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SCOTX Amicus Brief: The Process

Amicus Brief Writing Team (1)
By: Zaakir Tameez and Amy Fan

Over the summer, as a group of Student Congress members, we set out to write an amicus curiae brief for the Texas Supreme Court asking the state for more school funding.

Crash course: An amicus (literally, “friend of the court”)  brief is written by a third-party—someone who isn’t directly involved in a legal case.

This particular case was about whether the school finance system was adequately funding its schools, among other things. When the original case was being heard, there were no students testimony or any student input. As students who experience education 5 days a week, 30 weeks a year, it didn’t seem right that this court case was going to be decided without our input.

This time, we wanted to make sure our voices were heard. So we set out to write an amicus brief.

 

Writing the brief:

To be honest, we made countless mistakes and did a lot of unnecessary work. We never got all the authors in the same room because of scheduling conflicts, but we did our best to coordinate meetings with each other. Our team grew and shrunk throughout the process, and we spent months figuring out exactly how we wanted to present the student voice to the justices. Then we started writing.

Some of us visited schools and interviewed teachers and administrators. Some of us read through research and long legal documents. But we also sat back and thought deeply about our own education—the factors that really made them good or bad.

We went through numerous outlines, did multiple rounds of research, and restarted three times. Even then, we ended up cutting out paragraphs, pages, and even entire sections.

Only our two names appear on the brief, but so much more went into preparing this 35 page legal document. Here’s a short description of each of the supporting authors:

Introduction: Juliana Dunn (Carnegie Vanguard ’15) and David Valerio (Carnegie Vanguard ’15)

Juliana and David visited Lee High School to interview Principal Trinh and Mr. Edgardo Figueroa about their school. They also did most of the research regarding ELL students and resource inadequacy in schools across Texas.

Class Sizes and Teacher Quality: Kate Ham (High School for the Performing and Visual Arts ’16)  

Kate primarily wrote the sections about class sizes and teacher quality. As someone who had come from a private school in middle school and returned to public school in high school, she drew on her experiences about the disparities and used extensive research to state her case.

Enrichment Programs: Uyiosa Elegon (Debakey ’16)  

After encountering a simple transformation in his attitude towards school after an orchestra class was moved to the beginning of the day during middle school, Uyiosa chose to write a section about the importance of preserving enrichment programs (such as arts education) in schools.

College and Career Readiness: Precious Robinson (Scarborough ’15) and Aviance Obie (Westbury ’16)  

Precious outlined and drafted a section about college readiness. After being involved in many college and career preparatory programs herself and realizing their importance, she wrote asking for the state to fund college and career readiness programs more. Aviance also contributed to this section in the early stages of the outline.

Early Childhood Education: Amber Farias (Energy Institute ’17) and Raquel Douglas (Carnegie Vanguard ’15) (Not included)

Amber and Raquel wrote a section in the brief about the importance of early childhood education and literacy. However, we ultimately decided the brief was more effective focusing on high school issues. We still think early childhood education is important, and for that reason, we’ve uploaded their section here. Afterwards, Amber and Raquel served as comprehensive editors to the brief.

 

Reflecting afterwards:

What we’ve come to realize over these few months is that when you organize a team of dedicated, incredible people, great things can happen. Probably the most valuable experience was just learning how to get such a large group to write one, solid document in a single voice. The amount of teamwork, hard work, and devotion required is a testament to what students can accomplish when they put their minds together.

Believe us—this process wasn’t easy. But it was definitely worth it. The lives of five million Texan children are at stake.

 

Zaakir Tameez (Carnegie Vanguard ’15), Founding Speaker of the HISD Student Congress

Amy Fan (Bellaire ’16), Second Speaker of the HISD Student Congress

Lead Authors of the Amicus Curiae Brief

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This entry was posted on September 21, 2015 by .

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