Posts tagged with "school"

Does Freedom of Speech Still Exist in Public Schools in Connecticut?

The United States Constitution states that every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects.  No law shall ever be passed to restrain the liberty of speech.  Courts have repeatedly held that in state-operated schools, students are still “persons” under the Constitution, and still possess fundamental rights which the state must respect.  Without a constitutionally valid reason to regulate speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.  These days there is the possibility of a wide range of issues regarding freedom of speech in the public school system.  These issues might include a student’s off-campus internet activity, or even simply the language on a student’s printed t-shirt.


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.

Expulsion Procedures: Readmission to School

An expelled pupil may apply for early readmission to school. Such readmission shall be at the discretion of the local or regional board of education. The board of education may, however, delegate authority for readmission decisions to the superintendent of schools for the school district. If the board delegates such authority, readmission shall be at the discretion of the superintendent. Readmission decisions shall not be subject to appeal to Superior Court. The board or superintendent, as appropriate, may condition such readmission on specified criteria.

Any student who commits an expellable offense and is subsequently committed to a juvenile detention center, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School or any other residential placement for such offense may be expelled by a local or regional board of education in accordance with the provisions of this section. The period of expulsion shall run concurrently with the period of commitment to a juvenile detention center, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School or any other residential placement.

Return to School

If a student who committed an expellable offense seeks to return to a school district after having been in a juvenile detention center, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School or any other residential placement and such student has not been expelled by the local or regional board of education for such offense, the local or regional board of education for the school district to which the student is returning shall allow such student to return and may not expel the student for additional time for such offense.


This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any education matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@mayaLaw.com.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to an education law attorney about a pressing matter, please contact Joseph Maya, or the other experienced education attorneys at Maya Law today at (203) 221-3100 or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

School Learning Environment

Connecticut Public Act No. 08-160, An Act Concerning School Learning Environment, is of interest to parents of school-age children and, in particular, parents of children with special needs.

Two of the major changes that are enacted are (1) all suspensions starting July 1, 2009, are in-school suspensions unless it is determined that the student is dangerous or disruptive to the educational process; and (2) all schools must “develop and implement a policy to address the existence of bullying in its schools.”  Also of note is a new provision that provides for in-service training for school personnel and pupils on a variety of issues they face daily.  A few examples are: (a) drug and alcohol awareness; (b) “health and mental health risk reduction;” (c) working with special needs children in regular classrooms; (d) CPR and emergency life-saving procedures…..

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.

New Connecticut Special Education Law

Connecticut Public Act No. 08-160, An Act Concerning School Learning Environment, is of interest to parents of school-age children and, in particular, parents of children with special needs.

Two of the major changes that are enacted are (1) all suspensions starting July 1, 2009, are in-school suspensions unless it is determined that the student is dangerous or disruptive to the educational process; and (2) all schools must “develop and implement a policy to address the existence of bullying in its schools.”  Also of note is a new provision that provides for in-service training for school personnel and pupils on a variety of issues they face daily.  A few examples are: (a) drug and alcohol awareness; (b) “health and mental health risk reduction;” (c) working with special needs children in regular classrooms; (d) CPR and emergency life-saving procedures…..

Deliberate Indifference Required for School to be Liable under Title IX for Student-Student Harassment

In a New York District decision, a student’s cause of action under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act against the Monroe-Woodbury School District was denied because it did not show deliberate indifference in response to the student’s claim of student-to-student sexual harassment.[1]

Parents on behalf of their fifteen-year-old daughter brought suit against Monroe–Woodbury Central School District pursuant to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was deprived of an educational environment free from sexual harassment as required by federal law.

Case Background

Beginning in January 2010, when she was in the eighth grade, the student was subjected to teasing, taunting, and physical bullying by other students, which she reported to her guidance counselor.  She was sexually assaulted by a male classmate who requested a handjob and subsequently ran her hands over the genital area of his pants and attempted to shove her hands down his pants.[2] As a result of the incident, the student alleges that she was subjected to more taunting and name-calling by other students and in response began to engage in self- injurious behavior by cutting herself.

When she began attending Monroe–Woodbury High School in September, another student and friend of the first continued to harass her and in November sexually assaulted her by pinning her against a locker and pushing his hands down her pants and blouse, touching her genital area and breast.[3]  The student began missing school frequently to avoid continued harassment.  At some point she confided in her guidance counselor that her absenteeism and self-injurious behavior was the result of the persistent teasing and the two incidents of sexual assault by her classmates.[4]

The School District recommended that she attend the GO Program, an out-of-district academic program, to which her parents agreed. After her first day there, CF reported to her parents that she was uncomfortable with this placement because the students there were “in many cases, not attending their regular high schools due to serious disciplinary records and incidents.”[5] When her parents again met with the principal, they requested that their daughter be transferred to another public school to continue her high school education.  The principal refused saying there were no other options besides the GO program.[6]

The Allegations

The parent brought suit alleging the school failed to: (1) initiate an investigation upon the parents’ verbal complaint; (2) conduct a prompt, equitable, and thorough investigation of the charges; (3) ensure that immediate corrective action be taken, including subjecting the offending individuals to appropriate disciplinary measures; and (4) inform CF of her right to pursue legal remedies.

Title IX

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “[n]o 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.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)[7]. Title IX contains an implied private right of action for plaintiffs who bring suit against educational institutions that receive federal funding, and liability may be imposed upon a school district if it is found to be in violation of this law.

Title IX funding recipients may be held liable for student-on-student harassment if the plaintiff can establish damages only where the school district: (1) was deliberately indifferent; (2) to sexual harassment; (3) of which it had actual knowledge; (4) that was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived the victim of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.[8] 

A showing of deliberate indifference requires that the school had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment and either responded in a “clearly unreasonable manner in light of the known circumstances,”[9] or responded with remedial action only after a “lengthy and unjustified delay.”[10]

The Court’s Decision

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s assertions that the GO Program was an “inappropriate” placement for her because it did not provide her with a “regular high school environment.” Saying even if it was inappropriate, “Title IX simply does not require recipient school districts to provide students with a ‘regular high school environment.’ Title IX does not prescribe any particular educational experience at all.

Rather, Title IX merely prohibits schools from excluding anyone, on the basis of sex, from participating in an educational program that receives federal assistance; or denying the benefits of such programs on the basis of sex; or subjecting anyone in such programs to discrimination on the basis of sex.”[11]  Finding that the school did not cause the discrimination and the School District took some remedial action (not clearly unreasonable under the circumstances) in response to the student’s complaints, the Court dismissed the action.

Bullying and harassment in school should never be tolerated.  The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable education law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about bullying, student harassment, school liability or any other 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, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist., 12 CIV. 2200 ER, 2013 WL 177911 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2013)

[2] Compl.¶¶ 10-11

[3] Compl.¶¶ 12-13

[4] Id.

[5] Compl.¶¶ 14

[6] Id.

[7] Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)

[8] Williams v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 477 F.3d 1282, 1293 (11th Cir.2007)

[10] Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 751 (2d Cir.2003)

[11] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist.

Court Gives Plaintiff in Bullying Case Green Light to Proceed to Trial

The Parent’s Claims

In August 2006 Robert and Louise Dornfried filed suit against the Berlin Board of Education, its former and current superintendents,  the principal, the athletic director, and the coach of the Berlin High School football team on behalf of their minor son, Robby.  Robby’s parents alleged on their son’s behalf that, while a student at the high school and a place-kicker on the varsity football team, he was subjected to “incessant bullying, harassment, intimidation and was the victim of threats and/or acts of violence” by his teammates.

The parents further alleged that they complained of the misconduct to various school administrators, who, despite their knowledge of the behavior, did nothing to stop it.  As a result, Robby was allegedly forced to seek “medical care and treatment” and, halfway through his sophomore year, transferred to Northwest Catholic High School. Robby’s parents brought suit alleging negligence against the various defendants, claiming they knew or should have known that Robby was subjected to incessant bullying, harassment, intimidation, threats and/or acts of violence, but failed to take any action to prohibit, prevent, or even deter such conduct.

In a separate count, the parents claimed the principal, the athletic director and the football coach were reckless in their failure to stop the inappropriate behavior of Robby’s teammates, claiming they exhibited “a blatant and utter disregard for [Robby’s] safety and wellbeing.”  Notably, as permitted by Connecticut law, the plaintiff sought punitive damages under this count. The defendants initially attacked the plaintiff’s suit filing a motion to strike the negligence claims.

The Court’s Decision

Granting the defendants’ motion, the Court held that the principal of governmental immunity barred the negligence claims because, as a general rule, a municipal employee has qualified immunity in the performance of acts that are discretionary in nature.  Although there is an exception when the injured party is an “identifiable person subject to imminent harm,” the Court held that Robby did not fall within that exception, explaining the only identifiable class of foreseeable victims the courts have recognized is that of school children attending public schools during school hours.

The Court ultimately held that, although participation in school sponsored athletic programs is most likely encouraged, participation is on a purely voluntary basis and, therefore, any resulting liability is barred by the doctrine of governmental immunity.  Significantly, although Robby was foreclosed from pursuing his negligence claims, his claim under a theory of recklessness, allowing for the recovery of punitive damages, was left intact.

More recently, however, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment attempting to eliminate that cause of action as well.  The defendants essentially claimed that, with respect to the plaintiff’s recklessness count, there are no factual issues in dispute and that as a matter of law, they are entitled to a judgment in their favor.

Recklessness Claim

The court denied the defendants’ motion, however, preserving the plaintiff’s case, as well as the potential for punitive damages.  Explaining its decision, the Court first noted that Robby’s parents alleged the defendants had actual knowledge of the bullying yet failed to act, resulting in further escalation of the bullying, and that the defendants knew their failure to act would result in further harm to Robby.  Significantly, the Court then explained that summary judgment should not be used in cases that concern important public issues or questions of inference as to motive or intent, or ones that involve subjective feelings and reactions.

Citing various factual disputes in this particular case, the Court ultimately held that it is “suffused with subjective impressions, intent, motive and pubic issues which do not easily conform to the standards of summary judgment.”

This ruling is significant, in part, because, as mentioned, the plaintiffs alleged that the school system, as well as various administrators, were not just negligent, but were actually reckless in their failure to respond to the bullying in question, thus exposing the school system not only to actual or compensatory damages, but punitive damages as well.  This decision is also significant because, although there is always a potential that such rulings will be appealed, the Court effectively gave the plaintiffs a green light to proceed to trial.

By: Joseph Maya, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding a school bullying case, 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, Connecticut 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.

Connecticut General Statute Section 10-222d

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’s Bullying Policy

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.

Teacher Placed on DCF’s Child Abuse and Neglect Registry

Case Background

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,” and “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 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.

The Charges

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.”

By: Leigh H. Ryan, Esq.

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.

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.

Connecticut’s Anti-Bullying Law

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.” 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.”

Legal Requirements of School Bullying Policy

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 law was enacted in response to alarmingly high reports of bullying in Connecticut, with studies showing that 25 percent of Connecticut high school students report having been bullied in the past year. Bullying and cyberbullying, an extension of bullying, have far-reaching and damaging consequences. Students may become withdrawn, flounder in their academics, suffer depression, and in the worst-case scenarios, attempt or commit suicide.

If you, your child, or a loved one is the victim of bullying in school, there are legal avenues. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. have experience in education law.

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