The National School Boards Association files more legal briefs in federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court than all other educational organizations combined, NSBA General Counsel Francisco Negrón said Sunday at NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference.
Other organizations seeking to influence the courts include familiar names, such as the American Federation of Teachers, and lower profile ones, such as the Council of Parent and Attorney Advocates, a disability rights group.
But there is a newly aggressive voice in the courts: the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education. Negron said those agencies are filing briefs telling courts how the Obama administration thinks laws ought to be interpreted in lawsuits involving bullying, students with disabilities and other topics.
NSBA’s argument generally boils down to citing what the law actually says and asking courts not to interpret it in ways that will lead to new causes of action against school districts or expansion of conditions under which school boards can be liable for money damages.
For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court may decide to hear a case involving Colorado’s Jefferson County School District that could expand the obligations of school districts to pay for out-of-state, residential treatment of students with certain diagnoses. The central issue is whether districts can be compelled to pay for services that NSBA contends are medical treatment rather than educational services.
“We think the Supreme Court will take up this case,” Negrón said.
Legal advocacy by NSBA is a form of support available to every school board that is a member of a state school boards association, Negrón said. NSBA and attorneys at state associations will devote resources to any case that has widespread potential ramifications for school districts.
He noted that NSBA has a lot of help in preparing its arguments. It works closely with the Council of School Attorneys (COSA), a continuing education and legal advocacy group for attorneys in private practice who represent school boards and school districts. For instance, NSBA’s brief prepared for Jefferson Cy Sch. Dist. v Elizabeth E. was written pro bono by COSA member Joseph Tanguma of Walsh, Anderson, et al in Austin, Tex.
Negrón urged board members to encourage their attorneys to become members of COSA. “It helps when we get that call if we already have a relationship with that attorney through COSA,” he said.
— Eric Randall