Straight Out of Compton: Developmental Equality and a Critique of the Compton School Litigation

50 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2016 Last revised: 21 Mar 2017

See all articles by Nancy E. Dowd

Nancy E. Dowd

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 2016


In Part I, I set out my developmental equality model in three sections. First, I briefly explore the ecological perspective on child development, a broadly accepted developmental model, and its relation to best interests. Second, I consider the limitations of a ‘neutral’ ecological perspective, using as my example data about the life course of African American boys from birth to age 18. Finally, I suggest how to shift the lens to one of developmental equality, using the theoretical models of Cynthia Garcia Coll and Margaret Beale Spencer. While linked to the experience of children of color in the United States, these models are valid starting points, I would argue, for similar explorations of inequalities among both other groups of subordinated children in the US as well as children in other countries. I conclude with what I suggest could be the benefit of the developmental equality perspective, and what obligations it should trigger for the state.

In Part II, I use this lens to evaluate the Compton litigation. In 2015 a landmark lawsuit was filed against the Compton Unified School District alleging the failure of the district, system- wide, to respond to the widespread disabilities of its students based on trauma linked to living in a community with high rates of poverty, violence, and victimization from racism and gender difference. The lawsuit used development science based on research about ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and neuroscience to argue that the district, with knowledge of the circumstances of its students, and aware of its impact on achievement and behavior, nevertheless failed to provide students with appropriate accommodation and to the contrary, retraumatized them by using harsh and exclusionary disciplinary policies as well as denying them educational opportunity to achieve. Through the lens of the developmental equality model I evaluate the Compton litigation, and whether it holds promise as a strategy to accomplish developmental equality.

Keywords: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNCRC, childhood development, developmental equality, Peter P., et al. v. Compton Unified School District, race, gender, equality, Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACEs, neuroscience

Suggested Citation

Dowd, Nancy Elizabeth, Straight Out of Compton: Developmental Equality and a Critique of the Compton School Litigation (2016). 45 Capital University Law Review 199 (2017); University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 16-28. Available at SSRN:

Nancy Elizabeth Dowd (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0930 (Phone)
352-392-3005 (Fax)


Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics