Legal Equity Project – Education

July 10, 2017

Recent statewide data suggests that Virginia public schools suspend or expel anywhere from approximately 1 in 10 to 1 in 4 students each year. These disciplinary actions are disproportionately imposed on students of color or students with disabilities, and many of the suspended and expelled students are grade schoolers. Smart Cville’s project aims to provide access to information, in a useable format, to these students and their families. While we intend to tailor our efforts toward the particular needs of students and families in Central Virginia in the first iteration, we believe that in the future this project could serve as a model for other communities as well and hope to build a scalable tool that could potentially be deployed statewide in the future.

Publicly available legal information–to the extent that it exists at all–is oftentimes found only on difficult to navigate websites, full of unfamiliar legalese and jargon, and provided only in English. Much of the information provided is designed to sell legal services–and while hiring a lawyer may be beneficial in many instances, doing so is frequently impossible for families because of cost, time commitment, and lack of familiarity with how to find a lawyer. While we at Smart Cville are not lawyers and our goal is not to provide legal advice or representation, we know that information is available to help families who otherwise will not hire lawyers.

After hearing stories from community members who felt overwhelmed and powerless when their students were suspended or expelled from school, we felt that providing access to information about the student discipline process in Central Virginia public schools was an important goal.  We are using a design-thinking based process in an attempt to more fully understand the needs and challenges of families facing these issues.  We are also working with Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center, a leading local provider of education law advice and representation, who possess helpful legal expertise and community relationships and other community individuals and organizations.  Through this Legal Equity Project, we plan to combine design-based principles with technology-based solutions to create simpler, visual means of conveying this information to the community.

Project Outcomes

Responsive webtool launched – URL

Project Lead

Kumar Narasimhan (contact)

Project Status

Iteration, design improvements, local resources expansion

Current Project Needs

Graphic design, thoughtful citizen volunteers, user testers

Project Sponsorship

This project is funded by Smart Cville donors and