Posts tagged with "Parents"

Identifying Acts of School Bullying

October is the National Anti-Bullying month, yet the issue of bullying in schools remains headline news on a routine basis. Just today, I read about an incident where “two girls beat [the victim’s] head into the wall and floor when the teacher was out of the room,” causing “permanent hearing loss in her right ear.”[1] Worse still are the stories where the victim took his or her own life as an escape from the daily torment inflicted by bullies.

Without a doubt, parents are scared for the safety of their children. In her on-the-air speech addressing an email she received from a viewer critical of her weight, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT News 8 in Wisconsin admitted that “as the mother of three young girls [the growing prevalence of school bullying] scares me to death.”[2] Ms. Livingston further emphasized, “The internet has become a weapon. Our schools have become a battleground.”[3] Therefore, it is imperative that you, as a parent, are able to recognize acts of bullying and report incidents to your child’s school. The former is the focus of this article.

Recognizing Bullying Behaviors

Under Connecticut law for over a year now, bullying is defined as “the repeated use of a written, oral or electronic communication or physical act by one or more students directed at another student within the same school district which:

  1. Physically or emotionally harms the student or damages that student’s property;
  2. Places such student in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself, or of damage to his or her property;
  3. Creates a hostile school environment for the student;
  4. Infringes on that student’s rights at school; or
  5. Substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of the school.”[4]

Bullying on the basis of the following actual or perceived traits also qualifies: race or color; religion; ancestry; national origin; gender; sexual orientation; gender identity or expression; socioeconomic status; academic status; physical appearance; and mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disabilities.[5]

The Connecticut legislature has also taken aim at cyber-bullying, defined as “any act of bullying through the use of Internet, interactive and digital technologies, cellular mobile telephone or other mobile electronic devices or any electronic communications.”[6] Various forms of communication fall within this broad definition, including Facebook posts and messages, emails, text messages, live webcam sessions meant to ridicule or humiliate another student.

Notwithstanding these statutory definitions, you should review your child’s student handbook or school website to determine how your school district defines bullying. If neither source provides the policy, you should ask your school for a copy; this request must be fulfilled immediately.[7]

If you are the parent of a child who has been bullied or harassed at school, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner. The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding bullying or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] “Two girls accused of beating, bullying student taken into custody,” by WDRB News. October 16, 2012: http://www.wdrb.com/story/19835044/two-girls?hpt=ju_bn4

[2] “Star brother Ron Livingston defends ‘fat’ anchor sister, Jennifer,” by News Limited Network. October 5, 2012: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity/tv-anchor-jennifer-livingston-takes-on-bully-who-criticised-her-weight/story-e6frfmqi-1226488835303

[3] Id.

[4] 2011 Conn. Pub. Acts 11-232, § 1(a)(1).

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at § 1(a)(2).

[7] “Bullying and Harassment in Connecticut: A Guide for Parents and Guardians,” by the Connecticut State Department of Education, on pp.5. http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/equity/title_ix/bullying_q_and_a.pdf

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

A recent 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.

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.

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.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[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

Random Drug Testing of Middle School Students on the Rise

Mandatory drug testing has become commonplace wherever we look. “Olympic athletes must submit urine samples to prove they are not doping. The same is true for Tour de France cyclists, N.F.L. players, college athletes and even some high school athletes.”[1] A previous post on this website discusses in greater detail the permissible use of drug tests on students who wish to participate not only in sports but also any other extracurricular school activity. This type of search is subject to a reasonableness standard, though exceptions may apply irrespective of whether or not the school district suspects your child is abusing illicit drugs. [2]

This brings me to my question of the day: is it reasonable to ask a middle school child, who wants to participate in her school’s scrapbooking club, to pee in a cup?

School districts in at least nine States – Connecticut not included – have extended the use of random drug tests to include middle school students. Administrators cite surveys that show early use of drugs; one superintendent in Oregon explained, “The hope is, if you know you’re going to be tested, you just don’t start using. We’re trying to break the cycle before it starts.”[3] A member of the Student Drug-Testing Coalition stated:

It starts early with kids. You want to get in there and plant these seeds of what’s out there and do prevention early. The 11th and 12th graders, most of them have already made a choice. But the eighth graders, they’re still making decisions, and it helps if you give them that deterrent.[4]

Critics question the effectiveness of drug testing. “There’s little evidence these programs work. Drug testing has never been shown to have a deterrent effect,” noted Dr. Linn Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg’s 2007 study of athletes at eleven high schools, half of which with drug testing and the other half without, “found that athletes from the two groups did not differ in their recent use of drugs or alcohol.”[5] Furthermore, civil rights groups and parents argue that the drug tests violate students’ privacy rights, and depending upon relevant state law, courts appear more willing to issue injunctions or other orders halting policies that are deemed unconstitutional.[6] Thus, it will be particularly interesting to see how this line of cases – random drug testing in middle schools – proceeds in courts nationwide, and whether it will culminate into the next Vernonia[7] or Earls.[8]

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

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.


[1] “Middle Schools Add a Team Rule: Get a Drug Test,” by Mary Pilon. Published September 22, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/sports/even-some-middle-schools-now-test-for-drugs.html

[2] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 60.

[3] “Some Ore. schools test for drugs in middle school,” by the Associated Press. Published September 23, 2012. Accessed October 10, 2012: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Some-Ore-schools-test-for-drugs-in-middle-school-3887608.php

[4] See Footnote 1.

[5] Id.

[6] See, e.g., “Judge Stops Enforcement of School District’s Suspicionless Drug Testing Policy,” by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Published July 26, 2011. Accessed October 10, 2012: http://staging.aclupa.org/news/2011/07/26/judge-stops-enforcement-of-school-districts-suspicionless-drug-testing-policy

[7] Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646 (1995).

[8] Board of Education Independent School District No. 92 v. Earls, 536 U.S. 822 (2002).

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.

Connecticut School Districts and Bullying: What Can Parents Do?

I was greeted this morning with a very unfortunate email.  The email concerned bullying in Westport Schools and included a heart wrenching video of an 8th grade girl claiming to be a victim of bullying in Westport schools. (http://patch.com/A-gcKG) It is just not enough to feel sorry for this victim of bullying, we need to question the effectiveness of the current law and policies in place to avoid the tragic consequences that other towns have dealt with because their students were victims of bullying.

I previously blogged about the revisions to Connecticut’s law against bullying in 2008.  Under Connecticut General Statute section 10-222d, the law requires “any overt acts by a student or group of students directed against another student with the intent to ridicule, harass, humiliate or intimidate the other student while on school grounds, at a school sponsored activity or on a school bus, which acts are committed more than once against any student during the school year.” In addition to definitional changes, the statute requires:

  1.  teachers and other staff members who witness acts of bullying to make written notification to school administrators;
  2. prohibits disciplinary actions based solely on the basis of an anonymous report of bullying;
  3. requires prevention strategies as well as interventions strategies;
  4. requires that parents of a student who commits verified acts of bullying or against whom such bullying occurred be notified by each school and be invited to attend at least one meeting;
  5. requires school to annually report the number of verified acts of bullying to the State Department of Education (DOE);
  6. no later than February 1, 2009, boards must submit the bullying policies to the DOE;
  7. no later than July 1, 2009, boards must include their bullying policy in their school district’s publications of rules, procedures and standards of conduct for school and in all of its student handbooks, and
  8.  effective July 1, 2009, boards must now provide in-service training for its teacher and administrators on prevention of bullying.

Westport responded to the requirements of this statute with a comprehensive bullying policy which can be found on the school district’s website under the tab for parents, and then selecting policies.  Here is the direct link to the policy: (http://www2.westport.k12.ct.us/media/policies/prohibition_against_bullying_5131.911_revised_8.25.2008.pdf)

Armed with Connecticut’s law and Westport’s policy, what should we do as parents, community members, and professionals?  I do not profess to have the answers but at a minimum, we should discuss this with our children, question the school administrators, guidance staff and teachers. Together we should challenge ourselves to make a difference using the channels available to us.  There are ways that we can help to effectuate change before it is too late.  If you know of a child affected by bullying, please act on their behalf.  Not every student will post a video to tell you this is happening. If the school is not addressing the bullying in a meaningful way to eradicate the conduct, legal redress is available and the courts will readily intervene.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me by telephone in the Firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at SMaya@Mayalaw.com. Attorney Maya is a partner at Maya Murphy, P.C. Her practice is limited to Education Law and Trusts and Estates.

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.