Press Releases

February 15, 2011

Youth Advocate Wins California Lawyer of the Year Award for Work Transforming Education in Broken Los Angeles County Probation System

LOS ANGELES -- Last year, Laura Faer was part of a team that tackled one of the nation’s most troubled education systems: the Challenger probation camp in Los Angeles County. Teachers at the county’s largest probation camp missed classes, punished students who asked for instruction, and awarded a high school diploma to a student who was illiterate.

Today Faer, directing attorney for the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel, was named California Lawyer of the Year for her work to help thousands of youth in the juvenile justice system.

Along with co-counsel Mark Rosenbaum of the ACLU of Southern California and Shawna Parks of the Disability Rights Legal Center, Faer filed Casey A. v. Jon R. Gundry et al, a class-action lawsuit against Los Angeles County agencies over their failure to educate thousands of youth in the probation system, one of the nation’s largest. They won a settlement agreement in November 2010 that will bring national experts to overhaul Camp Challenger.

“We have the opportunity to transform this from one of the worst education systems in the nation to a model for others to follow,” said Laura Faer, Directing Attorney of the Children’s Rights Project at Public Counsel Law Center. “We will make sure youth receive the tools to learn to read and write, to gain marketable skills, and to successfully return to their communities and schools.”

The annual California Lawyer of the Year awards from one of the state’s most-respected legal publications recognize achievements in 23 areas of legal practice. Faer and her co-counsel won for juvenile law, and this is the third award for Public Counsel and its attorneys.

As a result of the attorneys’ efforts, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the Los Angeles Probation Department will work extensively with a team of nationally renowned experts to implement systemic reforms at Challenger Memorial Youth Center and Christa McAuliffe High School in order to provide the required education and special education to the thousands of youth who are detained there.

The settlement also provides for intensive reading, math and transition services for youth who were detained at Challenger since January 12, 2008. As a result, these youth will be able to access educational services at no cost in order to help them regain the educational ground they lost while at Challenger. It also includes four years of monitoring to ensure the reforms are implemented.

The settlement provides a host of other of changes at Challenger, including:
•             Creation of the Challenger Reform Taskforce that will be responsible for tracking and reporting the reform efforts.
•             Development of a literacy program, including a lending library program and librarian and a career and technical education program, services which were previously unavailable to the youth.
•             Reform of Challenger’s disciplinary and solitary confinement policies to ensure that students receive an appropriate education as required by state law.

The lawsuit, Casey A., et al., v. Jon R.Gundry, et al. (Civil Action No. CV 10-00192 GHK (FMOx)), was filed on January 12, 2010. Counsel in the lawsuit include Public Counsel, Disability Rights Legal Center, the ACLU of Southern California, and the ACLU National Prison Project.