Posts tagged with "education"

Decision Suggests Educational Support Orders May Not Be Applied Retroactively

A case decided by the Connecticut Appellate Court, suggests Educational Support orders entered pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56c may not be entered retroactively.  In Kleinman v. Chapnick, 131 Conn. App. 812 (2011), the parties had two children who were over the age of eighteen and enrolled as full-time college students.  During the divorce proceedings, the parties’ older daughter was a senior and their younger daughter was a freshman.  In February 2010, after the parties entered into a final agreement on custody and visitation, a two-day trial ensued regarding financial issues.

As part of its decision, the Court ordered the husband to pay 100 percent of the statutory expenses for the education of the parties’ younger daughter beginning with the 2010-2011 school year.  As the Court did not enter an order with respect to the 2009-2010 school year, the wife filed a Motion to Clarify, Correct and/or Reargue.  The Court subsequently heard the wife’s motion, but declined to change its position.

On appeal, the Connecticut Appellate Court found that the husband made voluntary payments for the 2009-2010 school year that exceeded his statutory obligation under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56c.  More importantly, however, the Court held that Section 46b-56c contains no language authorizing retroactive application, pointing out that various provisions contained within the statute suggest that it is intended to apply prospectively only.  In a footnote, the Court further explained that child support orders cannot be retroactive, and an order for post-majority educational support is in fact an order for child support for college education.

Should you have any questions regarding educational support in the context of divorce proceedings, please feel free to contact Attorney Michael D. DeMeola.  He practices out of the firm’s Westport office and can be reached by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or email at mdemeola@maylaw.com.

What Is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in Connecticut?

FERPA is a federal law created in 1974.  This law protects, with some exceptions, the privacy of student educational records.  It requires schools, school districts, and federally-funded institutions to keep personally identifiable information contained in a student’s records confidential unless:

  1. the parents of students under age 18, or students age 18 or older, consent to disclose it; or
  2. one of the legal exceptions to the confidentiality requirement applies.

The law also permits local school districts to adopt a policy that designates certain student information as “directory information” that may be disclosed without prior consent, but districts must notify parents of this policy and allow them to opt-out of having the district disclose directory information.

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.

What is an Educational Support Order in Connecticut?

An educational support order is an order entered by a court requiring a parent to provide for a child to attend an institution of higher education or a private occupational school for the purpose of attaining a bachelor’s degree or other undergraduate degree, or appropriate vocational instruction.

Orders may include support for any necessary educational expense, including room, board, dues, tuition, books, fees, registration and application costs, and medical and dental expenses including health insurance.  A court can order a payment to be made (1) to a parent to be forwarded to the college or school, (2) directly to the school, or (3) however the court deems appropriate.

The purpose of an Educational Support Order is to help children of divorced parents afford higher education.  The OLR bill permits judges to order divorcing parents, and fathers subject to paternity orders, to support their offspring who enroll in accredited college or vocational programs after high school until they reach age 23.  Support Orders apply to cases where the first child support order is entered on or after October 1, 2002.  Parents must ask the court to enter such orders, and can do so at any time before the child’s 23rd birthday.

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.

Paying College Education After Divorce

At the time of a divorce, parties can reserve jurisdiction, a court’s authority to decide an issue, over matters regarding their child’s post-secondary education expenses.  It is particularly helpful to reserve jurisdiction if the parties have young children, as a family’s needs may change and one parent may wish to seek assistance from the other parent in facilitating their child’s college education.

The court may enter an educational support order for any child under the age of 23 after considering the following factors:

  1. The parents’ income, assets and other obligations, including obligations to other dependents;
  2. The child’s need for support to attend an institution of higher education or private occupational school considering the child’s assets and the child’s ability to earn income;
  3. The availability of financial aid from other sources, including grants and loans;
  4. The reasonableness of the higher education to be funded considering the child’s academic record and the financial resources available;
  5. The child’s preparation for, aptitude for and commitment to higher education; and
  6. Evidence, if any, of the institution of higher education or private occupational school the child would attend.

It is important to note that in Connecticut, if the parties do not explicitly reserve jurisdiction, then the court will be unable to set down an educational support order after a divorce has occurred. The court is also restricted from entering an order beyond the cost of University of Connecticut tuition for a full-time student.

If you have questions regarding educational support orders, or any education matter contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

An Overview of Legal Issues Relating to Bullying and Cyberbullying in Connecticut

The purpose of this article is to explore the laws, statutes, and cases relating to school bullying in Connecticut, specifically “cyberbullying,” and to provide an overview of the types of legal avenues that may be available to a victim of bullying.

What is Cyberbullying?

According to Connecticut’s General Assembly Commission on Children, “25 percent of Connecticut high school students – and 35 percent of the state’s 9th graders – report having been bullied or harassed on school property in the previous year.”[1] Furthermore, the report states that “[m]ore than 900,000 U.S. high school students reported being cyberbullied in one year.”[2] According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Bullying may be the most underreported safety problem in American schools.”[3]

The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) defines cyberbullying as “similar to other types of bullying, except that it takes place online and through text messages sent to cell phones.” www.ncpc.org.  The NCPC has said that cyberbullying can take the form of:

  • Sending mean or threatening emails, instant messages, or text messages;
  • Excluding someone from an instant messenger buddy list or blocking their email for no reason;
  • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others;
  • Breaking into someone’s email or instant message account to send cruel or untrue messages while posing as that person;
  • Creating websites to make fun of another person such as a classmate or teacher;
  • Using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.

One recent study from Texas describes cyberbullying as bullying in which bullies use the Internet, text messaging, and similar technology, “which give an illusion to anonymity, [and] encourage bullying by those who would not normally engage in such behavior.  They also allow a bully to avoid direct confrontation with the target.”[4]

I. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-222d

In July 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy signed Public Act 11-232 into law, marking Connecticut’s first anti-bullying legislation.  The Act, known as “An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws,” defines bullying as “the repeated use by one or more students of a written, oral or electronic communication, such as cyberbullying, directed at or referring to another student attending school in the same district.”[5] 

The law defines cyberbullying as “any act of bullying through the use of the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, cellular mobile telephone or other mobile electronic devices or any electronic communications.”[6]

The law requires that each local and regional board of education develop and implement a specific bullying policy addressing the existence of bullying within its schools.  Specifically, the law requires the school policy to:

  • Enable students to anonymously report acts of bullying to school administrators;
  • Appoint a safe school climate coordinator to facilitate the school’s plan;
  • Enable the parents or guardians of students to file written reports of suspected bullying;
  • Require school administrators (including teachers and staff) who witness bullying or receive reports of bullying to notify a school administrator no more than one day after the employee witnesses or receives the report of bullying; and to file a written report no more than two school days after making such oral report;
  • Provide for the inclusion of language in student codes of conduct concerning bullying;
  • Require each school to notify the parents or guardians of students who commit bullying and the parents or guardians of students who are the victims of bullying, and invite them to attend at least one meeting.
The Governmental Immunity Barrier

The doctrine of governmental immunity may preclude a plaintiff in Connecticut from recovering on a claim against a school district. Where the defendants’ activities in a bullying case are discretionary, they may enjoy the defense of governmental immunity; conversely, where the defendants’ activities alleged in the complaint are ministerial, they cannot be shielded by governmental immunity.[7] 

A ministerial act is an act which is “performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion . . ..”  There must be a “written policy, directive, or guidelines mandating a particular course of action.”[8] If a court deems the acts and responsibilities of a school district to be ministerial, governmental immunity will not serve to provide immunity.

That distinction was tested in Santoro v. Town of Hamden. There, the Connecticut Superior Court held that plaintiffs, parents of a bullying victim, could not maintain a private cause of action under §10-222d, finding that “section 10-222d does not provide a basis for circumventing the doctrine of sovereign immunity.” As such, the court granted defendants’ motion to strike two counts of plaintiffs’ complaint on the grounds that the school district was shielded by governmental immunity.[9]

Exception to Immunity Defense

There is an exception to the immunity defense, which permits a tort action in the circumstance of “perceptible harm to an identifiable person.” Scruggs, at *70.  The “identifiable person, imminent harm exception” applies when the circumstances make it apparent to the public officer charged with the exercise of discretion that his or her failure to act would be likely to subject an identifiable person to imminent harm.  Rigoli v. Town of Shelton, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 349, at *9 (Feb. 6, 2012).

Connecticut courts adhere to a three-pronged test.  Failure of a plaintiff to meet all three prongs will be fatal to a claim. Id. The test requires: (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.  Id. The Court in Esposito concluded that schoolchildren are a “foreseeable class to be protected.” Esposito, at *28.

II. Criminal Statutes and Cyberbullying

The 2011 revision to Connecticut’s anti-bullying statute included a new provision requiring the school principal, or the principal’s designee, “to notify the appropriate local law enforcement agency when such principal, or the principal’s designee, believes that any acts of bullying constitute criminal conduct.”[10]

Below is a non-exhaustive list of crimes that may be implicated by school bullying.

a. Criminal Harassment

Connecticut General Statute § 53a-182b, Harassment in the first degree, and 53a-183, Harassment in the second degree, are Connecticut’s criminal harassment statutes.

A person is guilty of harassment in the first degree when, “with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, he threatens to kill or physically injure that person or any other person, and communicates such threat by telephone, or by telegraph, mail, computer network, as defined in section 53a-250, or any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm and has been convicted of [a specifically enumerated felony].”

A person is guilty of harassment in the second degree when, “(1) By telephone, he addresses another in or uses indecent or obscene language; or (2) with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, he communicates with a person by telegraph or mail, by electronically transmitting a facsimile through connection with a telephone network, by computer network, as defined in section 53a-250, or by any other form of written communication, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm; or (3) with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person, he makes a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”

Not all cyberbullying, however, rises to the level of statutorily defined harassment.  As one author has noted, “it is more difficult to prosecute bullies under anti-harassment or anti-stalking statutes due to the mens rea requirement in criminal proceedings . . . [and] thus, criminal statutes do not offer victims of cyberbullying a viable option to seek redress against their harassers.”[11]

b. Bias Crimes

A person is guilty of intimidation based on bigotry or bias when such person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of the actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of such other person, causes serious physical injury to such other person or to a third person.[12] 

Furthermore, a person is guilty of intimidation based on bigotry or bias when such person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of the actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression of such other person, does any of the following:

  • Causes physical contact with such other person;
  • Damages, destroys or defaces any real or personal property of such other person; or
  • Threatens, by word or act, described in subdivision (1) or (2) of this subsection, if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act described in subdivision (1) or (2) of this subsection will occur.[13]

In an action for damages resulting from intimidation based on bigotry or bias, any person injured in person or property as a result of such an act may bring a civil action against the person who committed such act to recover damages for such injury.  Where a plaintiff in such an action prevails, the court shall award treble damages and may award equitable relief and reasonable attorneys’ fees in its discretion.[14]

c. Criminal Threats

Under Connecticut law, a person is guilty of threatening when: (1) by physical threat, such person intentionally places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury; (2) such person threatens to commit any crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another person; or (3) such person threatens to commit such crime of violence in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror.[15]

III. Other Legal Issues Relating to Cyberbullying
a. Defamation/Slander

In Connecticut, “a defamatory statement is defined as a communication that tends to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.”[16] To establish a prima facie case of defamation, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant published a defamatory statement; (2) the defamatory statement identified the plaintiff to a third person; (3) the defamatory statement was published to a third person; and (4) the plaintiffs reputation suffered injury as a result of the statement.”  Id.

Cyberbullying by means of social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook may give rise to defamation claims, if the plaintiff can meet all of the elements of defamation in Connecticut.  Sometimes, however, “the tortious statements are not necessarily published or widely disseminated to cause harm, but are specifically aimed at inflicting distress on a particular target based on the content of the communication itself . . ..”[17]

Therefore, defamation might not be a viable claim if the hurtful speech or writing is not disseminated to a wide enough audience.  It is, however, an avenue to be explored.

b. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In order for a plaintiff to prevail in an intentional infliction of emotional distress cause of action, the plaintiff must show: (1) that the actor intended to inflict emotional distress, or that he knew or should have known that emotional distress was likely a result of his conduct; (2) that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) that the defendant’s conduct was the cause of the plaintiff’s distress, and (4) that the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was severe.”[18] In order for liability to be imposed, the conduct must exceed “all bounds usually tolerated by decent  of a very serious kind.”[19]

Though it can be difficult to prove that the conduct was of such a level as to be intolerable by any measure of societal standards, egregious cases of cyberbullying may gave rise to successful IIED claims.  To prove an IIED claim, there is no requirement that the plaintiff suffer any physical harm.  As the Connecticut Supreme Court stated in Whelan v. Whelan, “The enormity of the outrage carries conviction that there has in fact been severe mental distress which is neither figured or trivial so that bodily harm is not required.”[20] It should be noted that “mere insults, indignities, threats, petty oppressions, or other trivialities” will not give rise to a successful IIED claim.[21]

Continuing Course of Conduct 

An interesting facet of IIED law in Connecticut, and one that may apply to cyberbullying claims, is the invocation of the continuing course of conduct argument. While IIED has a three-year statute of limitations, the Connecticut Supreme Court has stated: “Courts that have applied the continuing course of conduct doctrine to claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress have done so on the ground that it is the repetition of the misconduct that makes it extreme and outrageous.  Watts v. Chittenden, 301 Conn. 575 (2011).

In other words, a cause of action for IIED might not begin to accrue until plaintiff has endured such a repetitive course of conduct such that it has amounted to conduct that is extreme and outrageous.

In a 2003 case, the Connecticut Superior Court denied defendants’ motion to strike plaintiff-student’s claim for IIED, where the defendant co-conspirators locked the plaintiff in a locker, doused him with water, and threatened him with electrocution.[22]

Conversely, in Brodsky v. Trumbull, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state-law IIED claim, having granted summary judgment as to all of plaintiff’s federal claims in favor of defendants.[23]

c. Negligence

Many bullying cases sound in negligence. In a 2007 case, plaintiff parents alleged that defendant school district owed their son, the victim, “a duty to protect him and prevent intentional harm, provide him with a safe and productive learning environment, and supervise students at [the school] to prevent the alleged acts which harmed [plaintiff].”[24] The Court, finding that plaintiff did not make a proper showing of entitlement to the “identifiable person-imminent harm exception to governmental immunity for tort claims” (discussed infra), granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the state-law negligence claim.

In Esposito, plaintiff student, a victim of bullying, brought an action alleging that the defendant school district, town, and the individual defendants were negligent in failing to follow its own bullying policies, thereby failing to ensure that plaintiff could attend school in a harassment-free environment.[25] Unlike in Scruggs, the court in Esposito denied the school board’s motion for summary judgment, finding that governmental immunity did not apply and that the plaintiff met the identifiable person-imminent harm exception, as “schoolchildren are a foreseeable class to be protected.” Id.

Finally, the doctrine of negligent supervision, codified at Conn. Gen. Law 52-572, may be available as a claim against the parents of a bully.

d. Recklessness

In a 2010 decision, a Connecticut court denied defendant school district’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the student-plaintiff stated a plausible cause of action based on the defendants’ “reckless and wanton” supervision of plaintiff’s fellow classmates.[26] The court found that the defendant school board “offered no argument as to why a claim of common-law recklessness [was] not cognizable,” given the specific facts of the case.[27]

e. Privacy Tort Laws

The emergence of cyberbullying by means of Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites may give rise claims sounding in tort privacy laws.  Connecticut recognizes four distinct kinds of invasion of privacy torts.[28] Connecticut first recognized a cause of action for invasion of privacy in Goodrich v. Waterbury Republican, Inc., 188 Conn. 107 (1982), in which the Supreme Court clarified that the invasion of one’s privacy developed into “four distinct kinds of invasion of four different interests,” each of which “represents an interference of the right of the plaintiff to be let alone.”  Goodrich, at 125.

The four categories of invasion of privacy are: (1) unreasonable intrusion upon the seclusion of another; (2) appropriation of the other’s name of likeness; (3) unreasonable publicity given to the other’s private life; or (4) publicity which unreasonably places the other in a false light before the public. Id.; 3 Restatement (2d) of Torts.

A cyberbullying claim may implicate the third cause of action – unreasonable publicity given to the other’s private life, and may also implicate the fourth cause of action – false light.  To successfully allege a false light claim, a plaintiff must allege that “defendant gave publicity to a matter concerning the plaintiff.”  Goodrich.

“Publicity” refers to a matter made public through communication “to the public at large or to so many persons that the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge.”  3 Restatement of Torts (2d) §252d comment A.  The Restatement clarifies that publication do a small group of people will not give rise to a false light cause of action.   

f. Free Speech

A 2011 article in Law Technology News questioned how Connecticut’s anti-bullying law would fare in the face of free speech issues, noting that “[t]he new law puts school officials in the position of having to pass judgment on off-campus speech with little legal precedent to guide them . . . If they clamp down on online comments, they risk First Amendment challenges.  If they’re too lenient, they could be deemed responsible if cyberbullying leads to tragedy.”[29]

What worries some officials and lawmakers is the prospect of the regulation of speech that doesn’t take place on school grounds.  Legal Director of the ACLU of Connecticut Sandra Staub stated during testimony in March of this year that “simply plugging the phrase ‘cyberbullying’ into the current statute on bullying policies will encourage and allow schools to regulate children’s speech and conduct while they are in their own homes.”[30] 

Essentially, Staub’s argument sounds in the notion that what children do in their own homes is under the control of their parents, who, pursuant to the United States Supreme Court, have a due process right to raise their children in the manner they see fit.  Permitting schools to regulate such speech turns schools into internet police.  Instead, Staub suggests that it is the school’s responsibility to provide an education that instills in students the means by which to deal with conflicts in an appropriate manner.

g.  Federal Claims

Victims of bullying have brought substantive due process claims against school districts and school district officials. See, Risica ex rel. Risica v. Dumas, 466 F. Supp. 2d 434 (D. Conn. 2006) (granting defendant school district’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the School’s failure to prevent continued bullying did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation because the school had no constitutional duty to prevent student-on-student harassment).

Finally, where bullying is based on sexual harassment, a plaintiff may have a cause of action under Title IX of the Education Amendments. See, Brodsky, at *19 (granting defendant school board’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that defendants acted reasonably and expeditiously in response to any alleged harassment against plaintiff student).

In order to successfully allege a student-on-student sexual harassment claim, the Supreme Court of the United States has clarified that the school administration must have “acted with deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment . . . [and the] harassment [must have been] so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”[31]

IV. Conclusion

With the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, cyberbullying is as prevalent a problem as ever.  Schools around the country are taking steps to eradicate bullying of all kinds, but for the time being, it is everywhere.  Bullying issues can be handled by attorneys with experience in education law.

Navigating the school district system can be difficult, frustrating, and intimidating, and without the right guidance, you may find yourself reaching dead ends.  If you find yourself with questions relating to bullying, cyberbullying, or education law in general, do not hesitate to contact an attorney in our Westport, Fairfield County office, at 203-221-3100.

 


[1] Conn. Gen. Assembly Commission on Children, Anti-Bullying Bill Becomes Law, available at http://www.cga.ct.gov/coc/PDFs/bullying/2011_bullying_law.pdf (July 21, 2011).

[2] Id.

[3] http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Default.asp?Item=2460

[4] Bullying: Legislative Changes, Texas Assc. of School Boards, Legal Servs., available at http://www.tasbrmf.org/training/conference/documents/2012conference_handouts/bullying.pdf.

[5] Conn. Gen. Law §10-222d(a)(1)

[6] Id.

[7] Estate of Girard v. Town of Putnam, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 306 (Conn. Super. Ct. Jan. 28, 2011).

[8] Rigoli v. Town of Shelton, 2012 Conn. Super. LEXIS 349 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 6, 2012).

[9] Santoro, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2418, at *9 (Aug. 18, 2006); see also, Karlen v. Westport Bd. Of Educ., 638 F. Supp. 2d 293, 302 (D. Conn. 2009) (dismissing plaintiff’s claim pursuant to Connecticut’s anti-bullying statute because the statute does not provide for a private cause of action).

[10] Public Act No. 11-232.

 

[11] Todd D. Erb, Comment, A Case for Strengthening School District Jurisdiction to Punish Off-Campus Incidents of Cyberbullying, 40 Ariz. St. L.J. 257, 279 (2008).

[12] Conn. Gen. Stat. §53a-181j.

[13] Conn. Gen. Stat. §53a-181k.

[14] Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-571c.

[15] Conn. Gen. Stat. §53a-62.

[16] Cweklinsky v. Mobil Chem. Co., 267 Conn. 210, 217 (2004).

[17] Andrew S. Kaufman, Cyberbullying and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, 245 New York Law Journal 27, Feb. 9, 2011.

[18] Peytan v. Ellis, 200 Conn. 243 (1986).

[19] Id., quoting Prosser & Keeton, Torts, 5th ed. 12, page 60.

[20] Whelan v. Whelan, 41 Conn. Sup. 519, 522 (1991).

 

[21] Restatement 2d.

[22] Gasper v. Sniffin, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1363 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 6, 2003).

[23] Brodsky v. Trumbull Bd. Of Educ., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8799, at *28 (D. Conn. Jan. 30, 2009).

[24] Scruggs v. Meriden Bd. Of Educ., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58517, 67-68 (D. Conn. Aug. 7, 2007).

[25] Esposito v. Town of Bethany, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1050, at *1 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 3, 2010).

[26] Dornfried v. Berlin Bd. of Educ., 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2537 (Conn. Super. Ct. Oct. 4, 2010).

[27] Id., at *8.

[28] Law Offices of Frank N. Peluso, P.C. v. Rendahl, 2012 Ct. Sup. 2356 (Aug. 15, 2012).

[29] Jacqueline Rabe, New Conn. ‘Cyberbullying’ Law Prompts Free Speech Debate, Law Technology News (Sept. 7, 2011).

[30] Sandra Staub, Written Testimony Opposing Raised Bill No. 1138 An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws.

[31] Davis v. Monroe Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 633 (1999).

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What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Education

One of the reasons that parents work so hard is to be able to provide a better life and a better future for their children. The bedrock of a bright future is a good education.  As a parent, it is important to understand your rights and obligations when it comes to your child’s education.

Adequate Education

As a parent, you are required to have your children enrolled in public school unless the parent can show that the child is receiving equivalent instruction elsewhere. Under Connecticut law, the child must be “instructed in reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, geography, arithmetic and United States history and in citizenship, including a study of the town, state and federal governments.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-184.

School Accommodations

The local school board is required to provide school accommodations to every child, age five (5) or over and under twenty-one (21), with a free appropriate public education. This includes children with special needs. The law also provides for your child’s education to take place in the district in which you live.

Absences

The State of Connecticut has strict regulations concerning a child’s absence from school. Specifically, the State declares a child who has four (4) or more unexcused absences in a month or ten (10) or more unexcused absences during the school year as a “truant.” The designation of your child as a truant results in the activation of certain policies and procedures of the school board, including but not limited to, the notification of the parents, services and referrals to community organizations offering family support, meetings with the parents and school personnel, and possible notification to the Superior Court.  Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-198a. Habitual truants could even face arrest for failure to attend school. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-200.

Open Choice

Connecticut law has established alternatives to traditional public school education. A parent can home school their children, as long as they comply with Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-184. A parent can choose to send their child to private school, as long as that private school conforms to Connecticut’s laws. But what many parents are not aware of is that Connecticut also offers charter, magnet and vocational schools, and the “open choice” program.  Given the number of opportunities available to parents and children in Connecticut, it is important to research the various options to find the best match for you and your child.

Discipline

The school has the right to discipline your child for breaking school rules. This could mean removing your child from the classroom, giving an in-school suspension, giving an out-of-school suspension, or even expelling your child from school. Prior to any suspension or removal, your child has the right to an informal hearing conducted by a school administrator. If the school is attempting to expel your client, there will be an expulsion hearing. You have a right to an attorney during these proceedings.

Medications

The school, prior to prescribing any medication to your child, must receive a written order from an authorized prescriber, the written authorization of the child’s parent or guardian, and the written permission of the parent allowing communication between the prescriber and the school nurse.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-212a-2(b). The law also permits school districts to allow children to self-administer prescribed emergency medications, such as asthma inhalers, if the child has a verified chronic medical condition and is capable to self-administer.

Bullying

Bullying has become a pervasive problem within schools. State and Federal laws state that the school must investigate reports of bullying. The schools are obligated to meet with the children that are being bullied and whom are doing the bullying. If the schools fail to take certain steps to protect children from bullying, the school could be subject to civil liability. Therefore, if your child is being bullied, bring it to the attention of the schools so that they can attempt to remediate the situation.

Bullying is not just peer-on-peer. Recently, in Frank v. State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families, the Court upheld a hearing officer’s decision placing Mr. Frank’s name on the child abuse and neglect registry, for his bullying of one of his students. Consequently, as a parent you should be aware that bullying can take many forms, and can occur by teachers and other faculty members. 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3085, J.D. of New Britain, Docket No. CV-10-6005213-S (2010).

School Records

A parent has the right to see their child’s school records. A school is required to provide you with a copy of your child’s records within 45 days (within 10 days if your child is receiving special education services).  The school also has to provide the records free of cost if you are unable to afford the copying fees.

The school is not allowed to share your child’s school records without your written permission. While they are allowed to share your child’s records with other teachers and staff within the school system (or outside the school system in the case of an emergency), generally, your child’s records are private.

If you have any questions regarding your child’s education, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

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. Continue Reading