Articles in the School Law category

Bullying remains ‘moving target’ for schools, COSA attorneys say

Why are we still talking about bullying? It remains a hot topic among school districts and attorneys, and was the topic of a Friday Council of School Attorneys’ session at the 2013 School Law Seminar in San Diego.

Presenters Seamus Boyce of Church, Church, Hittle & Atrium, Jim D. Long, senior attorney with the U.S Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Anne Littlefield, of Shipman & Goodwin outlined the issues that continue to challenge school districts about preventing bullying while not violating students First Amendment rights.

“It’s a moving target,” said Boyce. “We must try to avoid some of the negative outcomes for our clients.”

Littlefield outlined some of the current cases of bullying facing school districts and gave some advice for lawyers to take back to their districts:

“A few things to avoid saying on the record: ‘Boys will be boys,’ and ‘Teens will be teens.’ Don’t call it a prank. When you do that, you are communicating to students, parents, community and teachers that you will not take it seriously.”

About OCR enforcement, Long said, “There are rules about this stuff, and the rules are your friends. Follow the rules. That’s what I tell school districts.” Schools must have statements of non-harassment and make sure there are procedures that provide for prompt resolution, he said.

According to Boyce, 49 states have laws regarding peer bullying. These laws often have specific requirements for districts and school boards, including forming policies, procedures, and preventions plans.

Issues of cyberbullying, social network bullying, bullying off-campus and bullying counterclaims based on First Amendment rights are trending right now, said Boyce.

Kathleen Vail|April 12th, 2013|Categories: Bullying, Council of School Attorneys, NSBA Annual Conference 2013, School Climate, School Law|

NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys elects new leadership

The National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Council of School Attorneys (COSA), the national network of attorneys representing K-12 public school districts whose mission is to support school attorneys and provide leadership in legal advocacy for public schools, elected new leaders and directors for 2012-2013 during its annual meeting in San Diego. The 22-member Board of Directors oversees COSA’s continuing legal education programming for its 3,000 members across the United States and Canada.

Allison Brown Schafer became Chair; she is Director of Policy and Legal Counsel for the North Carolina School Boards Association and she received her J.D. from Wake Forest University.

Gregory J. Guercio became Chair-Elect; he is founding partner of the Farmingdale, N.Y., law firm of Guercio & Guercio, LLP, and he received his law degree from St. John’s University School of Law.

Justin D. Petrarca became Vice-Chair; he is a partner with the Chicago firm of Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, and he received his J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.

Andrew M. Sanchez became Secretary; he is a partner in the Albuquerque, N.M. office of Cuddy & McCarthy, and received his law degree from The George Washington University Law School.

“This is an exciting time for COSA and NSBA,” said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., NSBA’s General Counsel. “COSA’s new leadership represents the top education law attorneys across the country, ensuring that NSBA will continue to be the nation’s foremost legal advocate for public schools.”

COSA also elected three new directors to two-year terms: C. Wesley Bridges II is the general counsel for the School Board of Polk County, Fla.; Nancy Hungerford is the founder of The Hungerford Law Firm in Oregon City, Ore.; and James A. Keith is a partner with Adams and Reece in Jackson, Miss.

In addition, COSA elected four directors to a second two-year term: Diane Marshall-Freeman is a partner in the Sacramento, Calif., office of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, LLP; Joanne Nelson Shepherd is the district counsel for Jackson (Mississippi) Public School District; Leslie R. Stellman is a partner in the Towson, Md. office of Pessin Katz Law, P.A.; and Christopher P. Thomas is general counsel and director of legal and policy services to the Arizona School Boards Association.

“The council’s new leaders are extremely dedicated professionals who will admirably serve COSA members in their advocacy on behalf of public schools,” said Patrice McCarthy, past COSA Chair and head of this year’s nominating committee. “Together, they bring deep and rich legal experience and tremendous energy to the organization.”

Alexis Rice|April 12th, 2013|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2013, School Law|Tags: , , |

NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys honors Gary R. Thune with Lifetime Achievement Award

The National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) honored a school board attorney who has dedicated his career to education at the 2013 Annual School Law Seminar in San Diego.

Gary R. Thune of Bismarck, N.D. was presented with COSA’s 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award for exemplary leadership in legal advocacy and distinguished service to COSA.

“We are so proud to present Thune with an award that recognizes his exemplary dedication to legal advocacy on behalf of public school boards and the students they serve,” said Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda, COSA’s Chair.

Thune began his career as a mathematics teacher in a public school. After receiving a master’s degree in education, he served as principal, teacher, and coach of a private religious school. He later became the assistant principal of a larger public school. Thune received his juris doctorate, with distinction, from the University of North Dakota School of Law, where he was a member of the North Dakota Law Review editorial staff and Order of the Coif.

Since earning his law degree, Thune has represented almost all of the public school districts in North Dakota. He is a partner at Pearce & Durick in Bismarck, N.D., where he leads the firm’s school law practice. Thune serves as legal counsel for the North Dakota High School Activities Association and the government self-insurance pool, which covers all but one public school district in North Dakota. Gary served as legal counsel for the North Dakota School Boards Association for 32 years.

Thune has shown extraordinary dedication to the Council of School Attorneys, both at the national and state levels, for more than 30 years. He co-founded the North Dakota Council of School Attorneys, served for 11 years on COSA’s Board of Directors, and was chair of the Council from 1997-1998.

“I have been honored to work with dedicated educators and attorneys supporting the work of public schools in North Dakota,” said Thune.

Eynon-Kokrda noted, “Gary Thune is the model school board legal advocate. He knows the law, and he knows the practical realities of its every-day application in public schools. Plus, he’s a really nice guy, a thoughtful mentor to new school attorneys.”

Alexis Rice|April 12th, 2013|Categories: NSBA Annual Conference 2013, School Law|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA and NYSSBA challenge unilateral placements in special education case

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging a federal appeals court to ensure that school districts are not required to reimburse parents who unilaterally choose educational placements for their children with disabilities if those placements are not appropriate under federal special education law.

NSBA joins the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) in an amicus brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to uphold a lower court decision in C.L. v. Scarsdale Union Free School District. The case was brought by parents who unilaterally placed their child, who has learning disabilities, in a private school then asked the school district for tuition reimbursement. School officials had determined that the child’s disability did not qualify him for special education services under the nation’s main special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law requires students with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children in a regular classroom to the extent it is appropriate to their educational needs.

“IDEA is intended to promote collaboration between schools and families, and a school district should not be required to pay for an inappropriate private placement that was made without its input,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “A core tenet of IDEA is that students with disabilities should not be cut off from environments that include their non-disabled peers.”

The amicus brief written by NYSSBA responds to a U.S. Department of Justice position that the school district should pay for the restrictive placement unless it proves that there were other less restrictive private placements available to the parents but that those options were rejected without reason.

“School districts recognize the importance of working with families to determine appropriate placements for students with disabilities,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy  G. Kremer. “However, a school district shouldn’t be required to pay for a restrictive  private school unilaterally chosen by a parent.  School officials and parents should be partners not adversaries in this process.”

NSBA’s Legal Clips also has written about the case.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|March 25th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, School Boards, School Law, Special Education|Tags: , , |

NSBA urges La. Supreme Court to strike down vouchers

In a closely watched Louisiana Supreme Court case that began today, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is urging the court to rule that the state’s voucher program violates the state constitution because it diverts taxpayer funds to private schools.

NSBA has filed an amicus brief in the case, Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Louisiana, which could have national implications for the school choice movement. The lawsuit brought by the Louisiana School Boards Association (LSBA) and other education groups challenges the constitutionality of several measures adopted by the Louisiana State Legislature in 2012, including a law that provides vouchers to students in low-performing schools. Under the law, a centerpiece of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education agenda, the state board of elementary and secondary education is required to pay funds to private schools, including religious schools, as “scholarships” to cover the tuition and fees of students whose parents choose to remove their children from “failing” public schools and send them to a participating private school.

The trial court ruled in favor of the education groups and school districts, and the State of Louisiana now seeks an expedited review by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The voucher program undermines this country’s longstanding commitment to public education and harms the state’s children by depriving poorer school systems of scarce resources, NSBA writes in the brief. Further, most of the private schools receiving public tax dollars under the program are not subject to the same accountability requirements as public schools.

“These vouchers have allowed tax dollars to be diverted from public education to private individuals and entities that are not subject to the same academic, operational, and accountability standards as public schools,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “These laws are part of a national campaign by special interest groups to promote a narrow political agenda over the needs and well being of the schoolchildren of Louisiana.”

The program allows parents to use vouchers for their children as early as kindergarten, even if the child never attended a public school or the school is highly ranked.

“Louisiana already has a system of school choice through community public schools and charter schools, and we need our elected officials to ensure that our state has the best public school system available to all of its families,” said LSBA Executive Director Scott Richard. “Local school boards are responsible to provide public schools to their communities that are open to all students and reflect community needs. Vouchers have taken away critical state and local funding from Louisiana’s public schools, which the vast majority of our students attend.”

Joetta Sack-Min|March 19th, 2013|Categories: Board governance, Budgeting, Educational Legislation, Policy Formation, School Law, School Vouchers|Tags: , , , |

School boards encourage Supreme Court to protect employers from unnecessary lawsuits

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has filed an amicus brief in an employment case asking the U.S. Supreme Court not to hamper school districts’ abilities to discipline or fire employees.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar to be heard on April 24, 2013, the Supreme Court will determine whether an employee can win a discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act if the employer had legitimate business reasons for taking the adverse action.

The case is particularly relevant to public schools, collectively the largest employer in the country. NSBA is asking the Supreme Court to rule that the employee must prove that the employer took adverse action solely out of retaliation for the employee’s prior complaint of discrimination, not because of other legitimate reasons, a standard known as the “but for” test. Under the lower court ruling in the case, an employer must prove that they would have taken the action regardless of any desire to punish the employee for making charges of discrimination. The case centers on an employee of the University of Texas medical school who alleged that the chair of his department blocked his attempt to get a job at a hospital in retaliation for a claim of discrimination the employee had lodged against a supervisor.

“It is important that schools have the ability to discipline or terminate staff for legitimate reasons without fear of costly lawsuits that shift funds away from the classroom,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel.

“The High Court should not permit anti-discrimination laws to be used as a shield by substandard employees seeking to invalidate legitimate employer action for poor performance,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “This standard would result in many more lawsuits, and more legal costs, for already cash-strapped school districts.”

Alexis Rice|March 14th, 2013|Categories: School Boards, School Law|Tags: , , , , |

Education Talk Radio previews NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference

Kanisha Williams-Jones, Director of Leadership & Governance Services at the National School Boards Association (NSBA), was a guest today on Education Talk Radio providing a preview of NSBA’s 2013 Annual Conference. Thousands of school board members, administrators, and other educators will be coming to San Diego to take part in the April 13-15 event.

Listen to the broadcast:

Listen to internet radio with EduTalk on Blog Talk Radio

The conference will feature more than 200 sessions on timely education topics, including federal legislation and funding, managing schools with tight budgets, the legal implications of recent court cases, new research and best practices in school governance, and the Common Core State Standards. A series of sessions will focus on school safety and security.

Expanded education technology programming will include site visits to the University of San Diego and Qualcomm’s Mobile Learning Center to explore its research laboratory on mobile learning; Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography to examine the technology in science education and STEM; Encinitas Union School District to view its One-to-One Digital Learning Program; and the San Diego Zoo to learn about the cutting-edge learning tools used to teach at-risk students. U.S. Navy SEALs will show leadership and team building skills during another workshop.

The meeting also includes one of the largest K-12 educational expositions, with some 300 companies showcasing their innovative products and services for school districts.

General Session speakers include Academy Award winning speaker Geena Davis, who will be speaking about her work off-screen as founder of the non-profit Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Davis works with film and television creators to reduce gender stereotyping and increase the number of female characters in media targeted for children 11 and under. She will explain how media plays a key role in children’s development, and how her organization is making a difference.

Television star Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world’s most engaging and passionate science advocates, will headline Sunday’s General Session. From PBS to NASA to Presidential Commissions, organizations have depended on Tyson’s down-to-earth approach to astrophysics. He has been a frequent guest on “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report”, R”eal Time with Bill Maher”, and “Jeopardy!”. Tyson hopes to reach “all the people who never knew how much they’d love learning about space and science.”

Monday’s General Session features acclaimed researcher and author Diane Ravitch, who has become one of the most passionate voices for public schools. Her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, makes the case that public education today is in peril and offers a clear prescription for improving public schools.

Learn more about the common core standards, new research on differentiated learning styles, and teaching “unteachable” children at the Focus On lecture series. Learn about new technologies for your classrooms as part of the Technology + Learning programs.

It’s not too late to register, visit the Annual Conference website for  more information.

NSBA offers webinars on emerging legal issues for school districts

The National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) has planned a series of webinars this spring on emerging legal issues for school districts and their attorneys.

COSA will host a webinar on Feb. 7 on the Affordable Health Care Act that will discuss some of the major components of the ACA. The webinar will address: State Health Insurance Exchanges, some Group Health Plan Requirements (Summary of Benefits, W-2 reporting, FSA contributions, “full time employee” determinations, and more), the Individual Mandate, Medicaid, and requirements due to kick in next year.

On Feb. 26, the NSBA legal team will present a boot camp on major U.S. Supreme Court cases impacting public education.

And beginning on March 19, COSA will offer a three-part series of webinars on the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and recent changes in guidance to school districts. COSA notes that school districts all over the country have experienced a new level of vigor in the investigations of discrimination complaints filed with multiple federal agencies. The webinars will show how a proactive hands-on approach to handling OCR complaints will benefit school districts in their current and future dealings with OCR and will provide suggested best practices. The series includes:

  • Before OCR Arrives: Preventative Steps (March 19)
  • Types of OCR Investigations and Their Outcomes (May 7)
  • Nuts and Bolts of an OCR Investigation: From Initial Notice to Closure Letter (June 11)

More details about the costs and registration are available on COSA’s webpage. State associations have free access to these sessions.

In addition, COSA’s 2011 and 2012 webinars  are now available for purchase and download. If you paid to attend a session and want to listen again, contact COSA for a code to replay for free.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|February 6th, 2013|Categories: School Law|Tags: , , , |

School security changed in the wake of Sandy Hook

How will school security change in the wake of the Newtown school shootings? It may be too early to know the long-term effects of the tragedy on schools, but in the short-term, at least, conversations about school safety have intensified in its aftermath.

Patrice McCarthy, deputy executive director and general counsel of Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, spoke to school board association leaders at NSBA’s Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., Saturday afternoon on how her state association responded after the Newtown shootings.

McCarthy was joined by Francisco M. Negrón Jr, NSBA’s general counsel, and Jay Worona, general counsel and director of legal and policy services of the New York State School Boards Association.

Negrón pointed out that since the 1999 Columbine shootings, most school security has focused on indentifying disenfranchised students who could potentially become violent. However, after Sandy Hook, school boards and other education leaders are now looking at how to deal with threats from outside the school.

“We need to be aware of both,” said Negrón, “and assess both threat levels.”

School boards need to make sure district safety plans are up to date. Negrón recommended that such plans be reviewed, if not yearly, then at least every two years. “Safety plans must be real and dynamic,” he said. “Don’t put them on the shelf. Review them on a regular basis to make sure they meet your needs.”

Boards also should take the pulse of their community before taking measures such as hiring armed guards for schools. When you don’t talk to people, said Worona, the presumption is that you haven’t done anything. “We need to make sure people understand we can’t make our schools safe to the point that nothing will ever happen, but we do need to make them as safe as possible,” he said.

School board associations and individual school boards should know that national support is available to help after tragedies, said McCarthy. CABE received hundreds of telephone calls and offers of support within hours of the Sandy Hook news breaking, including from NSBA.

NSBA has a list of resources on school security, including articles from American School Board Journal, available here.

Kathleen Vail|January 26th, 2013|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, Crisis Management, Leadership Conference 2013, School Law, School Security, State School Boards Associations|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Court rules private school student is not eligible for Section 504 services

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that a disabled student unilaterally placed in a private school is not entitled to special education services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act if he remains in the private school.

The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by its Maryland and Virginia state associations, filed an amicus brief in the case, D.L. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, asking the court not to expand the law, commonly known as Section 504, to require public schools to fund the education of students in private schools beyond the parameters of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the nation’s main special education law. The January 16 ruling will impact public schools in the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

“The court recognized that Section 504 does not obligate school districts to pay for special education and related services for students enrolled unilaterally in private schools by their parents,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “This decision supports Congress’ intent that federal funds for special education and related services be reserved primarily for students enrolled in public schools.”

The case centered on a student with ADHD whose parents requested an evaluation for special education services from the Baltimore City school district. The school officials determined the student would be eligible for Section 504 services based on his disabilities but only if he attended a public school.

The three-judge panel also upheld the school district’s requirement that private school students must enroll in a public school to obtain Section 504 services. The decision stated that the district’s rule “does not violate the Free Exercise Clause merely because it causes economic disadvantage on individuals who choose to practice their religion in a specific manner,” according to NSBA’s Legal Clips.

For more details on the case, read the article in Legal Clips.

 

Joetta Sack-Min|January 23rd, 2013|Categories: Council of School Attorneys, School Law, Special Education|Tags: , , |
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