21st Powell Fellow To Address School Disciplinary Practices

Meredith Kilburn

Meredith Kilburn ’22 will work with the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey, directly representing clients and advocating for policy changes. Photo by Julia Davis

February 11, 2022

University of Virginia School of Law student Meredith Kilburn ’22 will help address school disciplinary practices as the 21st Powell Fellow in Legal Services.

The Powell Fellowship, named for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., awards $55,000 and additional benefits to recipients who enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor under the sponsorship of a host public interest organization. The Law School award is made for one year with the expectation that it will be renewed for a second year. Powell Fellows are also eligible for the school’s Loan Forgiveness Program.

Working with the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey, Kilburn will engage in a combination of direct representation of low-income students in school discipline proceedings and broader policy advocacy to decrease the presence of school resource officers and other law enforcement officials in schools statewide.

She said her goal is to keep students in the school community and reduce suspensions, which she noted disparately impact students of color and students with disabilities. Kilburn, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, taught in Chile and China, and her mother is a teacher.

“I would like to see regulation changes requiring more restorative justice practices, mental health professionals and non-exclusionary disciplinary practices in schools,” she said. “The response to student misbehavior should not necessarily be exclusionary discipline, like suspensions, expulsions or referrals to law enforcement.”

At UVA Law, Kilburn, a Program in Law and Public Service Fellow, has been a participant in the Civil Rights Clinic, a Virginia Journal of International Law editorial board member, membership co-director of the student-led Public Interest Law Association and a research assistant for Professor Kimberly Jenkins Robinson. She also interned at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section.

“The increase in [school resource officers] in schools and the high rates of referrals to law enforcement for students of color make Meredith’s project not just important but imperative,” said Amanda Yale, director of public service. “As a former teacher and someone who is 100% committed to racial justice work, Meredith has the necessary drive, intellect and skills to implement and execute this project in Newark, New Jersey. I believe she is a true leader within the public service community and has the capacity to effect real change.”

Kilburn said her interest in public service and community lawyering was fueled by hearing from practitioners in the first-year public service fellowship seminar led by Professor Crystal Shin ’10 and by learning about litigation to bridge educational disparities in Robinson’s Law, Inequality and Education Reform course. She saw how interconnected civil rights issues are while enforcing a prison health care settlement as a Civil Rights Clinic student with instructors Shannon Ellis ’15 and Rob Poggenklass, and while interning with the Housing Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.

Kilburn said she’s thankful for the ongoing support of the school’s Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center.

“Amanda Yale, Annie Kim and Leah Gould were incredibly helpful and supportive throughout my time at UVA,” she added.

“I’m passionate about civil rights work related to racial justice. I came to law school to learn about issues contributing to racial inequity and search for solutions,” she said. “I’m grateful for and excited about the opportunity to work with the Education Law Center to confront the school-to-prison pipeline and implement restorative justice practices.”

Kilburn earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Lipscomb University.

Powell Fellows

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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