School attorneys from across North America learned about new topics and trends in education law at the National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys’ 2013 School Law Practice Seminar, held Oct. 10-12 in Nashville, Tenn.
“The event’s program gave school attorneys an opportunity to dive deep into issues they face every day in their busy practices, and to look at some issues from a fresh perspective,” said COSA Director Sonja Trainor. “Our attendees were particularly engaged in the networking events, where they interacted with colleagues and corporate partners facing the same issues.”
Hot topic sessions tackled student privacy in the cloud computing era, armed guards in schools, and the latest on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The student privacy panel included technology law expert and COSA member Dotti Bollinger, Microsoft’s Steve Mutkoski and COSA board member Phil Hartley, who guided the audience through the evolving legal standards affecting student data privacy in the cloud. Former COSA Chair Tom Wheeler and COSA member Joe Tanguma provided an overview of liability standards for schools faced with violence, and noted the widely differing approaches taken by various states regarding arming school staff.
COSA member Chris Stevenson and NSBA Senior Staff Attorney Leza Conliffe presented attendees with an update on employer-related issues of the ACA, known as Obamacare. They discussed the implications of the employer mandate, a.k.a. the “Pay or Play” penalties, and the upcoming requirements the latest IRS rules place on school districts, as employers, in the areas of collecting and disclosing information about insurance coverage of all of its employees, their spouses and dependents, and the collection of an additional Medicare tax for a district’s high wage earners.
Attendees also addressed every-day issues such as involuntary resignation and constructive discharge, intellectual property creation and fair use, and litigation practice – including a poignant session on working with child witnesses. They heard COSA member D. Scott Bennett, whose son suffers from a severe form of autism, describe the fears and priorities of parents of disabled students.
“Autism presents unique challenges, and the parents’ well-being tends to ebb and flow depending on the child’s symptoms and behavioral condition,” Bennett wrote in a recent research paper. He advised school attorneys and educators to collaborate with parents and show them multiple strategies to foster the best educational experiences for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities.
Attendees also participated in interactive sessions addressing recent guidance from federal agencies on issues such as participation of students with disabilities in athletics and the appropriate use of pre-employment criminal background checks.
State school board association attorneys attended pre-seminar meetings on Oct. 10. At a lunch event on Oct. 11, attendees found their way to roundtable discussions on many different topics. Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, student data and cloud computing, international student travel, and labor negotiations were particularly popular discussion topics.
NSBA Executive Director Tom Gentzel noted the integral role COSA plays in the advocacy work of NSBA at the opening general session of the conference. NSBA President David Pickler, a practicing attorney, joined his colleagues at the practice seminar. At the seminar reception hosted by Lewis King Krieg & Waldrop and the Tennessee Council of School Board Attorneys, he welcomed attendees to his home state and invited COSA attorneys to join NSBA’s grassroots work to support public education.
NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. updated school attorneys on NSBA’s Legal Advocacy Agenda. He highlighted NSBA’s amicus work in recent and upcoming Supreme Court cases addressing diversity in student assignment and employer liability for claims of discrimination. He also noted NSBA’s recent amicus work in federal courts of appeal in student-related cases in which the Departments of Justice and Education have filed amicus briefs opposing the school district’s position.
COSA members and NSBA staff also took a moment to remember former NSBA General Counsel Gus Steinhilber, who passed away in August. He was remembered as a kind and generous friend, an avid outdoorsman, and a lifelong supporter of public schools and the attorneys who advocate on their behalf.
For more information on COSA events, go to www.nsba.org/SchoolLaw/COSA.