Mia Akers ’18

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: University of Wisconsin, Madison 2015
Affiliations: EBCLC Education Advocacy Clinic, Foster Education Project, Law Students of African Descent, California Law Review, Board of Advocates Moot Court

I work in the Education Advocacy Clinic (EAC) at EBCLC. We represent students in Alameda County during the expulsion process and also advocate for students who have disabilities and special needs through their individualized education plan (IEP) process.

The work of EAC is so important because, unfortunately, the expulsion process mirrors many aspects of a criminal trial. If the family of the student doesn’t have a lawyer or an advocate to help them through the process—to review paperwork, cross examine witnesses, present evidence, and basically mount a case—the school districts have an unfair advantage. Many students are being wrongfully expelled and are unaware of the rights and procedural safeguards that they entitled to under the California Education Code.

For students with disabilities, if they don’t have an advocate who diligently reviews IEP paperwork and ensures that the district is complying with all the relevant timelines, the rights of the parents, and completing proper assessments—this can really hurt a child’s progress. This is especially troublesome for students who are low income and families of color who are already at the margins of society.

There’s not enough outreach about the legal services that are available to families and students facing expulsion—maybe because people think it’s just a school proceeding and it’s not that important. No, it’s not exactly a criminal conviction, but having a disciplinary expulsion on a student’s record can affect the rest of their lives.

One of the biggest cases I worked on this semester involved a school district pressuring a student and his family to sign a stipulated expulsion, in which the student admits to the wrongdoing and foregoes their right to a hearing. We appealed that case to the Alameda County Board of Education and were able to get his expulsion overturned. So to see the things I’ve learned in the classroom be applied and change the course of a young person’s life is truly powerful.