Category: News

Mock Trial Concludes with Energetic and COVID-Safe Events Across the Commonwealth

A record number 23 middle school teams presented their First Amendment cases, arguing the complicated line between hate speech and free speech before federal and state judges at Discovering Justice Mock Trial events..

In a five-day stretch, Discovering Justice hosted in-person events in seven cities across the Commonwealth with nearly 300 students.

“It was great to have students and legal mentors back in the courthouses,” said Mock Trial Program Manager Luke Matys. “We are so happy to bring everyone together to experience being in a courtroom and facing a real live judge. I know our students and volunteers missed having the mock trials in-person over the past year.”

Discovering Justice hosted in-person events at courthouses and in-partner schools in Boston, Springfield, Lowell, Worcester, New Bedford, Rehoboth, and Douglas. Discovering Justice also hosted two events virtually. Read more about the four schools from Springfield which participated in the U.S. Courthouse there.

Over the fall semester, middle school students wrestled with the case of Taylor Young. Taylor is a junior at the fictional Westbury (MA) High School. Taylor is the President of the school’s Planet Club, which provides an open space for students to learn and have discussions on environmental issues. They invited Blake del Valle to speak — a provocative journalist and author, who argues that it is morally wrong to eat meat and often publicly shames people who do

After Taylor began to advertise the event, concerns arose that del Valle’s speech would be harmful to Westbury, a community with many farms, and would violate the school’s commitment to teaching students to respect others. At the PTA’s request, Principal Knight asked Taylor to cancel the event, and when Taylor refused, they were suspended from school. Taylor sued the Westbury School District, arguing that their suspension is a violation of their right to free speech.

This semester, the program served 290 middle school students from 12 cities and towns, the most in Discovering Justice history. “We are so proud of our students for their perseverance and energy throughout this challenging semester,” said Matys. Highlighting the help of legal professionals across the Commonwealth Matys added, “The program wouldn’t be possible without our 104 volunteer legal mentors. The connection and relationships they form with our students make the program special.”

If you are a lawyer, law professor, legal professional, school leader, or teacher interested in signing up your firm, law school, bar association, school district, or middle school for the Mock Appeal Program this Spring, please contact Malia Brooks (mbrooks@discoveringjustice.org).

 

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Discovering Justice Welcomes Four New Fellows

Top Left: Caitlyn Ramsey, Bottom Left: Alexis Roach, Middle: Rosy Fitzgerald, Right: Lilly Weidhaas

Discovering Justice’s Fellowship Program continues to flourish this fall with the addition of four new fellows, coming to us all the way from California and New Hampshire. Working directly with Discovering Justice staff, the Fall 2021 fellows have been helping to develop the organization’s programs and strengthening its operational capacity while gaining skills in delivering civic education, working for social change, and managing a nonprofit organization.

Discovering Justice will be hiring a new set of Fellows for the 2022 winter/spring semester. Please see the careers page to apply.

 

Lilly Weidhaas, Topics and Mock Trial Programs Fellow

Lilly joins Discovering Justice after graduating from Pomona College, where she studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Deeply passionate about civic and moral education, Lilly wrote her senior thesis on civil discourse instruction and is excited to apply what she learned as a Programs Fellow. Next year, Lilly plans to pursue a joint JD/Ph.D. in Philosophy, and hopes to someday work with policymakers, lawyers, and non-profit groups to improve access to civic education across the United States.

Alexis Roach, Mock Trial Programs Fellow

Currently a junior at the University of New Hampshire, Alexis is a member of the College for Social Innovation, a non-profit seeking to meld experiential learning models with higher education. She looks forward to working with the Mock Trial After School Program to help provide students with the opportunity to explore the legal profession and work to develop their own understandings of the justice system.

Caitlyn Ramsey, Courthouse Programs Fellow

Cat recently earned a master’s degree in Global Peace, Security, and Strategic Studies from Vesalius College and she has a bachelor’s degree in Russian, Arabic, and Persian from the University of St. Andrews. Her background is diverse, ranging from teaching English as a Second Language around the world to working on democracy, information campaigns, and emerging technology at the Alliance for Securing Democracy of the German Marshall Fund. She believes in the power of a strong, connected, and engaged community to maintain and develop a healthy democracy.

Rosy Fitzgerald, Communications Fellow

Rosy is a graduate of Tufts University, where she majored in American Studies with a concentration in Institutions and Power. Coming from a background in creative writing, education, and political advocacy, Rosy is passionate about the intersection of storytelling and social justice, and she is eager to be working on organizational narrative development while taking over social media and communications channels for Discovering Justice this fall.

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Photo/Reba Saldanha  Discovering Justice Mock Trials December 10, 2019

Student Panel Event: Unpopular Speech in Schools

Students across Massachusetts will have the opportunity to hear an array of perspectives on the protection of student rights in schools at Discovering Justice’s Fall Student Panel on November 23rd.

Highlighting the virtual conversation is Mary Beth Tinker, the plaintiff in Tinker v. Des Moines, a landmark Supreme Court case that helped define student rights in schools; Kevin Dua, a teacher from Massachusetts encouraging student advocacy to affect social and racial justice change; and Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel at the Student Press Law Center, an organization focused on preserving student rights in schools under the First Amendment.

Moderated by Discovering Justice’s Courthouse Programs Manager, Henry Schunk, the virtual event will be an opportunity for students to learn more about their rights to free speech. The discussion will focus on the issue of “unpopular speech” and its place, or lack thereof, in schools. Recently, guest speaker events at MIT and the Middlesex School in Concord, MA have been cancelled because of the speaker’s political views.

The event complements Discovering Justice’s fall Mock Trial Program, in which students are learning about, and debating these same precedents and arguments in their case, centered around unpopular speech in a Massachusetts middle school.

If you or a student you know would like to attend the panel discussion, please register to attend the event here.

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Restorative Justice: Community Healing at the Federal Level

Featuring U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Herbert, Probation Officer Maria D’Addieco, Defense & Civil Rights Attorney Jessica Hedges, and Participants Tavon Robinson & Robyn Houston-Bean

On 8 December 2021, from 4:00-5:30 PM, Discovering Justice’s Executive Director, Matt Wilson, will facilitate a conversation on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts’ restorative justice program, one of the only federal-level restorative justice programs in the United States. The event is part of Discovering Justice’s ongoing Courthouse Event Series.

Restorative justice is a concept based on the traditions and values of indigenous peoples. The practice brings individuals who have committed a crime together with victims, survivors, and community members affected by crime. The process is challenging and deeply personal, but the results can be life-changing for all participants. The program encourages offenders to come to a meaningful acceptance of responsibility by evoking a deep understanding of the many ways in which every crime causes harm. Victims, survivors, and community members are given the opportunity to engage with the justice system in impactful ways.

Panelists will discuss the impact restorative justice has had on their lives, the use of restorative justice at different levels and in different systems, and the expansion of restorative justice practices at the Massachusetts District Court beyond the RISE program. The panel is an opportunity to listen to personal stories of community healing, to learn about the prospects for expanding restorative justice practices, and to ask questions about these practices of responding to harm.

Sign up to join the event virtually or in person at the Moakley Courthouse. Please address all questions to Henry Schunk at hschunk@discoveringjustice.org.

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Children Discovering Justice Program Expands to Boston and Springfield

Discovering Justice has partnered with district leaders and teachers in Boston and Springfield Public Schools to bring to their Grade K-2 classrooms engaging, complex, and age appropriate conversations on the topics of fairness, community, advocacy, justice, and democracy.

This past summer, Education Program Director Laura Brenner, worked with teachers in Springfield and Boston to build the curricula to introduce students to civic education learning at an early age.

  • For Kindergarten, students explore fairness, rules and justice in their community.
  • For First Grade students learn about voting, elections, and leadership.
  • For Second Grade students see examples of environmental justice and advocacy.

“We were excited to see the complex and age appropriate conversations our K2 students were engaging in!” —Emma Fialka-Feldman, Principal of Roger Clap Elementary

Check out this clip from teacher leader Tara Bordeau to hear her talk more about the curriculum and its impact on students:

Discovering Justice is working to adapt the curriculum for use in classrooms across the Commonwealth for the Fall of 2022.

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Photo/Reba Saldanha  Discovering Justice Stand Up For Your Rights May 21, 2019

Mock Trial Returns with Record Number of Teams

Discovering Justice kicked off its 20th season of its Mock Trial program in October, with middle school students from a record 24 teams from 12 cities and towns set to tackle the complex intricacies of the First Amendment.

With the expanding number of teams and cities involved in the program, Luke Matys, Discovering Jutice’s Mock Trial Program Manager, is excited to hold the culminating trials in courtrooms across the Commonwealth the week of December 13th. “We are partnering with more teams and in more places than ever before,” Matys said. “The week of Mock Trials will be a wonderful celebration of our student attorneys’ work and a great opportunity for us as a community to support them.”

The Mock Trial program, which runs for 10 weeks, pairs middle school students and legal mentors for weekly sessions to prepare a case before a judge and a jury. The case for this year addresses the contemporary issue of “unpopular speech” on a school campus and how it tests the guarantees of free speech in the First Amendment.

“I love Discovering Justice! I would encourage all lawyers to try it out for a semester and I would also encourage all students that can to sign up,” said Meg Ziegler, a legal mentor from Choate Hall & Stewart, who is working this fall with the students at the Douglas Middle School in Douglas, MA.

Mary Kay Brown, a longtime mock trial partner and Director of Partnerships for the John J. Duggan Academy in Springfield, is also looking forward to giving another group of students the Discovering Justice experience. “It’s just a whole other layer of career awareness,” she said. “We’ve had just so many situations where kids walked away and they just said ‘yeah, this is what I want to do.’”

Discovering Justice will be hosting Mock Trial events in Lowell and Springfield on Tuesday, December 14th, in Boston on Wednesday, December 15th, and in Worcester and New Bedford on Thursday, December 16th. If you are interested in volunteering to hear our students try their cases as a juror, contact Discovering Justice’s Outreach & Recruitment Associate, Malia Brooks at mbrooks@discoveringjustice.org.

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