Posts tagged with "student"

Connecticut Student Disabled on School Trip Wins $41.7M Verdict

A jury awarded $41.7 million to a woman who sued her prestigious boarding school after contracting a tick-borne illness on a school trip to China that left her unable to speak and brain-damaged.

The federal jury in Bridgeport ruled in favor of Cara Munn, 20, in her lawsuit against The Hotchkiss School, a private school in Lakeville. The school said it would appeal.

Munn, of New York City, was a ninth-grader at Hotchkiss when she joined a school-supervised trip to China during the summer of 2007, according to her lawsuit. The then-15-year-old suffered insect bites that led to tick-borne encephalitis, her attorneys said.

The school failed to ensure that the students take any precautions against ticks and allowed them to walk through a densely wooded area known to be a risk area for tick-borne encephalitis and other tick- and insect-transmitted illnesses, her attorneys said.

“Hotchkiss failed to take basic safety precautions to protect the minor children in its care,” Munn’s attorney Antonio Ponvert III said. “I hope that this case will help alert all schools who sponsor overseas trips for minors that they need to check the CDC for disease risks in the areas where they will be traveling, and that they must advise children in their care to use repellant and wear proper clothing when necessary. Cara’s injuries were easily preventable.”

Attorneys for the school argued that tick-borne encephalitis is such a rare disease that it could not have foreseen a risk and could not be expected to warn Munn or require her to use protection against it.

Hotchkiss officials said they remain very saddened by Munn’s illness and hope for improvements to her health.

“We care deeply about all our students,” the school said in a statement. “We make every effort to protect them, whether they are here or participating in a school-sponsored activity off-campus. We put great care and thought into planning and administering off-campus programs, and we extend the same care to students on these trips as to students on campus.”

The case lasted eight days, and the jury deliberated for about eight hours before returning their verdict.

By John Christoffersen

At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury.  Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating a personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com

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The Boundaries of a Child’s Constitutional Right to Education in Connecticut

Under the Constitution of Connecticut, “There shall always be free public elementary and secondary schools in the state.”[1] However, to satisfy free appropriate public education, or FAPE, requirements of federal law, this doesn’t mean parents may engage in a sort of free-for-all in dictating the five W’s of their child’s educational opportunities at public expense. Rather, case precedent has established limitations that take into account the interests of the child balanced against governmental concerns of the school district.

While the Supreme Court of Connecticut has stated that “the right to education is so basic and fundamental that any infringement of that right must be strictly scrutinized,” they did not intend this to extend to any specific sort of education.[2] In other words, just because a student is eligible to participate in specific courses or extracurricular activities does not automatically grant him or her the right to do so.[3] More specifically: “Absent a legislative mandate such as that in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-76a that requires a special education curriculum for children with disabilities, a student has no constitutional right to any particular program of instruction.”[4]

By way of examples, children who are classified as “gifted and talented” are not entitled to special classes.[5] Rather, a school district has the choice to provide special services, but is not required to do so. In a fairly recent case, the Superior Court ruled against plaintiffs who asserted they were denied their constitutional right to FAPE when the Milford Board of Education elected to change their primary vocational agriculture (VOAG) program due to financial considerations. The Court explained that the school district was complying with State mandates surrounding VOAG educational opportunities for its students, and that “plaintiffs have no constitutional right to the education of their choice; they merely have a right to a ‘free public secondary’ education.”[6]

Should you have any questions about any education law matter, it may prove beneficial to seek the counsel of an experienced school law practitioner. 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] Constitution of Connecticut, Article Eighth, Section 1.

[2] Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615, 646 (1977).

[3] Wajnowski v. Connecticut Association of Schools, Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven, Docket No. CT 00 0432727, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3448 (December 17, 1999, Pittman, J.)

[4] Id.

[5] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-76d(c). See, e.g., Broadley v. Board of Education, 229 Conn. 1, 9 (1994).

[6] Tomasco PPA et al. v. Milford Board of Education, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2413 at 13.

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.