadly, suicides and attempted suicides are all too common.

While many people assume that schools will protect their children, school officials are often reluctant to assume responsibilities beyond their core educational role. It can be difficult to gain officials’ cooperation to discuss how schools can manage bullying that can occur any time from a bus ride in the morning through extracurricular activities in the afternoon.

Inspiring examples of law firms and legal departments partnering with organizations to undertake pro bono work focused on promoting educational environments where every student can feel safe and thrive include:

  • Faegre & Benson LLP*† partnered with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)  and National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), to file a federal lawsuit challenging anti-gay harassment in schools within Minnesota’s largest school district, as well as the district’s policy that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBT).  Faegre & Benson LLP, along with SPLC and NCLR began investigating the district’s policies in 2010, and found that while many attacks — both physical and verbal —occurred in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, school personnel were limited under a “neutrality policy” to offer support or provide sufficient assistance to LGBT students.
     
  • Bingham McCutchen LLP*† and Day Pitney LLP*† teamed with Connecticut Appleseed to conduct interviews in nine diverse school districts and publicize ideas on why schools should  transition from out of school suspensions to in-school suspensions.  “Keep Kids in School: Improving School Discipline”  pushed for the implementation of aggressive policies that enforce discipline, but simultaneously work to reduce the incidents requiring discipline.  By publicizing best practices, this report also looked to minimize the percentage of students who get caught up in the juvenile justice system, at the expense of their opportunity to pursue education.  Building on the relationships developed during the “Keep Kids in School” project, in partnership with the Governor’s Prevention Partnership, Connecticut Appleseed recruited more than 20 pro bono attorneys from The Travelers Companies, Inc. to interview officials and teachers from a representative sample of school districts to help accelerate compliance with the state’s anti-bullying laws.  The “Bullying in Connecticut’s Public Schools” project analyzed the effectiveness of bullying policies and strategies that have been adopted in the participating districts. The report seeks to help students and families by showcasing model policies, strategies, and training procedures.

Are you undertaking pro bono work to support antibullying efforts in your schools and communities?  Leave a comment or send us an email and share your experience.

* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project

 

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