MLaw Society Works to Raise Awareness, Interest in Education Law and Policy
By Jenny Whalen
June 24, 2013
While their interests stretch to the highest echelons of the nation's education system, members of the Education Law and Policy Society (ELPS) draw their inspiration from experiences and relationships formed very much on the ground.
Founded by students during the 2010-2011 academic year, ELPS was designed to create awareness of education-related topics by providing a forum for the Michigan Law community to discuss, debate, and address issues ranging from the achievement gap to racial, ethnic, and gender equality.
"We want to make people in the Law School community more aware of what's going on in education and persuade more people to take an interest in education law," said Joshua Arocho, ELPS president. "Education law runs the gamut of all law, from property law to civil rights and torts. And the issues are not just in K-12, they deal with higher education as well."
Veterans of The Quito Project, founded at the University of Michigan, and Teach for America (TFA), respectively, Arocho and ELPS vice president Brendan Vandor now draw from comparable experiences in Ecuador and New Mexico to inspire their leadership of ELPS.
"Issues from my time with the Navajo Nation still motivate me," said Vandor, who spent two years with TFA before enrolling at Michigan Law. "The relationships I formed with the students, the stark poverty I witnessed—these kids deserve a better education than they're getting and policy plays a large role in that."
In the coming year, Vandor and Arocho hope to provide members of their organization with more hands-on opportunities to engage education-related issues, such as pro bono work with area law firms and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as the ability to volunteer at local schools and take part in events that connect students with leaders in the field.
The group has already had an impact on the School's education law curriculum, with Clinical Assistant Prof. Debra Chopp crediting her decision to teach the course Topics in Education Law in part to Nina Ruvinsky, '13, one of ELPS' founding members.
"It's great to see student interest," Chopp added. "There are a lot of different ways to get involved in education as an attorney. You can work for the government in the Department of Education, represent school districts as education law attorneys or represent parents who are trying to realize the education rights of their children, and then there is always policy work."
Helping members explore the many avenues available in education law is one of Arocho and Vandor's chief goals for ELPS in 2013-2014.
"We want to make ELPS accessible to people with all interests," Vandor said.
And whether it is attending one of the group's panel discussions, such as last year's 10-year anniversary review of the Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger Supreme Court cases concerning affirmative action at Michigan, or doing a few hours of research for a pro bono project, Arocho said the extent of involvement in ELPS is wholly up to individual members.
"There are so many different things to do with our group—networking, partnership, research—if students need development of one kind of skill, they can do it with us," Vandor added.
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