In re S.F.

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S.F., a 12-year-old Black boy, was given as a condition of his juvenile probation a requirement that he not be suspended from school.

Juvenile Law Center joined the National Center for Youth Law, Public Justice Center and eleven other advocacy organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of S.F. in the Court of Appeals of Maryland. The brief argued that no-suspension probation conditions do not serve the restorative and rehabilitative purpose of juvenile probation because students, particularly Black students, may be unfairly suspended for subjective misbehavior. The brief emphasized that Black students are more likely to be disciplined harshly for ambiguously defined misbehaviors, and thus have less control over their ability to comply with a no-suspension condition than other youth.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland first found that the case was not moot, despite S.F. no longer being on probation. It was likely that a no-suspension probation condition would reoccur but would otherwise evade judicial review, the court concluded. It also reasoned that the case "concerns a matter of public interest--the nexus between juvenile justice and the public education system, sometimes referred to as 'the school-to-prison pipeline.'" 

The Court of Appeals then held that S.F.’s no-suspension probation condition was not impermissibly vague. While the Court acknowledged that a suspension could be arbitrarily imposed against a student based on a factor such as race or disability, it held that this did not bear on the vagueness of the condition. 

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Watts stated that this decision requires youth to “shoulder the burden of proving that a suspension resulted from factors beyond [their] control” and thus “establishes a difficult if not impossible standard” for them to meet.
 

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