'Justice in the Schools' moves fast in Year One to help KCPS families with free legal services

Justice in the Schools project director Cori Smith came with a host of numbers to present to the LINC commission meeting in May.

But the one that startles her the most, she said, is the four-out-of-10 students who move in or out of their Kansas City Public Schools classrooms every year.

The impact of high student mobility can cripple their chances for success. Helping those families with their civil legal struggles is the primary reason the Justice in the Schools legal clinic opened for the 2018-2019 school year.

“The heart of our focus is to help with the student mobility crisis,” Smith said. “A lot of that relies on eviction defense.”

The law team has to move quickly, she said. The time between an eviction notice and a family being put out the home by the sheriff’s office can be as short as two weeks.

The clinic, established by a partnership between Legal Aid of Western Missouri, the Kansas City Health Department, Kansas City Public Schools, and SchoolSmart Kansas City, has already served some 100 low-income clients since September, Smith said.

Smith and Justice in the Schools attorney Josh Murphy work with a panel of 12 attorneys, working pro-bono, to help families with a wide range of civil legal problems.

More than 40 percent of the cases were eviction-related issues, 22 percent involved guardianship, 16 percent involved family law and domestic violence, 9 percent dealt with utilities, among other issues.

“We also try to create that community wrap-around so, if we are not able to legally assist, we’re at least trying to know what is going on in the community,” Smith said.

Justice in the Schools is “a safety net," she said, “to help sustain these families for the long term.”

Justice in the Schools set up their office inside Central Academy of Excellence in January and had walk-in hours after school, but the team is willing to try to connect with families however they can.

“Our efforts won’t stop,” Smith said. “We will continue to try to meet families where they are — if it’s at a school in KCPS or they’re willing to talk to us on the phone, we’ll do whatever makes sense for that family.”

Anyone seeking help can contact Justice in the Schools online at www.kcpublicschools.org/Justice or on Facebook at @JusticeInTheSchools or by calling 816-418-2061.

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