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Center for Law and Education

Identifier: NEJL-076


  • 1969 - 1995

Biographical / Historical

1969 CLE opens its doors as the Harvard Center for Law and Education, an interdisciplinary research institute established by Harvard University and the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. CLE's mission is "to protect and advance the legal interests of the poor through research and action on the legal implications of educational policies, particularly those affecting equality of educational opportunity."

1970 CLE publishes the first full year of Inequality in Education, coveted by legal services attorneys, policy makers, advocates and academics for its ground breaking examination of such critical and timely concerns as Title I, parent involvement, tracking, Indian education, and race and sex discrimination.

1971 Through litigation, CLE persuades the court to invalidate the exclusion of a pregnant high school student in Massachusetts.

CLE drafts, and successfully advocates for, the Massachusetts Transitional Bilingual Education Act, which requires school systems to provide adequate bilingual education when twenty or more students speak a particular language. This Act becomes a model for several other states.

1972 CLE publishes trail-blazing manuals on students rights, student fees, and student classification to help attorneys and advocates represent students who have been excluded from school for various reasons, including disability, limited English proficiency, race, indigence and pregnancy.

1973 In a victory for free speech, CLE convinces a New Hampshire court to invalidate a school district rule forbidding distribution of unofficial school newspapers by students and to require procedural safeguards connected with student suspension.

1974 CLE serves as co-counsel in the landmark Boston school desegregation case, Morgan v. Hennigan. A district court rules that Boston school officials had engaged in racial discrimination in assigning students and hiring teachers and administrators, and begins the process of providing remedies.

1975 CLE attorney argues Goss v. Lopez before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rules that public school students have a protected interest in their education and are entitled to due process safeguards prior to suspension or expulsion.

CLE publishes Bilingual-Bicultural Education: A Handbook for Attorneys and Community Workers, as part of its multi-pronged efforts, including successful litigation, to assist language minority students.

1976 CLE attains a settlement in a far-reaching suit on behalf of native children in remote Alaskan villages. The settlement ultimately provides $133 million for school construction and community participation in educational decision-making. By 1981, nearly 100 villages contain new high schools for students who otherwise would have had to leave their Alaskan villages and families and go the lower U.S. to stay in school.

1977 CLE represent black parents in a rural town in Southeastern Missouri who could not afford the fees for certain academic courses at their children's public schools. The Missouri Supreme Court, in Concerned Parents v. Carruthersville School District, invalidates registration fees for public school academic courses.

1978 CLE continues to assist advocates around the country in the fight to ban corporal punishment from schools. CLE publishes a special issue of Inequality in Education on the subject.

1979 As co-counsel in Debra P. v. Turlington, CLE successfully challenges the growing practice of misusing minimum competency testing. The court invalidates use of the test to deny high school diplomas because of inadequate notice and because students had been subjected to racial discrimination in their education, and declares that students must be given adequate and equal opportunity to learn the material on which they are being tested. CLE also produces material and conducts a major national training event to help advocates challenge the misuse of competency testing.

CLE begins publishing NEWSNOTES, a newsletter about education advocacy including key legal developments, noteworthy state and local efforts, and resources.

1980 CLE opens an office and establishes a major presence in Washington, DC, setting the stage for more intensive work with the Congress and the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. Over the years, CLE staff plays a large role in the development of virtually every major piece of education legislation and regulation affecting poor children. CLE's impact is clearly seen on Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, civil rights remedies for limited-English-proficient children, the Handicapped Children's Protection Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Vocational Education Act, and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, among others.

1981 Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President and threatens drastic cuts in federal education spending, along with the elimination of federally funded legal services for poor people, including the Center for Law and Education. A Congressional amendment to bar legal services programs from representing students and parents in education cases is narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives.

CLE sponsors "Strategy Conference on Education & The Economy: An Alternative Community Agenda for Economic Development and Schools" to analyze ways to link education and community-based economic development strategies to revitalize communities and address the economic decline threatening education funding and quality.

1982 Despite continuing political attempts to eradicate CLE, the Center continues its important assistance to legal services attorneys and publishes two new comprehensive manuals. At 544 pages, School Discipline & Students Rights becomes widely regarded as the "bible" for field advocates on students' constitutional rights. And, the two-volume advocacy handbook, Special Education: A Manual for Advocates, is published when this field is burgeoning.

1983 With special funding from the Legal Services Corporation, CLE's Effective Schools Project sponsors a national conference; writes a 165-page report, What Works? An Examination of Effective Schools for Poor Black Children, which details quality education in Baltimore, Richmond and New York City; and publishes Effective Schools for Poor Children: A Parent Handbook.

1984 CLE establishes the Project for the Advancement of School-Related Mediation with funding from the National Institute for Dispute Resolution. This project is one of the first efforts to analyze the practical and ethical issues associated with the use of mediation to resolved school-related disputes. CLE hosts a national conference on the topic.

1985 The Education Law Bulletin, published by CLE, celebrates its 10th anniversary. This unparalleled resources is a comprehensive compilation of case summaries in education law. In 1985, CLE produces a special 231-page Bulletin about the legal issues surrounding the education of students with disabilities.

1986 Part H of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act is enacted, extending a broad range of services to developmentally delayed infants below the age of three, including a CLE-sponsored initiative giving states the option to include infants who are at risk of developmental delay. CLE also takes the lead in enactment of the Handicapped Children's Protection Act, which overturned a Supreme Court decision and restored remedies for parents of children with disabilities whose rights are violated.

1987 CLE, with other groups, surveys 110 homeless shelters throughout the country on the denial of education to homeless children. CLE produces a wide range of materials on the right to education for homeless and advocates strongly for the passage of the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act.

1988 CLE writes a critical amicus brief for Honig v. Doe. The Supreme Court rules that school officials cannot unilaterally remove a student with disabilities from school for any reason and must seek parental consent or a court order.

In large part due to CLE's leadership, the Chapter 1 law (the largest federal education program targeted to low-income children, at other times known as Title I) is restructured to help low-achieving students master basic and more advanced skills that all students are expected to learn. The law also coordinates Chapter 1 and the regular classroom program, engages in school-based program improvement, and increases parent involvement.

1989 The recently established Vocational Opportunity for Community and Educational Development (VOCED) Project begins to achieve national prominence. CLE unifies national civil rights, disability, and women's organizations around key issues that, several years later, become an essential part of any school-to-work effort. CLE plays a major role in the development of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act. The project ultimately receives national funding and establishes sites in Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, New York, Oakland and Richmond (CA), Philadelphia, and San Antonio, which become models for redirecting vocational programs to better meet students' long-term educational, social, and economic needs and link job training to community development.

1990 In Moore v. DC Board of Education, CLE files a successful amicus brief on behalf of members of Congress, detailing the legislators' original intent to enable parents of children with disabilities to obtain attorney fees when they prevail at the administrative level. This victory has enabled parents nationwide to be represented at due process hearings.

1991 CLE establishes the Parent to Parent Early Intervention Community Education Project, instrumental in notifying advocates, attorneys and parents about disabled and at-risk childrens' rights to services under Part H of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. With parent trainers and community leaders, CLE increases parent understanding and use of these services and produces informational material for parents in Chinese, Spanish, Haitian-Creole, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Khmer and English.

CLE produces Educational Rights of Children with Disabilities: A Primer for Advocates, widely recognized in the advocacy world as a major contribution to helping parents and advocates.

1992 In the Ayers case, in which CLE is co-counsel, the Supreme Court sets new standards for eliminating racial discrimination in higher education and holds that the lower court erred in ruling that the Mississippi system provides equal access to African-Americans. In 1995, the case is still not resolved, with CLE appearing once again in a Mississippi court room to continue the fight to rid the state's higher education system of discrimination.

The VOCED Project forms the Hands and Minds Collaborative with its lead site -- Cambridge's Rindge School of Technical Arts -- as a teacher-based center on the new vision of vocational curriculum and instruction. The Collaborative establishes an annual national summer institute on curriculum and staff development, focused on how to take down the walls between academic and vocational wings of the school, and between school and community.

1993 CLE establishes the Chapter 1 and Education Reform Advocacy Project. The project focuses on intensive support to targeted sites where parents, teachers and advocates seek to work with school officials to improve Chapter 1 effectiveness and the overall academic program. CLE provides publications and training for parents and other advocates on effective and meaningful parent involvement, program improvement and school reform. CLE staff also serves on the Steering Committee of the National Commission on Chapter 1 Reform.

1994 CLE has a major impact on new federal legislation -- in particular, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act (including strong provisions on all aspects of an industry and a variety of provisions on academic achievement, equity, and participation); the total rewriting of Title I (including much stronger provisions on school-level planning, academic standards, assessment and improvement, and parent involvement), and Goals 2000 (including new parent training and information centers).

CLE founds the National Education Law Task Force, consisting of active education advocates from around the country. Through working groups, members of the Task Force share information and assistance and advocate on mutual concerns.

The National Committee for Citizens for Education moves its staff, publications and programs to CLE. This collaboration provides additional expertise and an expanded vision for current work on parent and community involvement in education.

1995 After 26 years, the United States Congress eliminates all Legal Services Corporation funding for CLE and the other fifteen national support centers which provide back-up assistance on specialized areas of poverty law (such as education, housing, health, elderly law, etc.) to neighborhood legal services programs representing low-income clients throughout the nation. Despite the resulting cut-back in resources, CLE elects to continue and improve efforts to boost the quality of public education and the outcomes for all students and, in particular, those from low-income families.

CLE completes School Discipline: State Law Challenges, which is widely disseminated to legal services program attorneys and other pro bono attorneys attempting to contend with the harsh impact of "zero tolerance" statutes that are enacted in almost every state. In addition, CLE publishes A Guide to the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, a booklet providing an overview and section-by-section analysis of the Act and explaining advocacy opportunities for influencing state and local policy makers and planners who are developing school-to-work systems.

The Community Action for Public Schools (CAPS) initiative is launched to help families, schools, community organizations, and advocates work together to ensure that public schools provide high quality education to low-income children. Supported activities include: developing materials to assist parents in understanding school reform and how to improve educational outcomes; developing a database of effective school programs and practices, strategies, and resources for change; and undertaking opportunities to expand collaboration beyond CLE's current site-based project to a wider network.

1996 CLE publishes Parents Are Powerful - a colorful publication specifically written for parents to increase parent involvement in school improvement initiatives. The booklet assists parents to understand the importance of their role and to gain a better understanding of standards-based education as well as their children's rights to high quality education.

CLE effectively collaborates with other national and grassroots advocacy groups outside the beltway to defeat proposed amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which contain draconian provisions denying appropriate public education and critical procedural protections to overly broad categories of students with disabilities who have behavioral manifestations.

CLE's High School Reform and Vocational Education Project teams with the Big Picture Company to win the U.S. Department of Education's competition to design and implement the national New Urban High School (NUHS) initiative. NUHS is designed to integrate school-to-career principles with school-wide high school reform for all students. The initiative calls for selecting six urban schools that are working on these issues, assisting their development, and drawing out useful information and lessons for high school improvement.

The National Academy of Sciences commissions CLE to write a legal paper on Standards-Based Education and Assessment of Students with Disabilities: Legal and Policy Implications. The paper becomes the legal background document relied upon by the authors of Inclusion for All, published by the National Council on Research of the National Academy of Science, 1997.

1997 In February, CLE sponsors a meeting of 40 local organizations committed to improving parent involvement in education reform efforts. Drawing on participants' ideas and strategies for involving parents in school reform, Urgent Message! Families Crucial to School Reform is released in the fall. The report offers research, ideas, strategies, examples and resources about how parents can and do make a difference in ensuring that school reform efforts take hold and that their children's education improves.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals relies on arguments presented in CLE's amicus curiae brief to bar school districts from filing petitions of delinquency to limit the educational rights of students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The appellate court's far-reaching decision, Chris L. v. Morgan, appears to survive attempts to overrule it through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997.

1998 CLE formally undertakes a membership drive for its Community Action for Public Schools (CAPS) initiative. This national network consists of parents, educators, students and advocates who are working locally to make the right to a quality education a reality for all students. Sharing a common goal of improving education for all students, the network enables the members to share information and resources and to draw on CLE as a resource for legal advocacy, legislative updates, publications and technical assistance on improving schools.


66 linear feet

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Repository Details

Part of the National Equal Justice Library Repository

Georgetown University Law Library
111 G. Street NW
Washington D.C. 20001