Posts tagged with "DOE"

What Services Are Required for School-Aged Children with Autism in Connecticut?

Children with autism are eligible for special education and related services in Connecticut.  State and federal law does not require local school districts to provide particular services for children with autism.  These laws do require school districts to identify children with disabilities that affect their educational performance and provide them with a free and appropriate public education tailored to their individual needs.

Specific services for autistic children depend on his or her disability and individualized educational program.  This program is established by the child’s planning and placement team.  A planning and placement team is a group consisting of the child’s parents, teachers, and educational specialists that evaluate the child’s services annually.


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

U.S. Department of Education Takes a Strong Stance Against Bullying

The DOE Letter

On October 26, 2010, the United States Department of Education (“DOE”) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to Boards of Education throughout the United States (the “Letter”). The Letter addressed an ever-present and growing harmful trend in many schools: Bullying.

As outlined by the DOE, “[b]ullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect that can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of its victims and create conditions that negatively affect learning, thereby undermining the ability of students to achieve their full potential.” This Letter comes in the wake of recent tragic reports of several young people taking their own lives as a result of repeated bullying and taunting for being (or being perceived as being) gay.

With this Letter, the DOE highlighted that bullying in schools or at school sponsored functions is never to be tolerated, and that a school district’s delay in taking immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred may result in the school district’s violation of the victim’s civil rights.  The effects of student-on-student harassment and bullying are severe, and include lower academic achievement; increased anxiety; low self-esteem; depression; deterioration of health; feelings of alienation; absenteeism; self-harm; and suicidal ideation.

Anti-Discrimination Statutes 

Within the DOE, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) enforces several different federal anti-discrimination statutes, including but not limited to, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) ; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”); and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“Title II”).

While these statutes protect students from harassment by school employees, it also protects students from harassment by other students. Such conduct, when sufficiently serious, can create a hostile environment leading to negative consequences for the victims. Consequently, when peer bullying or harassment is based on race, color, national origin, sex or disability, a school district’s failure to act appropriately in preventing this type of conduct, could result  in the school district’s violation of the victim’s civil rights and lead to legal liability.[1]

The statutes enforced by OCR do not explicitly protect against religious discrimination.[2] However, many religious groups face discrimination based on “actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics,” which is protected under Title VI, and enforced by OCR. The same principle can be applied to those discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.  While the statutes do not protect against discrimination based on sexual preference, they do protect against gender-based harassment, which includes sex and sex-stereotyping (i.e., failing to conform to the stereotypical notions of being a man). [3]

What is Harassment?

But what is harassment? And when does a school district’s action (or inaction) rise to the level of violating a student’s civil rights.  In the Letter, OCR defined harassment as including verbal acts and name calling; graphic and written statements  (which may include cell phones or internet use); or other conduct that may be psychically threatening, harmful, or humiliating.  As outlined by the Letter, school districts are responsible for incidents of harassment, when the school district knew or should have known that the harassment was occurring.

Responsibility of School Districts to End Harassment

The Letter also outlines the responsibility of school districts, which includes: 1) immediate action to investigate the incident; 2) if discriminatory harassment has occurred, the school must take steps calculated to end the harassment; 3) eliminate the hostile environment; and 4) prevent the harassment from recurring.

Further, the Letter discusses the appropriate steps that should be used to end harassment, including: 1) separating the accused harasser and the victim; 2) providing counseling for the victim and/or the harasser; 3) taking disciplinary action against the harasser; 4) ensuring students and their families know how to report any subsequent problems; 5) conducting follow-up inquiries; and 6) offering training to school personnel, students, and/or the community concerning discrimination and harassment.

In addition, the Letter stresses the importance of not penalizing the victim of the harassment. For example, if separation is required between the harasser and the victim, the school should not require the victim to change his/her class schedule.  Doing so would validate the harasser’s actions and/or create fear of reporting harassing behavior.  The Letter also emphasizes the significance of looking past the “label” (i.e., teasing or hazing) and rather encourages school districts and administrators to look at the nature of the conduct itself, as that will define the responsibilities of school districts.

Anti-Bullying Legislation

Over the past several years, many states have adopted anti-bullying laws, including Connecticut and New York. These laws set forth mandatory procedures a school is required to take upon notice of such incidents. However, a school’s responsibility does not begin and end with those procedures.  The school districts must ensure that its policies and procedures protect the victim’s civil rights.

President Obama recently established an Inter-agency Task Force on Bullying. In conjunction with that, the Obama administration hosted its first ever National Bullying Summit and launched the Stop Bullying Now campaign, the It Gets Better Project, and a national database of effective anti-bullying programs.   For more information on bullying, please review the following:

The Trevor Project

BullyingInfo.org

It Gets Better Project

If you are someone who has been a victim of bullying or harassment or know of someone who is being bullied or harassed, please speak up.  At Maya Murphy, P.C., we have decades of experience dealing with Education Law, harassment or bullying, Special Education Law, and discrimination– often in situations where they run concurrently.  We handle all types of issues, in a broad geographic area, which includes Westport, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, and the entire Fairfield County area.


[1] While this article addresses civil liability, it should be noted that bullying can have criminal implications for both the bully and his or her guardians.

[2] Other statutes, not enforced by OCR, protect against discrimination on the basis of religion.

[3] The DOE letter addresses laws enforced by OCR only. It does not address a school district’s legal obligation under other federal, state or local laws, which may impose additional obligations on schools.

Special Education and COVID-19: Impact on your Child’s Section 504 Plan or IEP

Special Education During Remote Learning

In March of 2020, many Governors across the country closed their schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) published guidance for local school agencies on how to appropriately handle special education and services to children with disabilities during the ongoing public health crisis.

The DOE has emphasized that school districts’ compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) school districts should not prevent distance instruction.  Accordingly, special education services should continue during the period of remote learning from home as much as feasible.

Responsibility of LEAs

During school closures due to the virus, if local education agencies (“LEAs”) continue to provide educational opportunities to general student populations, children with disabilities are entitled to receive the same educational opportunities that are being afforded to general student populations.  Specifically, children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education (“FAPE”), pursuant to Section 504 and the ADA.

LEAs must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability be provided the special education and related services set forth in the student’s IEP or Section 504 Plan.  In the event of school closures, an IEP Team or PPT may, but is not required to, consider remote or distance learning plans in your child’s IEP, as long as the instruction is meaningful.

During the COVID-19 national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner that are typically provided to students.  While it may be unfeasible or unsafe for some school districts, during current emergency school closures, to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or sign language educational services, some disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online.

For example, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and speech or language services by way of video conferencing may all be successfully instituted remotely for students with disabilities.  Teachers providing special education plans may have to create more specific daily or weekly plans for a special needs child who is now at home for the rest of the school year.

IDEA Eligibility 

Additionally, the DOE guidance includes IDEA timelines for state complaints, IEPs, reevaluations, and due process hearings and encourages school teams and parents to work collaboratively and creatively to meet IEP timeline requirements. If a child has been found eligible to receive special education and related services under the IDEA, the IEP Team must meet and develop an initial IEP within 30 days of that determination and IEPs must be reviewed on an annual basis.

However, due to COVID-19, parents and school districts may agree to conduct IEP meetings through alternate means, including video conferences or telephonic conference calls.  Of note, due to the pandemic, when making changes to a child’s IEP, the parent of a child with a disability and the school district may agree to not convene an IEP Team meeting for the purposes of making changes and can develop a written amendment or modification to the child’s IEP.

A reevaluation of a child with a disability must occur at least every three years, unless both the parents and school district agree that a reevaluation is unnecessary. However, a reevaluation may be conducted through a review of existing evaluation data when appropriate, without a meeting and without obtaining parental consent, unless it is determined that additional assessments are needed.

Extended Absence from School

In regard to state special education complaints, absent agreement by the parties, a state may be able to extend the 60-day timeline for complaint resolution, if exceptional circumstances exist.  The DOE has now stated that exceptional circumstances include a large number of state workers unavailable or absent from work for an extended period of time due to the pandemic.  In regard to due process hearings, the parties can come to a mutual agreement to extend the 30-day resolution deadline due to COVID-19.  Additionally, a due process hearing officer may grant a specific extension of time at the request of either party to the hearing.

Moreover, when a child with a disability is classified as needing homebound instruction because of a medical problem, as ordered by a physician, and is home for an extended period of time, generally more than ten (10) consecutive school days, an individualized education program (IEP) meeting could be necessary to change the child’s placement and the contents of the child’s IEP.  If a child with a disability contracts COVID-19 and has to be absent from school for an extended period of time while school is open, parents or guardians may be able to make arrangements with the LEA to provide homebound instruction special education and related services.

If you have any questions about special education and related services during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact Attorney Joseph Maya at (203) 221-3100 or JMaya@mayalaw.com for a complimentary consultation regarding your matter.