Posts tagged with "education law matters"

Navigating the Channels of School Suspension Protocol

Hot off the press: “A new state law has significantly reduced the number of students being suspended from school…”[1] This is in large part due to the passage of Public Act No. 08-160, “An Act Concerning School Learning Environment,” which modified the circumstances which schools under State law could suspend its students, instead showing a preference for in-school suspensions.[2] Thus, during the 2010-2011 academic school year, “when the law went into effect… the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped statewide by 19 percent, or 9,835 incidents.”[3]

While “some incidents will still warrant suspensions,” [Waterbury Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Ouellette explained that] she’s deployed several initiatives to ensure that students are not being sent home for minor infractions like dress code violations, talking back to their teachers or skipping class. “We are trying to reach them and intervene before it escalates to that point.”

The Connecticut legislature has enumerated the circumstances under which a student may be suspended: if on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity, the conduct violates an established, publicized school board policy, seriously disrupts the educational process, or endangers persons or property.[4] If the conduct took place off school grounds, the school board may only entertain a suspension if both the first two circumstances are met.

What does the school board consider when a student is facing a suspension?

Say your child has committed an act off school grounds, and the school is contemplating a suspension. What must it consider? Under Connecticut law, to determine if the conduct will seriously disrupt the educational process, your local school board must consider at least the following, though they are not limited to these four factors: Whether…

  1. The incident occurred within close proximity of a school
  2. Other students from the school were involved or whether there was any gang involvement
  3. The conduct involved violence, threats of violence or the unlawful use of a weapon… and whether any injuries occurred
  4. The conduct involved the use of alcohol

As a parent, it is vital to realize that your child cannot be automatically suspended without an informal administrative hearing. This is because in Goss v. Lopez, the U.S. Supreme Court explained the import of due process in a suspension scenario:

Among other things, the State is constrained to recognize a student’s legitimate entitlement to a public education as a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and which may not be taken away for misconduct without adherence to the minimum procedures required by [the Due Process] Clause. [5]

Suspension Hearings

Thus, barring emergency circumstances, students facing a suspension (thus temporarily losing their property interest) “must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing”[6] so they know why they are being suspended and given the chance to tell their side of the story. The hearing is the best place for a student to convince school officials that an out-of-school suspension is not warranted for any given number of reasons, such as the behavior not qualifying as prohibited conduct, the lack of disciplinary history,[7] or the use of an in-school suspension as a viable and reasonable alternative.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

The intricacies involved regarding in- and out-of-school suspensions can be difficult to comprehend, and could potentially result in the deprivation of a student’s protected rights. As such, if your child faces a suspension, it is imperative that you know all of these rights and consult with an experienced school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding school discipline or other education law matters, 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] “School suspension rates drop, but minority students still over-represented,” by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas. October 2, 2012: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17615/school-suspension-rates-plummet-minority-students-still-overrepresented

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(g).

[3] See Footnote 1.

[4] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(a)

[5] Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 574 (1975).

[6] Id. at 580.

[7] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(e)

Legislative Efforts to Combat School Bullying

“Bullying cannot be a rite of passage in our nation’s schools. Instead, our schools must be safe and nurturing environments that promote learning and full participation by all students. Bullying, sexual harassment and gender stereotyping of any student, including LGBT students, have no place in our nation’s schools. We must work to stop these abusive behaviors when they take place, repair their harmful effects and prevent them from happening in the future. We will use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal to ensure that all students have access to equal educational opportunities.”

~ Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division

I was a mere high school freshman when the Columbine shootings occurred. This incident plunged the nation into discussion that was long overdue: the problem of school bullying. According to national surveys, “70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point,” with approximately 5 to 15 percent described as “chronic victims.”[1] Unfortunately, less than half actually report such incidents, and the short- and long-term effects on victims can be particularly devastating, such as depression, anxiety, poor health, and decreased academic performance and school participation.

The Effects of Bullying 

Although bullying was cited as a potential motivator in Columbine and subsequent shooting sprees (such as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre), as the years passed bullying once more appeared to creep out of the limelight and back into the shadows. However, this issue was hurled back onto the national stage with the hanging suicide of Phoebe Prince in nearby South Hadley, Massachusetts. Prince endured months of insults and taunting from female classmates, both in person and through Facebook, before she took her own life.

This prompted communities nationwide to “crack down on bullying,”[2] while lawmakers in Boston “stepp[ed] up efforts to pass a bullying-prevention measure targeting the type of taunting” that Prince was subject to on a routine basis.[3] This resulted in the passage of “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools.”[4]

Anti-Bullying Laws in Connecticut

Other states naturally followed suit, including Connecticut. Public Act No. 11-232, called “An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws,”[5] became effective July 1, 2011. This Act was later codified and provided a comprehensive scheme concerning anti-bullying school policy requirements, prevention and intervention strategy, and analysis of anti-bullying policies, while behavior that constituted bullying was clearly defined.[6] 

In addition, the Connecticut State Department of Education has stepped up efforts to disseminate information regarding bullying as well as steps to take to file complaints. At the very least, teachers and administrators are no longer left off the hook for turning a blind eye when approached by student victims of bullying.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school bullying or any other question relating to 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] “Bullying: A Module for Teachers,” by Sandra Graham, PhD, of the American Psychological Association. Accessed September 24, 2012: www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx

[2] “Teen’s suicide prompts a look at bullying,” by Kathy McCabe. January 24, 2010: www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2010/01/24/teens_suicide_prompts_a_look_at_bullying/

[3] “Bullying legislation gains new urgency,” by James Vaznis. January 26, 2010: www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/01/26/beacon_hill_lawmakers_see_urgent_need_for_antibullying_bill/

[4] “An Act Relative to Bullying in Schools”: www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2010/Chapter92

[5] Public Act. No. 11-232, “An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws”: cga.ct.gov/2011/ACT/PA/2011PA-00232-R00SB-01138-PA.htm

[6] Connecticut General Statutes §§ 10-222d, 10-222g, and 10-222h.

To Vaccinate, or Not To Vaccinate: Connecticut Immunization Requirements for Schoolchildren

An article published in USA Today focuses on a study conducted by the Associated Press (AP) regarding the rates of parents opting out of immunizations for their children in both public and private schools. As Hanna Dreier of the AP explains, “Parents cite a variety of reasons for not immunizing their children, among them: religious values, concerns the shots themselves could cause illness and a belief that allowing children to get sick helps them to build a stronger immune system.”[1] 

Such a story highlights the ongoing debate about mandatory immunization of public school students, and thus it would be informative to understand the statutory scheme set forth here in Connecticut.

Required Immunizations in School

Under § 10-204a of the General Statutes, school boards of education have authority to require any child seeking to enroll “in any program operated by a public or nonpublic school under its jurisdiction” adequate immunization against various diseases. These include diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, and hemophilus influenzae type B, as well as “any other vaccine required by the schedule for active immunization adopted pursuant to [§] 19a-7f.” However, there are six enumerated exemptions available, some which are specific to a given disease, while others are more general:

  • The child “presents a certificate from a physician stating that in the opinion of such physician, such immunization is medically contraindicated because of the physical condition of such child.”
  • The child “presents a statement from the parents or guardian of such child that such immunization would be contrary to the religious beliefs of such child.”

The National Vaccine Information Center has compiled an extensive overview of Connecticut State vaccine requirements, which may be accessed by following this link. In addition, the Connecticut Department of Public Health has published a guide outlining immunization requirements for various age groups, and may be found here.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding child vaccination requirements or any other question relating to 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] “Private school vaccine opt-outs rise,” by Hannah Dreier. September 9, 2012: www.usatoday.com/news/story/2012/09/9/private-school-vaccine-opt-outs-rise/57720458/1

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.

Student Speech Rights in the Information Age

For nearly twenty years, the First Amendment framework chiseled out by the Tinker[1]-Fraser[2]-Hazelwood[3] trilogy worked wonders in establishing whether student speech could be regulated. Though students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,”[4] school administrators have the authority to curtail or prohibit various forms of speech: that which would materially and substantially disrupt a classroom, is plainly offensive or promotes illegal drug use. Educators may also exert editorial control over school-sponsored expressive activities, such as a school newspaper written by students.

As my colleague Bob, succinctly wrote, these cases were “once thought to provide parents and teachers with a viable and stable framework for reconciling student rights of free speech with educators’ rights to maintain good order and discipline.”[5] Technology, which we insist makes life easier, instead simply made things more clouded and ushered in a new battleground for student speech litigation.

The Impact of the Information Age

Today, students are connected to each other through email, instant messaging, blogs, social networking sites, and text messages. An email can be sent to dozens or hundreds of other students by hitting ‘send.’ A blog entry posted on a site such as livejournal.com can be instantaneously viewed by students, teachers, and administrators alike. Off-campus speech can become on-campus speech with the click of a mouse.[6]

Thus, what happens when a student, who is neither on school grounds nor at a school-sponsored event, engages in speech critical of school administration? Does the school have authority to punish the student? The Second Circuit held the in the affirmative: quoting a decision rendered only two years earlier, the Court condoned discipline for speech or expressive conduct made off school grounds if the conduct “would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment”[7] should the expression reach school grounds.[8]

Off-Campus Student Speech

Findings in other cases, however, are setting up the issue of disciplining off-campus student speech for a day in the U.S. Supreme Court, in large part due to conflicting decisions in the Appellate Courts.[9] Most recently on September 6, 2012, the United States District Court of the District of Minnesota, located in 8th Circuit, denied a defendant school district (and the defendant administrators) its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a student who was punished for her off-campus speech.

In that case, using her personal computer at home, the student wrote on her own Facebook wall that she hated a school monitor because she “was mean to me.” For this, school administrators gave a warning. When the student thereafter posted a message that stated, “I want to know who the f%$# [sic] told on me,” again using her personal computer at home, she received a one-day suspension and was prohibited from attending a school-sponsored ski trip. Characterizing these posts as “a far cry from the statements made by the students in cases in which courts have approved of school intervention,” the District Court found that these statements “were not likely to cause a substantial disruption to the school environment.”[10]

Regulating Student Speech Online

While the foundations of student speech regulations are not yet set, it is important for students to realize that any electronic communication they send could potentially be viewed by anyone. All it takes is the recipient hitting the “Forward” button to send to unknown parties or “tattletaling” to a teacher or school administrator. As such, “[a]ny off-campus electronic communication relating or referring to students, teachers, administrators, or school activities has the potential to result in school discipline” and exclusion from participation in school activities.[11]

As a parent, controlling or monitoring your child’s electronic communications has become a highly difficult, if not impossible, task to fully accomplish. This is why it is imperative that you speak to your child about the ramifications of sending out messages they have no way to capture back and which may inadvertently come to the attention of school officials. Nonetheless, if your child is facing disciplinary action for off-campus conduct or speech, it is important that you are aware of your rights and consult an experienced school law practitioner.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about school discipline or other education law matters, 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] Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

[2] Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).

[3] Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al., 484 U.S. 260 (1988).

[4] Tinker, supra at 506.

[5] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., Esq, at 83.

[6] Doninger v. Niehoff, 594 F.Supp. 2d 211, 223 (D. Conn. 2009), aff’d in part and rev’d in part 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 8441 (2d Cir. Apr. 25, 2011).

[7] Wisniewski v. Board of Education, 494 F.3d 34, 40 (2d Cir. 2007).

[8] Doninger, supra at 217.

[9] Compare Doninger, supra, with J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 11947 (3d Cir. June 13, 2011) and Layshock v. Hermitage School District, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 11994 (3d Cir. June 13, 2011).

[10] R.S. et al v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149 et al, Civ. No. 12-588 (MJD/LIB). Accessed October 3, 2012: http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/minnesota/mndce/0:2012cv00588/124914/28/

[11] Maya and Bob, supra at 92.

The Misrepresentation of Minorities in Special Education Classes

This past July, a new law went into effect here in Connecticut that requires the State Department of Education to identify school districts that “disproportionately and inappropriately identif[y] minority students as requiring special education because such students have a reading deficiency.”[1] Under this statute, the term “minority student” takes on the public’s common understanding: any student that is non-white or of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.

In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that struck down de jure racial segregation, noting that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”[2] Since then, many great strides have been made to offer free, appropriate public education to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and disability.

Racial Discrepancies in Special Education

In the realm of special education, Congress has enacted various statutory schemes that provide comprehensive protections for children with mental or physical disabilities. This occurred most notably in the form of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which “ushered in an era in which the federal government became active in financing and regulating special education services provided by local districts.”[3]

The goal was noble: ensuring that students with disabilities would receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) on par with students in regular classrooms. Unfortunately in practice, African American and Hispanic students are being disproportionately identified as having emotional behavioral disorders and intellectual disabilities, and are thus “more likely to be served in special education classes and residential placements more than their peers.”[4] 

One study in Massachusetts, for example, revealed that while African Americans represented approximately 12.4% of the total U.S. population, they were “approximately 1.3 times (approximately 30%) more likely than non-African American students to be found eligible for special education.”[5] Hispanic students received similar results.

Misinterpretation of Culture and Behavior in Connecticut

What is the source of this improper labeling? As a New York Times columnist mused, “the students are being placed in special education because educators are misinterpreting behavior problems and misunderstanding cultural differences.”[6] Connecticut was not innocent in this respect, as one civil rights lawyer dubbed “Connecticut’s dirty little secrets in education.”[7] As further highlighted in the same Times article:

  • Hartford: Hispanic students were “more than four times as likely as whites to be identified as having a learning disability.”
  • Norwalk: African American students constituted 36% of the special education population, but was only 25% of the total student population.
  • West Hartford: African American students were “more than five times as likely as whites to be diagnosed as having an emotional disturbance.”
  • Windham: Hispanic students constituted 58% of the total student population, but represented 64% of the special education population and “nearly 70 percent of students classified as having a speech or language impairment.”

Other reasons cited include subjectivity in decision-making that allows for bias and misinterpretation of cultural cues – such as “bad” as a slang for “cool” being misread by an evaluator as exposure to “negative influences.”[8] In this example, the social worker involved stated, “It really started to speak loudly to the fact that people involved didn’t understand our community.”

Nonetheless, Connecticut’s Public Act 12-116 § 90 is certainly a step in the right direction to ensure that minority students are not inappropriately and disproportionately placed into special education programs when it is not warranted. Only time will tell whether meaningful progress will be made, or whether litigation will be necessary because such progress is “uneven” or “moving too slowly in the desired direction.”[9]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you are a parent who believes that your child has been improperly placed as a special education student, it is imperative that you are aware of your rights and consult an experienced school law attorney. Should you have any questions about special education or other education law matters, 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] Public Act 12-116 § 90(a).

[2] Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 495, 74 S. Ct. 686, 692 (1954).

[3] “Special but Unequal: Race and Special Education,” by Matthew Ladner and Christopher Hammons. 2001: http://www.dlc.org/documents/SpecialEd_ch05.pdf

[4] “The overrepresentation of African American students in special education,” by Latanya Fanion. July 22, 2010: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-overrepresentation-of-african-american-students-special-education

[5] “Disproportionality: A Look at Special Education and Race in the Commonwealth,” by Matthew Deninger. Pp. 1, 4. September 2008: http://www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/Edbrief_final.pdf

[6] “Special Education and Minorities,” by Avi Salzman. November 20, 2005: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/20ctspecial.html

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

In Light of Varying State Anti-Hazing Laws, Is the “Halting Hazing Act of 2012” the Solution?

Hazing Legislation in the United States

“The time for Congress to act is now,” commanded U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Fla, behind a banner that read: “Hazing Kills – 163 deaths to date. If you want to haze, lose your financial aid, not for a few days, but for LIFE!”[1]

Nicknamed “the Haze Buster,” Congresswoman Wilson has announced plans to introduce a congressional bill, the Halting Hazing Act of 2012, which would make hazing “a federal offense resulting in the [permanent] loss of financial aid to students involved.”[2] Any State that does not enact a felony hazing statute would face restricted federal transportation funding,[3] similar to how Congress links highway funds to whether the State in question has a minimum drinking age of twenty-one (21). Furthermore, “an advisory committee within the Justice Department [would be formed and] dedicated to hazing prevention and elimination.”[4]

The need for this legislation stems in part from the apparent disparity in State hazing statutes, which “vary dramatically in penalties and definition,” and only eight States “classify some forms of hazing as a felony, depending on the level of severity.”[5] 

What is Hazing?

Under Connecticut law, hazing is defined as “any action which recklessly or intentionally endangers the health or safety of a person for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a student organization.”[6] It includes but is not limited to:

  • Requiring indecent exposure of the body;
  • Requiring any activity that would subject the person to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation or extended isolation from social contact;
  • Confinement of the person to unreasonably small, unventilated, unsanitary or unlighted areas;
  • Any assault upon the person;
  • Requiring the ingestion of any substance or any other physical activity which could adversely affect the health or safety of the individual.[7]

A victim’s voluntary participation or consent cannot be claimed as a defense. However, hazing does not constitute a felony in Connecticut: violation of this section will result in a $1,500 fine and one-year suspension of a student organization’s operating privileges or a $1,000 fine for a participant. Additional civil or criminal remedies are available. Unfortunately, the statute specifically applies to student organizations at institutions of higher learning, leaving a void as to course of action with hazing in Connecticut high schools.

The Impact of Connecticut Hazing Legislation

While this legislation is well-meaning and has an honorable goal, the true potential impact is questionable at best. Despite the existence of anti-hazing laws in a vast majority of States, as well as similar policies within the bylaws of college fraternities, sororities, and other student organizations, hazing is “a practice that doesn’t appear to be letting up despite increasing knowledge of the risks and stepped-up education on college campuses.”[8] 

Furthermore, the actual language of the bill has yet to be drafted and is thus subject to pure speculation. However, if this legislation serves as a wake-up call to States to crack down on the implementation of laws already in place, as well as a direct threat to a would-be participant’s wallet, if we can save the life of the next Robert Champion, then Congresswoman Wilson’s valiant efforts will not have been for naught.

Should you have any questions about hazing or other education law matters, 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] “Florida Congresswoman Introduces Anti-hazing Legislation,” by Jamaal Abdul-Alim. September 21, 2012: http://diverseeducation.com/article/48258/

[2] “Clearing Up Hazing: Opponents Are Pushing for Stricter Laws,” by Deborah L. Cohen. October 1, 2012: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/clearing_up_hazing_opponents_are_pushing_for_stricter_laws/

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Connecticut General Statutes § 53-23a(a)(1).

[7] Id.

[8] See Footnote 2.

Another Case Against the School District, Town Jumps Summary Judgment Hurdle

In a negligence action, the Superior Court of Connecticut at Danbury denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the Town of New Milford, the New Milford Board of Education, and several school employees (collectively the defendants). The Court was not persuaded that the defendants enjoyed governmental immunity from suit, or the claim that they did not owe a duty to a student-victim assaulted by another student on school grounds.

Case Details

In this case, the plaintiff was the target of repeated bullying and harassment from a classmate, Kevin, during his freshman and sophomore years in high school. He endured pushing and shoving, being struck by a stack of school books, menacing stares, and even derogatory “gay” remarks from Kevin. The plaintiff constantly complained to various school administrators, though no meaningful action was ever taken. This culminated to a full-blown assault of the plaintiff at Kevin’s hands outside the school cafeteria.

The plaintiff sued the defendants, arguing that they had a duty to protect him from Kevin and failed to do so. “The plaintiff contends that [one individual defendant] had a duty to compel compliance with school rules and to prevent bullying and harassment… [as well as ] a legal duty to be alert to possible situations that might include bullying and to inform the administration immediately of such events.”[1] In addition, he claimed that governmental immunity was inapplicable, because he was an identifiable victim to an imminent harm. Finally, he asserted town liability because the Board of Education was an agent for the town in “mandating control” over the public high school.[2]

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[3] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[4] However, even if a defendant successfully claims that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

Identifiable Person-Imminent Harm Exception

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[5] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[6] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[7]

The Court sided with the plaintiff and denied summary judgment as to all defendants. It noted, “The [board of education’s] duty to supervise students is performed to the benefit of the municipality;”[8] in this case, the plaintiff’s claim didn’t involve his education, but rather “the inability of certain teachers and staff at New Milford High School to supervise and maintain control on its premises for the protection of its students.”[9] 

A duty to supervise students is not confined to just younger children, but also includes high school students because a gathering “in large numbers at lunch time or at sporting events would certainly seem to present a risk of incidents such as the one involved in this case occurring [an assault at school].”[10] Thus, on all grounds asserted by the defendants, the motion for summary judgment was denied.

This case, Straiton v. New Milford Board of Education, et al, appears to be continuing through the courts with a hearing scheduled for October 19, 2012. It may be found on the Judicial Branch website under DBD-CV10-6003255-S.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Bullying in schools has become a serious problem, and increasingly courts are willing to permit the case to proceed beyond a motion for summary judgment, despite claims of governmental immunity or no duty owed to the students. If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or assaulted, despite repeated unaddressed complaints to administration, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding bullying or other education law matters, 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] Straiton v. New Milford Board of Education et al., 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 773 at 15.

[2] Id. at 11.

[3] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[4] Id.

[5] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[6] Id. at 275-76.

[7] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[8] Purzycki v. Fairfield, 244 Conn. 101, 112 (1998).

[9] Straiton, supra at 12-13.

[10] Maretz v. Huxley, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Docket. No. CV 07 5011978 (January 12, 2009, Corradino, J.)

Title IX and State Law Regarding Mother-Son and Father-Daughter School Events

Several months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted a letter[1] with a school district on behalf of a single mother “whose daughter had no father in her life but was precluded from attending [a] father-daughter dance [held by the school PTO group].”[2] In a decision released on Tuesday, the superintendent of the Cranston, Rhode Island schools announced the end of father-daughter and mother-son activities “because of fears they are illegal under gender discrimination law.”[3]

Education Amendments

In 1972, Congress enacted the Education Amendments, which included 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Commonly referred to as Title IX, this statute prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex: “No 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 […].”[4] There are numerous exceptions to this general prohibition, including subsection (8):

[T]his section shall not preclude father-son or mother-daughter activities at an educational institution, but if such activities are provided for students of one sex, opportunities for reasonably comparable activities shall be provided for students of the other sex […][5]

Exceptions in Title IX

The Cranston school district was concerned that State law did not have comparable exception language. Therefore, it conceded that “it could be argued […] that a father-daughter dance and a mother-son baseball game are not comparable activities” and, contrary to federal law, “perpetuates outdated notions of ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ activities.”[6]

Here in Connecticut, the General Statutes also prohibit discrimination in public schools:

Each… child shall have… an equal opportunity to participate in the activities, programs and courses of study offered in… public schools… without discrimination on account of race, color, sex, national origin or sexual orientation…[7]

However, much like with Rhode Island, there appears to be a distinct absence of exceptions similar to those found in Title IX. As such, it will be particularly interesting to see the reaction of our legislators in responding to this situation, or whether it will take the threat of litigation to spur action. At the very least, school districts nationwide should be on notice and take preemptive measures to make sure they aren’t the next Cranston, Rhode Island school district.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding Title IX, discrimination in public schools, 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] Letter to Superintendent Nero of the Cranston School Department, submitted May 2, 2012: www.riaclu.org/documents/CranstonSchoolDanceLetter.pdf

[2] “RI School System: Dad-Daughter Dances Violate Law,” by the Associated Press. September 21, 2012: Connecticut.cbslocal.com/2012/09/21/ri-school-system-dad-daughter-dances-violate-law

[3] “School Concludes Bias Law Bars Father-Daughter Dances,” by Debra Cassens Weiss. September 19, 2012: www.abajournal.com/news/article/school_concludes_discrimination_law_bars_father-daughter_dances

[4] 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a).

[5] 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(8).

[6] See Footnote 2.

[7] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-15c.

On “An Act Concerning Educational Reform” in Connecticut

On May 15, 2012, Governor Dannel Malloy signed Public Act No. 12-116, also known as Senate Bill No. 458, which implements public school educational reform in the State of Connecticut. Leaders from both sides of the political aisle came together in a bipartisan effort and compromised to bring changes to such areas as “early reading, school turnarounds, school choice, and school staffing,” and the comprehensive, 185-page legislation “delivers more resources targeted to those districts and schools with the greatest need.”[1] Additional highlights from the bill include:

  • An increase in education spending by $100 million
  • The designation of “Alliance Districts,” which are comprised of the “30… low performing [school districts] that altogether will receive 80 percent of the total $50 million in additional state education dollars for the districts.” This money, which will be on top of that already budgeted by cities and towns involved, is for education purposes only.[2]
  • An increase in per-student grant monies for charter schools, from $9,400 at present to $11,500 for the 2014-2015 school year.[3]
Turnaround Plans for Low-Performing Schools

In addition, Section 19 of the bill authorizes the establishment of a “commissioner’s network of [twenty-five (25)] schools to improve student academic achievement in low-performing schools.” Each participating school will create a committee that will evaluate the present condition of the school (an operations and instructional audit), then create a “turnaround plan” that will roadmap the changes that must take place.

This plan must describe how the plan will improve the academic achievement of students, address the deficiencies discovered during the audit, and implement one of the six turnaround models enumerated in the legislation. In addition, the network “requires annual performance evaluations for principals, administrators and teachers and links tenure to a teacher’s effectiveness.”[4]

“I commend Connecticut for coming together to enact meaningful education reforms that will benefit students. I know the negotiations on S.B. 458 were difficult, but Governor Malloy and the legislature, business, unions, educators, and advocates were committed to begin fixing what is broken in public schools.” – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

The text of Senate Bill No. 458 can be found by following this link.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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

 


[1] “Governor Signs Education Reform Into Law,” by the Associated Press. May 15, 2012: www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Governor-Signs-Education-Reform-Into-Law-151556065.html

[2] “Malloy says ‘We will fix our schools,’” by JC Reindl. May 15, 2012: www.theday.com/article/20120515/NWS12/120519753/-1/NWS

[3] “Compromise CT Ed Reform Bill Passes Senate and House,” by Julia Lawrence. May 10, 2012: www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/compromise-ct-ed-reform-bill-passes-senate-and-house

[4] See Footnote 1.