In a list of emerging authorities in education law, Loyola University Chicago’s Education Law and Policy Institute—a component of the law school’s nationally regarded Civitas ChildLaw Center—would be front and center.
“I think there’s increasing recognition that we’re a go-to place for curriculum and resources on education law,” says Miranda Johnson, the institute’s director.
That’s true for Olive Collins, a first-year student who pursued law school after teaching elementary school students for nine years, starting in the Los Angeles area and then in Oak Park, Illinois. She left teaching because the administrative and testing burdens were making her and her students fall out of love with school.
“I looked at several Chicago law schools, as well as some schools in California,” explains Collins, who plans a new career in education law or policy. “Instantly, I had this feeling Loyola was the right place.
“Few schools have a focus on child law, and then there was this education law component,” Collins continues. “When I was introduced to Miranda Johnson and Michael Kaufman, now dean of the School of Law, things came into focus. The faculty is so well connected that I thought they’d be really helpful when I was looking for a job. Those two things together made it a no-brainer.”
A recognized leader
The School of Law has long been at the forefront of programs related to children’s law and policy. “The ChildLaw Center goes back nearly 25 years, and addressing the legal needs of children in poverty is central to its mission,” says Johnson. “The center’s work has focused on child welfare, juvenile justice, and family law, and over the past 10 years, there’s been a recognition that children’s educational needs should also be part of the overall emphasis.”
The Education Law and Policy Institute was launched in 2006 to address those needs. “The institute provides a means to connect the ChildLaw Center’s work on education with its other initiatives involving direct representation of children and policy reforms that benefit children,” says Johnson.
Since it opened, the institute has drawn more and more attention from students and the broader education law community. “Students’ interest in working on education issues stems in part from the increased visibility of education law within the center’s programming,” says Johnson.
The most visible programming event may be Loyola’s “Education Law: A Year in Review,” which was held for the fourth straight year in June. The half-day symposium on education law draws about 125 students, practitioners, and other stakeholders in the field.
Three years ago, the institute also supported law students’ creation of a project focused on reducing school suspensions and expulsions—and their adverse impacts on vulnerable students. The ChildLaw Clinic had already been providing representation to students and parents in school expulsion and special education cases.
“But there were no attorneys in Chicago consistently representing students who had been suspended,” says Johnson. “When a student is suspended, it’s a time to address concerns proactively, before the student faces expulsion. Our law students recognized that gap, and they’ve now served more than 40 families with children who’ve been suspended.”
Educators are responding
Loyola has a track record of attracting former teachers with an interest in studying law. “Many former teachers pursue child law and education law coursework,” Johnson says, “with the aim of having careers in education law or working on education policy when they leave.”
That’s true not just for Collins but for many other students as well. John Anders, a second-year, part-time student, chose Loyola because it’s the only school in the area that offers extensive courses in education law—and it allows him to continue teaching in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood while he pursues his law degree.
Cassandra Black has been the director of student services at Mount Prospect District 57 for the past five years and previously was a middle school assistant principal and school psychologist. In her current role, she oversees the district’s special education services, social emotional learning, and health services and works as the district’s homeless liaison.
“When I worked in high schools, I started to see that not all students loved school the way I did; they didn’t feel academically or socially successful,” says Black. “I became very interested in making school a place where students felt successful and connected. I also started looking at how I could make systematic change in our schools. By focusing on education law, I’ll have an even greater opportunity to work with school districts on policies and procedures that support best practices.”
These educators can help significantly shape children’s futures, Johnson says. “Teachers and other educators have a unique insight into issues related to children, poverty, and educational policy,” she says. “I think they’re attracted to Loyola because of its commitment to social justice and its outstanding national reputation in children’s law and policy. Loyola’s niche in education law and policy is quite distinct from what other institutions are able to offer.”