NCJFCJ Receives $1.9 Million Grant to Keep Students in School and Out of Court

October 16, 2014

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges' (NCJFCJ) Board of Directors Chief Judge Steven Teske of Georgia and Chief Judge Chandlee Johnson Kuhn of Delaware joined Shawn Marsh, Ph.D., NCJFCJ's Chief Program Officer for Juvenile Law, in Washington, DC as invited facilitators, subject matter experts, and faculty for the National Leadership Summit on School Discipline and Climate (the Summit) October 6 to 7.

A follow-up to the historic "Keep Kids in School and Out of Court" convening in 2012 in New York, organized by Judge Judith Smith Kaye (Ret.), the Summit offered state teams from across the nation both facilitated action planning support as well as updates on cutting edge information on topics ranging from restorative justice practices to implicit bias to trauma-informed care. Judge Kaye (Ret.), Assistant Attorney General Karen Mason, and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator Robert Listenbee opened the Summit, and the convening closed with remarks from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Joining the teams working to improve student engagement and diversion of students from the juvenile justice system were other NCJFCJ members including Past Board Member Judge Patricia Clark of Pennsylvania, Judge Elizabeth Trosch of North Carolina, and Director of the Court Improvement Program of the Virginia Supreme Court's Office Ms. Lelia Hopper. Participants left the Summit with renewed energy and vision to keep kids in school and out of court by eliminating unnecessarily harsh disciplinary policies, improving school climate, promoting equal access to quality education at all points of system involvement, and advocating for meaningful youth and parent "voice" in system reform. 

This Summit occurred on the heels of the NCJFCJ receiving a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs for the OJJDP School Justice Partnership Program: Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court project.

This groundbreaking project hopes to disrupt the “school to juvenile justice pathway” by reducing the impact of zero tolerance policies. Research has shown that since the implementation of these stricter policies, the rates of suspensions, expulsions and school referrals for minor infractions to the juvenile justice system have skyrocketed. Originally designed to reduce future disruptions, zero tolerance policies have led to unintended consequences like increasing the likelihood that students will be involved deeper in the juvenile justice system in the future.  

NCJFCJ member and Chief Judge Steven Teske of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County in Georgia, and his colleagues are pioneering a refined process, which has been standardized and is being tested by the NCJFCJ. Clayton County is an example of the dramatic improvements associated with Judge Teske’s approach. Following adaptation of the multi-integrated systems approach, Clayton County experienced a 64% overall decrease in referrals to the court, a 43% decrease in referrals for youth of color and a 73% decrease of serious weapons on campus. Further, after implementing the protocol, graduation rates increased by 20%.

The grant will enable the NCJFCJ to establish and operate a National Resource Center on School Justice Partnerships to provide access to research, training and technical assistance that will result in the development of new policies and practice nationwide. The NCJFCJ will work together with four critical partners – the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

"This multidisciplinary initiative will allow the NCJFCJ to enhance judicially-led collaborations with education, mental health, substance abuse and law enforcement partners in jurisdictions across the U.S. to respond appropriately to student behavioral needs in order to avoid referring students to law enforcement and juvenile justice systems," said Cheri Ely, MA, LSW, Program Director for Juvenile Justice at the NCJFCJ.

The NCJFCJ has recently published the Practice Guide for the School Pathways to the Juvenile Justice System Project. Based on the successes of Clayton County, the structure, directions, and recommendations throughout the guide are the product of several months of consultation and collaboration with juvenile and family court judges and other juvenile justice and school system experts that will guide court sites nationwide pioneering this groundbreaking systems reform effort.