School Employment

Special Education Law – Relevant Terms

Within the realm of Special Education Law there are several relative terms one should be familiar with. Below are some of these key terms.

Applied Behavior Analysis (“ABA”):

An intensive, structured teaching program in which behaviors to be taught are broken down into simple elements. Each element is taught using repeated trials where the child is presented with a stimulus; correct responses and behaviors are rewarded with positive reinforcement, while when incorrect responses occur, they are ignored and appropriate responses are prompted and rewarded.

Alternative Assessment:

The use of assessment strategies, such as performance assessment and portfolios, to replace (or supplement) the assessment of a special education student by standard machine-scored multiple-choice tests.

Assistive Technology:

Refers to any piece of equipment, product, system, or other item that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability.

Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”):

Refers to a plan, strategies, program or curricular modifications, and supplementary aids and supports, which are positive in nature (not punitive) and are developed by the PPT to teach a child appropriate behaviors and minimize behaviors that impede learning.

Extended School Year (“ESY”):

This refers to special education and related services that a school provides to a student beyond the normal school year and/or the normal school day, at no additional cost to parents, in accordance with the child’s IEP.

Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”):

Each special education student is entitled to a free, appropriate public education. It is defined as special education and related services that are provided at public expense and under public supervision and direction, without charge to the student. “Related services” include, but are not limited to, transportation, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, and psychological services, among others.

A special education student’s FAPE must meet state and federal requirements, and be provided in accordance with the child’s IEP. In Connecticut, children must be provided a FAPE from age three through the end of the school year in which the child reaches the age of twenty-one (or until the child has graduated from high school with a regular diploma, whichever is first to occur).

Functional Behavior Assessment (“FBA”):

Refers to an assessment of the reasons why a child behaves the way he or she does, given the nature of the child and what is happening in the environment. It describes a process for collecting data to determine the possible causes behind certain behaviors in order to identify strategies to address those behaviors.

Identification:

Refers to the decision that a child is eligible for special education services.

Independent Educational Evaluation (“IEE”):

Refers to an evaluation of a special education student performed by a professional who is not employed by the school district. If you disagree with the PPT’s evaluation of your child, you may request an independent educational evaluation. The school district must either pay for the cost of the IEE, or prove to a due process hearing officer that its own PPT evaluation is in fact appropriate. Of course, parents may obtain an IEE for their child at their own expense at any time. When presented with the results of the IEE, the PPT must consider the findings, but is not bound to adopt them.

Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”):

This refers to a written education program developed for an individual child with a disability. It is developed by a multi-disciplinary team of school professionals and the child’s parents and is reviewed and updated at least once per school year. The IEP describes the child’s present performance and learning needs, as well as detailing which services will be necessary at what time, for how long, and by whom those services will be provided.

Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”):

A child with a disability must, to the maximum appropriate extent, be educated with children who are not disabled, in a general education class in the school that the child would attend if he or she did not have a disability requiring special education services. A child with a disability should not be removed from the general educational setting unless the nature and severity of that child’s disability is such that education in the general class with the use of supplemental aids and services cannot be satisfactorily achieved.

Manifestation Determination:

If a school seeks to change the placement of a child with a disability because that child behaved in a way that violated the school’s code of conduct, then a “manifest determination” must be made, to determine whether the behavior complained of is caused by the child’s disability.

Positive Behavior Supports (“PBS”):

Refers to an approach to addressing challenging behaviors, and includes: functional assessment of the behavior; organizing the environment; teaching skills; rewarding positive behaviors; anticipating situations; and redesigning interventions as necessary.

Planning and Placement Team (“PPT”):

Refers to a group of professionals who represent each of the teaching, administrative and pupil personnel staffs at a special education student’s school, and who, with the student’s parents, are equal participants in the decision-making process to determine the specific educational needs of the student. The PPT, along with the parents, develops, reviews and revises a student’s IEP; the PPT also reviews referrals to special education, determines if the child needs to be evaluated, decides what evaluations the child will have, and determines whether the child is eligible for special education services.

Stay Put:

Refers to the requirement that a special education student must stay in his or her current program or placement during the course of a due process hearing. This provision may be modified upon agreement by both the parent and the school district.


The attorneys of Maya Murphy P.C. are well practiced in the realm of Special Education Law. Should you have questions regarding Special Education Law matters, contact managing partner Joseph C. Maya at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com for a free initial consultation.

Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Against Commissioner of Department of Motor Vehicles Barred by State’s Sovereign Immunity; Plaintiff Failed to Prove Any Exceptions Applied

In a criminal law matter, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Fairfield at Bridgeport dismissed a plaintiff’s action against the defendant Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), because she was barred under sovereign immunity doctrine from bringing suit.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on or about July 11, 2006. The plaintiff was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, and she refused to submit to an alcohol chemical test. She pled guilty to this charge, and in light of two previous OMVUI convictions, her license was suspended for a year and she would be required to install an interlocking ignition device (IID) in her vehicle.

The plaintiff received a revised suspension notice from the DMV stating her license would instead be suspended for three years because of her refusal to submit to the chemical test. In addition, the plaintiff would not be able to make use of the IID. See General Statutes § 14-227b(i)(3)(C).

The plaintiff filed motions with the court, asking it to enjoin the defendant from suspending her license beyond the initial one-year period. The plaintiff argued that the defendant exceeded his statutory authority and, as such, violated her constitutional rights. In its motion to dismiss, the defendant countered that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because of the state’s sovereign immunity. He pointed out that the plaintiff did not seek declaratory or injunctive relief “based on a substantial claim that the state or its officials have violated [her] constitutional rights or that the state or its officials have acted in excess of their statutory authority.”

Sovereign Immunity Doctrine 

Sovereign immunity doctrine holds that a State cannot be sued unless it authorizes or consents to suit. There are only three statutory exceptions to this rule: waiver, violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right by a state official, and action in excess of a state official’s statutory authority which violates a plaintiff’s right. If the second exception is asserted, State action will survive strict scrutiny analysis only if it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

In this case, the Superior Court found “little dispute” that highway safety is a compelling state interest and that the increased suspension and IID refusal was “both reasonable and necessary to achieve the goal of protecting the public safety.” Therefore, the Court found that the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were not violated.

Regarding the third exception, the DMV Commissioner has very broad discretion “to oversee and control the operation of motor vehicles generally.” Public policy concerns underpinning our motor vehicle laws center on the protection of the lives and property of Connecticut’s citizens. The legislature has also recognized the heavy burden placed on those convicted of OMVUI “in a society dependent on automotive transportation.” The use of IIDs helps alleviate these burdens, but it is a privilege of limited application, which does not encompass suspensions based on refusing to submit to an alcohol chemical test.

In this case, the Superior Court found that the defendant “clearly” had statutory authority to impose the three-year suspension and refuse the plaintiff’s request to use an IID. Therefore, because the plaintiff failed to establish the applicability of either exception, the Superior Court held her action was barred by the State’s sovereign immunity.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

What Is the Law Controlling Drug Testing in the Workplace or in Public Schools in Connecticut?

Among employees, there are a variety of times in which they may legally be drug tested in the workplace.  Employees are often tested prior to being hired to prevent employers from hiring people who use illegal drugs.  After an employee is hired, if an employee’s supervisor has reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they may test the employee for illegal drug use.  Employees in a workplace may also be tested post-accident to determine whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the event.

Lastly, employers may choose to conduct random testing to deter drug use.  However, Connecticut law prohibits private-sector employers from requiring employees to undergo random drug tests.  An employer must have a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol that is affecting or could affect, his job performance before he may require a test.

Who is Protected Against Drug Testing?

State and municipal employees are not covered by the state law that prohibits random drug testing, however they are protected by the Fourth Amendment which prohibits the government from carrying out unreasonable searches.  The Supreme Court has ruled that urine tests are searches and that the Fourth Amendment applies to governments acting as employers.

Federal law and regulations also require the operators of commercial vehicles over a certain size, to undergo drug tests before they are hired, after serious incidents, and when there is a reasonable suspicion.   In the private sector, pre-employment drug testing is fairly common.

There are no federal or state statutes that cover drug testing of students in public schools.  Students do not have the same level of constitutional rights as adults however.  A 2002 Supreme Court decisions permits schools to conduct random drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities, but drug testing cannot be a condition for attending school.


If you have any questions regarding employment law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at (203) 221-3100 or e-mail him directly at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Milford Teacher and Coach Accused of Assaulting Student

Via WFSB CT: MILFORD, CT

A Milford teacher is under arrest after being accused of placing a student in a headlock. Mark Ruzbarsky, a math teacher at Jonathan Law High School, was taken into custody on an arrest warrant. Police said Ruzbarsky, who is in his fourth year as a math teacher at Jonathan Law High School, was accused of restraining the unidentified student by the neck during a class at the school.

The Incident

The incident reportedly happened during an algebra class, and Ruzbarsky was charged. He said he didn’t mean to hurt the student and that it was all meant in fun. “I think that’s absolutely awful,” said Courtney Luciana of Milford. Milford police said Ruzbarsky was teaching the algebra class when he noticed a 15-year-old student wasn’t completing his classwork. That’s when investigators said he grabbed the student’s arm, and according to an arrest “Ruzbarsky then squeezed his neck and pushed his head down,” and the victim told police the headlock lasted about one second and that he could not breathe.

“It’s OK for teachers to play around with their students here and there but I don’t believe in putting their hands on a child whatsoever is OK,” said Luciana. Seconds after the alleged headlock, the victim told police that Ruzbarsky did it again and this time “he couldn’t breathe for approximately five seconds.” Ruzbarsky told police that it was all in good fun since “the victim raised his head and smiled at him.” Later that day, the student told a guidance counselor “his neck hurt when he touched it and he did have minor scrapes on his neck,” the warrant said.

The Defense’s Statement

William B. Westcott of Maya Murphy in Westport, Ruzbarsky’s lawyer, said his client had nothing to hide and released this statement:

“He placed his hands on a student’s shoulders during math class in an effort to do nothing more than engage the student’s attention. Mr. Ruzbarsky was attempting to be boisterous and brotherly in his approach. He was not angry with the student for any reason, nor was he meaning to discipline the student in any way. Mr. Ruzbarsky was both shocked and distraught when he learned only later in the day that he had made the student feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. It is important to note that Mr. Ruzbarsky was quickly returned to work after the school conducted its own investigation, even though the school was aware that this arrest would be forthcoming. It is apparent that the colleagues and administrators who personally know Mark Ruzbarsky are confident he poses no threat whatsoever to the students he supervises and educates.”

Ruzbarsky, who is also the assistant wrestling coach at Jonathan Law High School, was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace. The Milford school system would not comment on the case, but it did say that Ruzbarsky remained an employee.

Hurdles Employees Must Jump in Filing a Claim for Unlawful Discrimination

Here in Connecticut and across the nation, employees from all walks of life routinely face unlawful discriminatory practices and treatment in the workplace. Depending on the nature of the claim, he or she may file civil lawsuits under Title VII (which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) or the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA).

However, employees need to keep in mind that before they seek recourse with the courts, they must first exhaust all of their administrative remedies. “The exhaustion requirement exists to afford the administrative agency the opportunity to investigate, mediate, and take remedial action.”[1] Failure to do so will result in dismissal of the case (see, for example, this previously-discussed case).

CFEPA Title VII

Furthermore, employees must pay attention to statutory time restrictions for filing administrative charges under Title VII and CFEPA:

To sustain a claim for unlawful discrimination under Title VII in a deferral state such as Connecticut, a plaintiff must file administrative charges with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunities Commission] within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory acts.[2] … CFEPA requires that a complainant file the administrative charge with the CCHRO [Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities] within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act.[3]

Courts are particularly cognizant of these requirements and endorse “strict adherence… [as] the best guarantee of the evenhanded administration of the law.”[4] As a result, the time bar will begin running for each individual adverse employment action against the employee on the date it occurred. Failure to timely file a claim may prevent it from being reviewed by the EEOC or CCHRO.

However, employees often endure discriminatory practices over a prolonged period of time, so even if alleged conduct falls outside of the charging period, it may be reviewable. An important exception to strict adherence is the continuing violation exception, which involves incidents occurring both within and outside the time bar. A continuing violation occurs “where there is proof of specific ongoing discriminatory policies or practices, or where specific and related instances of discrimination are permitted by the employer to continue unremedied for so long as to amount to a discriminatory policy or practice.”[5]

As an employee, it is imperative that you understand Connecticut’s statutory scheme surrounding hiring, evaluation, and termination processes, as well as the requirements for filing a lawsuit under State and federal anti-discrimination law. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport.

If you have any questions regarding any employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Stewart v. United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, 762 F.2d 193, 198 (2d. Cir. 1985).

[2] Flaherty v. Metromail Corp., 235 F.3d 133, 136 n.1 (2d Cir. 2000).

[3] Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-82e.

[4] Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 826 (1980).

[5] Cornwell v. Robinson, 23 F.3d 694, 704 (2d Cir. 1994).

Deliberate Indifference Required for School to be Liable under Title IX for Student-Student Harassment

In a New York District decision, a student’s cause of action under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act against the Monroe-Woodbury School District was denied because it did not show deliberate indifference in response to the student’s claim of student-to-student sexual harassment.[1]

Parents on behalf of their fifteen-year-old daughter brought suit against Monroe–Woodbury Central School District pursuant to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was deprived of an educational environment free from sexual harassment as required by federal law.

Case Background

Beginning in January 2010, when she was in the eighth grade, the student was subjected to teasing, taunting, and physical bullying by other students, which she reported to her guidance counselor.  She was sexually assaulted by a male classmate who requested a handjob and subsequently ran her hands over the genital area of his pants and attempted to shove her hands down his pants.[2] As a result of the incident, the student alleges that she was subjected to more taunting and name-calling by other students and in response began to engage in self- injurious behavior by cutting herself.

When she began attending Monroe–Woodbury High School in September, another student and friend of the first continued to harass her and in November sexually assaulted her by pinning her against a locker and pushing his hands down her pants and blouse, touching her genital area and breast.[3]  The student began missing school frequently to avoid continued harassment.  At some point she confided in her guidance counselor that her absenteeism and self-injurious behavior was the result of the persistent teasing and the two incidents of sexual assault by her classmates.[4]

The School District recommended that she attend the GO Program, an out-of-district academic program, to which her parents agreed. After her first day there, CF reported to her parents that she was uncomfortable with this placement because the students there were “in many cases, not attending their regular high schools due to serious disciplinary records and incidents.”[5] When her parents again met with the principal, they requested that their daughter be transferred to another public school to continue her high school education.  The principal refused saying there were no other options besides the GO program.[6]

The Allegations

The parent brought suit alleging the school failed to: (1) initiate an investigation upon the parents’ verbal complaint; (2) conduct a prompt, equitable, and thorough investigation of the charges; (3) ensure that immediate corrective action be taken, including subjecting the offending individuals to appropriate disciplinary measures; and (4) inform CF of her right to pursue legal remedies.

Title IX

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)[7]. Title IX contains an implied private right of action for plaintiffs who bring suit against educational institutions that receive federal funding, and liability may be imposed upon a school district if it is found to be in violation of this law.

Title IX funding recipients may be held liable for student-on-student harassment if the plaintiff can establish damages only where the school district: (1) was deliberately indifferent; (2) to sexual harassment; (3) of which it had actual knowledge; (4) that was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived the victim of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.[8] 

A showing of deliberate indifference requires that the school had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment and either responded in a “clearly unreasonable manner in light of the known circumstances,”[9] or responded with remedial action only after a “lengthy and unjustified delay.”[10]

The Court’s Decision

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s assertions that the GO Program was an “inappropriate” placement for her because it did not provide her with a “regular high school environment.” Saying even if it was inappropriate, “Title IX simply does not require recipient school districts to provide students with a ‘regular high school environment.’ Title IX does not prescribe any particular educational experience at all.

Rather, Title IX merely prohibits schools from excluding anyone, on the basis of sex, from participating in an educational program that receives federal assistance; or denying the benefits of such programs on the basis of sex; or subjecting anyone in such programs to discrimination on the basis of sex.”[11]  Finding that the school did not cause the discrimination and the School District took some remedial action (not clearly unreasonable under the circumstances) in response to the student’s complaints, the Court dismissed the action.

Bullying and harassment in school should never be tolerated.  The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable education law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about bullying, student harassment, school liability or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist., 12 CIV. 2200 ER, 2013 WL 177911 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2013)

[2] Compl.¶¶ 10-11

[3] Compl.¶¶ 12-13

[4] Id.

[5] Compl.¶¶ 14

[6] Id.

[7] Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)

[8] Williams v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 477 F.3d 1282, 1293 (11th Cir.2007)

[10] Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 751 (2d Cir.2003)

[11] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist.

Tenured Teacher’s Wrongful Termination Claims Dismissed for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

This past June, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford granted a school district’s motion to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit by a teacher, who claimed he was fired because of his disability. Rather than reaching the merits of the case, the Court stated it lacked jurisdiction. This case illuminates the importance for teachers and staff to first exhaust all administrative remedies, including enumerated appeals processes, before seeking recourse with the courts.

Case Details

The teacher was a tenured physical education teacher at a public middle school in Norwalk when he allegedly became the target of continuous, inappropriate harassment and threats made by the school principal. The teacher sought therapy and was diagnosed with a chronic traumatic stress disorder, and the licensed therapist suggested that he seek reassignment to another school district. The teacher informed the school district of this recommendation, though he was denied a transfer to a physical education teacher position at another school within the district. Approximately one year later, the teacher was discharged and filed a lawsuit, alleging, in part, wrongful termination on the basis of mental disability discrimination.

The school district filed a motion to dismiss these counts, arguing that the teacher “failed to exhaust his administrative and statutory remedies pursuant to the Teacher Tenure Act, General Statutes § 10-151.”[1] Therefore, the school district argued, the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the teacher’s claims. The teacher countered that a § 10-151 was not the only remedy he could seek: rather, he could bring his wrongful discharge course of action under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, or CFEPA. In addition, the teacher asserted that exhaustion was not required because “it would have been futile for him to pursue his claims with the board of education.”[2]

Administrative Remedies Under § 10-151

Connecticut courts have consistently found that “[a] tenured teacher’s challenge of an allegedly wrongful discharge, is governed by and limited to the statutory appeal process provided by § 10-151(e)… Thus, the plaintiff cannot pursue a separate tort claim for wrongful discharge. Instead, she is limited by the available administrative remedies under § 10-151.”[3] Thus, a court will not have jurisdiction unless the tenured teacher exhausted his administrative remedies or an exception to the exhaustion doctrine applies.[4]

The administrative remedies of § 10-151 can be outlined as follows:

  1. Prior to termination: written notice that termination is being considered must be given to the tenured teacher
  2. Within 7 days of receipt of notice in #1: teacher must file written request asking for reasons for termination
  3. Within 7 days of receipt of request in #2: written statement outlining the reasons must be supplied to the tenured teacher
  4. Within 20 days of receipt of statement from #3: teacher must file a written request for a hearing
  5. Within 15 days of receipt of request in #4: the hearing must be held

After the teacher received the written statement with the reasons for termination, he did not file a written request for a hearing. He asserted that he was:

[A]dvised by my attorney that the Norwalk [t]eachers [u]nion [p]resident, who was about to retire, was unsupportive of teachers in the [s]chool [d]istrict and would not assist them in termination hearings, would not bring grievances on their behalf and would not cooperate in terms of designating a teacher representative to the impartial hearing panel. Thus, I was advised by [my attorney] that a hearing pursuant to [s]ection 10-151(d) would be futile.[5]

The Court’s Decision

However, the Court was not persuaded on the teacher’s futility claim, which is a valid exception the exhaustion rule, because he failed to demonstrate that it “would have been futile for him to request a § 10-151(d) hearing.” The purpose of this hearing is “to resolve the question of whether any of the asserted grounds for termination is supported by the evidence adduced at the hearing.”[6] In this case, “if the plaintiff had requested the hearing afforded to him pursuant to § 10-151(d), he could have presented evidence demonstrating that the defendants sought to fire him for an illegal and discriminatory reason.”[7] 

Therefore, his tactical decision amounted to a deliberate decision to not avail himself of the statutory recourse available to him, and “[h]is failure to request a hearing and to pursue his available remedies is thus fatal to his present cause of action.”[8] The Superior Court thus granted the school district’s motion to dismiss the wrongful discharge claims.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

As a teacher, it is imperative that you understand Connecticut’s statutory scheme surrounding hiring, evaluation, and termination processes. Should you have any questions regarding these or other education law matters, you should seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] Diaco v. Norwalk Public School District, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1544 at 6.

[2] Id. at 12.

[3] Tomlinson v. Board of Education, 226 Conn. 704, 730 (1993).

[4] Mendillo v. Board of Education, 246 Conn. 456, 464 (1998); Niestemki v. Ramos, Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield, Docket No. CV 06-5001386 (November 20, 2008, Bellis, J.)

[5] Id. at 21, n.8.

[6] Mendillo v. Board of Education, supra. 246 Conn. 468-69.

[7] Diaco v. Norwalk Public School District, supra, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1544 at 22.

[8] LaCroix v. Board of Education, 199 Conn. 70, 83-84 (1986).

Considering Teacher Evaluation Under Connecticut Law

On Sunday night, the Chicago Teacher’s Union called for a strike that lasted this entire week, stemming from disagreements over such negotiable employment terms as teacher evaluations. As Katherine Wojtecki explained, “Teachers are concerned about job security in the wake of a new program that evaluates them based on their students’ standardized test scores” that had the potential to leave thousands of teachers without jobs.[1]

Presently, Connecticut law governing teachers is rather extensive and goes into particular detail regarding employment, tenure, and notice and hearing on failure to renew or termination of contracts. See Connecticut General Statutes (C.G.S.) § 10-151. The process of evaluating teacher performance, particularly in light of the potential pitfalls as seen in Chicago, had already become a focal point of legislation in this State. At the present time, Connecticut law requires continuous evaluation of school teachers by every district, taking into consideration more factors than mere test results: 1) teacher strengths; 2) areas that need improvement; 3) improvement strategy indicators; and 4) numerous measures of student academic growth.[2]

Collection and Articulation of Teacher Data

By July 1, 2013, the State Board of Education “must develop new model teacher evaluation program guidelines for using multiple indicators of student academic growth.”[3] In addition, public schools will be required to collect data not just on mastery test scores but also students and teachers themselves. This data will then be used when evaluating student performance and growth. Teacher data that must be collected is articulated in C.G.S. § 10-10a:

(i) Teacher credentials, such as master’s degrees, teacher preparation programs completed and             certification levels and endorsement areas

(ii) Teacher assessments, such as whether a teacher is deemed highly qualified pursuant to the No Child Left Behind Act, P.L. 107-110, or deemed to meet such other designations as may be established by federal law or regulations for the purposes of tracking the equitable distribution of instructional staff

(iii) The presence of substitute teachers in a teacher’s classroom

(iv) Class size

(v) Numbers relating to absenteeism in a teacher’s classroom

(vi) The presence of a teacher’s aide

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

For more information regarding statutory requirements that govern teacher layoffs and evaluations, please follow this link, which provides a summary produced by the Office of Legislative Research. Should you have any questions about teacher evaluations or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at Maya Murphy, P.C.’s Westport office located in Fairfield County at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] “Source: Tentative deal reached in Chicago teacher strike,” by Katherine Wojtecki. September 14, 2012: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/14/us/illinois-chicago-teachers-strike/index.html

[2] “Teacher Layoff and Teacher Evaluation Requirements,” by Judith Lohman, Office of Legislative Research. February 9, 2011: http://cga.ct.gov/2011/rpt/2011-R-0075.htm

[3] Id.

Tenured Teacher Suffering Numerous Physical, Psychological Ailments Properly Dismissed

In a matter heard in front of the Superior Court of Connecticut in New Haven, a tenured teacher unsuccessfully appealed a school board’s (Board) decision to terminate her employment. The Court determined that the Board’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious, but rather was based upon sufficient evidence.

Case Background

The plaintiff was a music teacher for many years but suffered from numerous physical and psychological medical problems that interfered with her performance abilities as an educator. As a result, “she was frequently absent from work not only on a short-term basis but also for significantly longer periods as a result of several extended leaves of absence which she sought and the Board granted.” However, despite such numerous and extensive accommodations, the plaintiff’s problems only seemed to worsen. For example:

  • She was often characterized as unfocused; disoriented; dazed; confused; exhausted; zoned out; overwhelmed; and “zombie-like.”
  • She had “difficulty leading… [her students] in an organized and flowing manner,” and frequently delegated duties and responsibilities to her paraprofessional, who was not qualified to perform such tasks (i.e. grading, planning, etc.).
  • On more than one occasion, she attempted to dismiss her classroom early due to confusion about schedules or her inability to control misbehaving students.
  • A psychiatrist indicated that the plaintiff had deficits in memory and executive functioning, which would interfere with her ability to perform essential tasks for her position.

Due to the frequency of complaints from parents and students regarding the plaintiff’s conduct, the Board initiated procedure to terminate the plaintiff’s employment, pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 10-151(d). It ultimately cited two reasons for termination: 1) “disability, as shown by competent medical evidence” and 2) “[for] other due and sufficient cause.” The plaintiff appealed this decision to the Superior Court, arguing that the decision was “arbitrary and capricious” because there was no evidence to support the reasons given.

The Court’s Decision

When a court considers a teacher’s appeal claiming unlawful termination, it applies the substantial evidence rule, a standard of review similar to that used in assessing jury verdicts in criminal trials. In essence, the court must decide whether the Board’s decision was supported by the evidence presented before it: “evidence is sufficient to sustain an agency finding if it affords a substantial basis of fact from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.”

In this case, the Superior Court agreed with the Board: there was sufficient evidence to support both reasons given for termination. Simply based on the psychiatrist’s testimony regarding the plaintiff’s inability to perform at least four major responsibilities in her classroom, the termination was amply supported – however, the additional testimony only bolstered the Board’s decision. The court was not convinced that previous accommodations granted by the Board “compel[ed] the Board to offer additional and potentially limitless future accommodations,” for such concessions appeared ineffectual. Therefore, the Court dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya at the Maya Murphy, P.C. Westport location in Fairfield County at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

Joseph Maya selected to 2022 Edition of Best Lawyers in America

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Westport, CT – Maya Murphy, P.C. is pleased to announce that Joseph Maya has been included in the 2022 edition of The Best Lawyers in America®. Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence.

Joseph Maya, a Connecticut and New York-based litigation attorney, was recognized in The Best Lawyers in America© 2022 edition. He has been rated Best Lawyers in America and ranks among the top private practice attorneys nationwide. Attorneys listed in this edition of The Best Lawyers in America were selected after an exhaustive peer-review survey that confidentially investigates the professional abilities and experience of each lawyer. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

Mr. Maya has been practicing law in Connecticut for more than 25 years. He has been a licensed attorney in New York for more than 30 years.

“Best Lawyers was founded in 1981 with the purpose of highlighting the extraordinary accomplishments of those in the legal profession,” said Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer. “We are proud to continue to serve as the most reliable, unbiased source of legal referrals worldwide.”

Lawyers on The Best Lawyers in America list are divided by geographic region and practice areas. They are reviewed by their peers based on professional expertise, and undergo an authentication process to make sure they are in current practice and in good standing.

Maya Murphy, P.C. has offices in Westport, CT and New York City. For additional information on Joseph Maya or Maya Murphy, P.C., please visit its website at https://mayalaw.com, or call 203-221-3100.