Linnea Nelson is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Racial & Economic Justice Program at the ACLU of Northern California and the Statewide Education Equity Team Lead. She advocates for students’ constitutional and civil rights to equitable educational opportunity; and for an educational system where Black, Indigenous, and Latine students are authentically supported, their experiences, culture and history are reflected, and their needs are prioritized.
Linnea has litigated multiple challenges to discriminatory practices in California public schools. Most recently, and in collaboration with disability rights advocates, she filed Mark S. v. State of California to identify and remediate systemic mistreatment of disabled students, English learners, and Black students who are segregated into substandard learning environments and excluded from classrooms altogether through unwarranted suspensions, expulsions, and involuntary transfers. In 2018, she successfully sued Riverside County and achieved a ground-breaking settlement covering 18 school districts, effectively ending a program where students – the majority of whom were students of color - were placed under probation supervision for adolescent, non-criminal behavior. In collaboration with the Stockton Education Equity Coalition, she sued Stockton Unified School District in 2016 to release records of the district police department’s referrals of students to law enforcement. The analysis created from those records shone a spotlight on how police practices in Stockton USD harm students by shunting them into the criminal justice system for minor misconduct; and ultimately served to inform enforcement action by the Attorney General against Stockton USD, leading to a comprehensive settlement to reform police practices in the district.
Linnea has co-authored multiple statewide reports addressing discriminatory harms against students of color, and Black and Indigenous students in particular, in the statewide educational system. “No Police in Schools: A Vision for Safe and Supportive Schools in CA” demonstrates through extensive data analysis that, despite school districts pouring millions of dollars into campus police programs, there is little to no credible evidence that they increase school safety. Instead, police programs undermine school climate and criminalize Black and Indigenous students in particular. “The Right to Remain a Student: How California School Policies Fail to Protect and Serve” underscores the failure of school districts to establish protocols limiting in-school interactions between police officers and students. Failing Grade: The Status of Native American Education in Humboldt County highlights data showing that Indigenous students in Humboldt County, which is home to nearly twenty times more Indigenous students than the statewide average, experience vast disparities in academic outcomes and school-based supports they need to succeed and thrive in school.
Prior to her legal career, Linnea was an activist in the tradeswomen movement for eight years. She was an apprentice and then journey-level carpenter and served as shop steward on multiple job sites. Her proudest accomplishment during this time was to work with her union sisters to form and lead the New York City District Council of Carpenters’ Women’s Committee. Its primary goal was to increase the recruitment and retention of women into good-paying union construction jobs.
Linnea graduated from the New York University School of Law, where she was awarded a Root-Tilden-Kern scholarship for distinction in public service, academic merit, and leadership. She received her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College.