Posts tagged with "Leigh H. Ryan"

Growing Awareness Surrounding Bullying of Students with Disabilities in Fairfield County

If you have any questions regarding bullying of students with disabilities, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Bullying has gained the attention of the media over recent years, but despite the focused spotlight, bullying is rampant in our society.  Among the easiest targets are children with special needs.  They are, on average, at a greater risk to be bullied than their non-disabled counterparts.  This is in part because special education children make easy targets. It is often harder for children with disabilities to recognize which behaviors are socially appropriate and those that are not.

Many organizations are stepping up to the challenge of educating the community and parents on the complex issues surrounding bullying of students with disabilities. The Stratford Special Education Teacher and Parent Association recently held a presentation on “Bullying of Students with Disabilities.” The presentation focused on how to help schools avoid litigation stemming from the targeting of children with special education needs. The hope is to set up systems in schools that address bullying before it becomes a problem.  Interestingly, the presentation also focused on teaching parents how to work with the school system to effectively develop plans to prevent harassment of their children.  It is important that parents work with school administrators to develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that encourages students to learn, develop self-advocacy, and social and life skills necessary to reduce disability related harassment.

In addition to parents and school administrators working together to reduce and bring awareness to bullying and its drastic effects, it is also important to be familiar with the laws that protect children with disabilities.  At Maya Murphy, P.C., we have experience dealing with Education Law, harassment or bullying, Special Education Law, and discrimination.

By Leigh H. Ryan, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding bullying of students with disabilities, or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Teacher Placed on DCF’s Child Abuse and Neglect Registry

Twelve-year-old Kyle G., while attending MicroSociety Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut, was subjected to repeated harassment and bullying, amounting to child abuse and neglect.  However, Kyle’s bully was not another student, but rather his teacher Nicholas Frank.  The witnesses, Kyle’s classmates.

Mr. Frank subjected Kyle to constant ridicule in front of Kyle’s classmates, calling Kyle “cheeks,” “birthing mother,” “fish out of water.” Mr. Frank even resorted to physical harassment, by pinching Kyle’s cheeks.  Mr. Frank limited Kyle to asking only ten (10) questions a day, and if Kyle went over, Kyle could choose his punishment: have his cheeks pinched or a lunch detention.  As a result, Kyle became terrified in class, as he was afraid of how Mr. Frank was going to make fun of him next. Kyle’s grades started slipping from A’s to C’s. He had trouble sleeping and started wetting his bed.

Kyle’s mother became alarmed and reported her concerns to the school administrators. Upon learning of Mr. Frank’s actions, the school advised him to stop calling Kyle names, stop pinching his cheeks, and to minimize contact with Kyle.  When questioned, other students confirmed Kyle’s story. Students reported that Mr. Frank called Kyle “pregnant” due to his weight.  As a result of the investigation, Mr. Frank was suspended for eight days without pay.

Connecticut Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) learned of the incident and charged Mr. Frank with emotional neglect. A hearing officer substantiated the finding, holding that Mr. Frank “subjected Kyle to ‘acts, statements, or threats’ that would have an adverse impact on Kyle, including referring to his facial appearance and his weight. After substantiating the findings, DCF had a separate hearing as to whether Mr. Frank should be placed on DCF’s central registry of child abuse and neglect.  In deciding to place Mr. Frank on the central registry, the hearing officer determinate that Mr. Frank “in light of the attention given to anti-bullying in the school context, should have been aware of the implications of his statements. Kyle suffered an adverse emotional impact from the plaintiff’s [Mr. Frank’s] behavior as his grades dropped and his fear of school increased.” The hearing officer found that Mr. Frank had a pattern of abuse.

On Mr. Frank’s appeal of the DCF’s findings, the Superior Court rejected Mr. Frank’s arguments that the decision was not based on substantial evidence. The Court stated, “the court defers to the conclusion of the hearing officer who noted that teachers through the schools districts are on notice that poking fun at students is inappropriate behavior.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of bullying or harassment, please contact a knowledgeable attorney.  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.

By: Leigh H. Ryan, Esq.

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

What Parents Need to Know About Special Education Law

The state and federal governments enacted various regulations to protect a student with disabilities and to ensure that he or she obtains a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  Parents play a key role in the success of any special education program implemented for their children. Given the complexity of special education law, it is important to understand the significant responsibility a parent has in the special education system.

Referral to Special Education and Related Services

This is the first step in the process to determine a child’s eligibility for special education and related services. Parents should be aware that you have the right to request such a referral.  The referral must be in writing.  School officials also have the ability to make a referral.  However, a parent is often in a better position to suspect any disabilities, and can make an early referral to special education services through Connecticut’s Birth to Three program, prior to enrollment in school.

Planning and Placement Team (PPT)

The PPT reviews all referrals to special education. As a parent of a child, you have the right to be actively involved in the PPT, and are, in fact, a valued asset of the PPT.   A PPT generally consists of the parent(s), one of the child’s educators, a special education teacher, a representative of the school district, a pupil services personnel, and the child (depending on age).   As a parent, you have the right to include other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding your child.  As a valued member of the PPT, the school district must try to schedule meetings at a mutually agreeable time and place for you and must notify you, in writing, at least five (5) school days prior to holding the meeting.

Evaluations, Independent Educational Evaluations (IEE), and Reevaluations

The evaluation is the study used to determine a child’s specific learning strengths and needs, and ultimately determine whether your child is eligible for special education services. As an active participant, a parent can assist the PPT in designing the evaluation.  That is why sharing with the PPT all important information concerning your child’s skills, abilities, observations, and needs can be extremely beneficial to the process.  If you disagree with the evaluation conducted by the school district, you have a right to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE).  Such an IEE can be obtained at the school district’s expense, unless the school district can prove its evaluation is appropriate or that the IEE does not meet the school district’s criteria. If the school district believes that its evaluation was appropriate, it must initiate a due process hearing (or pay for the IEE).  In either event, you have a right to an IEE. However, if the school district’s evaluation is found appropriate, the parent will have to bear the cost of the IEE.  Reevaluation must be performed at least once every three (3) years, or sooner if conditions warrant. At the reevaluation, the educational needs of your child will be assessed, along with present levels of academic and related development needs of your child to determine whether your child continues to need special education and related services and whether your child’s IEP needs to be modified.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The IEP is a written plan that describes in detail your child’s special education program created by the PPT. Given the IEP is designed specifically for your child, it is vital that as a parent you exercise your right to be actively involved in the PPT meetings.  The IEP is designed to identify your child’s current levels of education and functional performance and any modifications or accommodations your child needs to participate in the general education curriculum. A child with a disability must, to the maximum extent possible, be educated with his/her nondisabled peers.  This is called the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). By law, you are entitled to receive a copy of your child’s IEP within five (5) school days after the PPT meeting was held to develop or revise the same.

Informed Consent

Prior to evaluating a child for the first time, a school district must obtain the parent’s written informed consent.  Informed consent means that a parent has been given all the information needed to make a knowledgeable decision. Written informed consent must also be obtained prior to the initial placement into special education, before a child is placed into private placement, and before a child is reevaluated.  As a parent, you can refuse to give your consent and you can withdraw consent once it has been given.  Giving consent for an initial evaluation does not mean that consent was given to place a child into special education or for any other purposes.  A school district must obtain separate written informed consent for each.

Placement

To the maximum extent possible, your child must be educated with his/her nondisabled peers in a general education classroom.  Removal from the school that your child would attend had he/she not had a disability, should only occur when the nature or the severity of the disability is such that educating your child in that setting cannot be achieved satisfactorily.  If this is the case with your child, the PPT must find an appropriate educational placement as close as possible to your home, at the cost of the school district.  While you can place your child in private placement on your own, there is no guarantee of full or partial reimbursement from the school district and that will ultimately depend on the findings by a hearing officer.

Disciplinary Procedures

The school district’s code of conduct applies to all children, with or without a disability. Prior to any suspension or removal, your child has the right to an informal hearing conducted by a school administrator. If it is determined by the PPT that the behavior was caused or related to your child’s disability, then your child may not be removed from the current education placement (except in the case of weapons, drugs, or infliction of serious bodily harm).  It is the PPT’s obligation to conduct a functional behavioral assessment and implement a behavioral intervention plan.

Access to Records

If your child has not reached the age of majority, as a parent you have a right to inspect and review his/her school records. The request must be in writing. The school district must allow you to review the records within ten (10) school days from your request or within three (3) school days if you need the information for a PPT meeting.  Connecticut law provides that you are entitled one free copy of your child’s records, and the school district has up to five (5) school days to provide you with that copy.

Due Process

A parent has the right to ask for a due process hearing as a result of the school district’s refusal to consider or find that your child has a disability, to evaluate your child, to place your child in a school program that meets his/her needs, or to provide your child with a FAPE.   A parent may bring an advocate or attorney with them to aid throughout the hearing.  A hearing officer will make a final decision within 45 days from the start of the timeline.  Generally, while a due process hearing is pending, a child’s classification, program or placement cannot be changed.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

There are three ways, other than a full due process hearing, to settle disputes between parents and the school district. The first is the Complaint Resolution Process, wherein a parent files a written complaint with the Bureau of Special Education, alleging the local school district has violated a state or federal requirement.  Within sixty (60) days, a written report which includes the Bureau’s findings, conclusions, corrective actions and recommendations, will be mailed to the Complainant.  The second alternative is mediation. Both parties (the parents and the school district) must agree to mediate the dispute.  At mediation, if an agreement is reached, it is placed in writing and is legally binding.  All discussions during mediation are confidential.  The last alternative is an advisory opinion. This is a non-binding opinion, issued by a hearing officer, after a brief presentation of information by both parties.  After receiving the advisory opinion, the parties can decide to settle the dispute or proceed to a full due process hearing.

By: Leigh H. Ryan, Esq.

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

 

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 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.

What You Need to Know About Severance Packages

During these economic times, many companies big and small, are facing the hard reality of layoffs. As hard as it is for companies, it is even harder for employees. Faced with no job and a bare economy, accepting a severance package might seem like to best choice. But before signing anything, it is important to understand the basics of the severance package and the potential rights that might be relinquished in the process.

(1) Time to Consider the Severance Package: A prevalent misconception is that all employees are entitled to twenty-one (21) days to review severance package offers. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In the case where the employer is only offering a severance package to one employee, and that employee is under the age of forty (40), there is no specific time to review the documents that is required by law. However, as the severance package must be made “knowingly and voluntarily,” that allows the employee some time to consider the severance agreement. However, there is no statutory minimum.

If, however, the employee being offered the severance agreement is forty (40) years or older, they are protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) of the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (“OWBPA”). By law, when only one employee is offered the severance agreement and a release of ADEA claims is included, the employer must provide the employee with twenty-one (21) days to review and consider the proposed severance agreement. Moreover, if the employer and employee engage in negotiations, the consideration period commences on the date of the employer’s final offer.

If more than one employee is terminated at or around the same time, it is considered a “group layoff.” By law, when a severance agreement is offered as part of a group layoff, and a single employee is over the age of forty (40), and a release of ADEA claims is included, then every employee regardless of age must be given forty-five (45) days to consider the agreement.

(2) Release of Claims: Most severance agreements contain a release of a variety of claims, including claims you may have based upon your age, race, national origin, gender, disability, relegation, among others. It may also include a release of all claims, whether known to you or not at the signing of the agreement. However, the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) has held that, although the severance agreement may restrict the employee’s ability to file a lawsuit, the release cannot restrict the rights of an employee to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, nor can the severance agreement limit an employee’s right to testify, assist or participate in an investigation, hearing or other proceeding conducted by the EEOC. Furthermore, the EEOC has declared that an agreement cannot waive an employee’s rights regarding acts of discrimination that occur after the signing of the agreement.

(3) Seven (7) Day Revocation Period: When a severance agreement contains an ADEA release of claims, by law, the employer must provide you with seven (7) days to revoke the agreement after signing it. This seven (7) day window cannot be waived or changed by either party.

(4) Ability to Consult with an Attorney: Severance packages generally contain more than just the release of ADEA claims, but also claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, retaliation, whistle blowing, breach of contract, invasion of privacy, among others. Given the breadth of the claims released, before the signing of a severance agreement, it is extremely important to consult with an attorney prior to its execution. Moreover, when the severance agreement contains a release, the agreement must specifically advise the employee to seek the advice of any attorney. Faced with financial distress because of the layoff, you may not be able to think objectively concerning your rights and options. It is best to consult an attorney.

(5) Consideration: Consideration is required for every agreement. That means that an employee must receive something of value in exchange for giving up certain rights. That “something of value” must be above and beyond what the employee would otherwise be entitled to.

(6) Ability to Negotiate: Despite the “take it or leave it” undertones of an employer, generally, many employers will negotiation severance on some level. Given that, there is also a risk that an employer will revoke the offer of severance if negotiation is attempted. Your chances of negotiating successfully increase if there is a claim that your particular severance package is not fair in light of your industry, your position, or the circumstances of your employment. Additionally, the negotiations do not need to focus on the dollar amount connected with the severance agreement. Employers might be willing to extend insurance coverage, disability benefits, or other items.

(7) Gather All Information: Before deciding to accept, negotiate, or reject a severance package, it is important to understand completely what is being offered to you, including compensation, benefits and insurance. If you are in an industry that provides for deferred stock options or bonus, it is important to understand whether you would still be entitled to it. You should gather information concerning your employer’s welfare plans, health plans, vacation and sick leave policies, as well as any structured bonus plans or stock options. If the severance package is only offering you what you would be entitled to, the agreement may lack adequate consideration.

(8) Restrictive Covenants: Many employers will place some kind of restrictive covenant into the severance package. These range from confidentiality clauses, to non- disclosure agreements, to non-solicitation agreement, to non-compete agreements. Therefore, it is important to understand how signing the severance agreement may restrict your ability to find new employment.

Before you sign a severance agreement, it is important to fully understand your rights and the consequences of accepting the offer. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., have years of experience in all sectors of employment law. If you have any questions relating to your severance agreement, please contact Leigh H. Ryan, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at LRyan@Mayalaw.com.

Continue Reading