Posts tagged with "Westport"

Is Warrantless Drug Testing in Our Schools Constitutional?

In a previous post, I discussed the lessened requirements of searches conducted by school officials, that of reasonableness under all of the circumstances surrounding the search. This is because the Supreme Court has recognized the need to balance a student’s privacy interests against the need for teachers and administration to maintain order and control over the classroom environment.[1] This framework works particularly well in the traditional sense of searching a student’s belongings, automobile, and even their school desks and lockers.[2]

What happens, however, if your school seeks to subject its students to random drug testing, without having reasonable suspicion to do so? This qualifies as a search, subject to the reasonableness standard, but “certain exceptions to the reasonable standard [exist], whereby your child may be subject to drug testing regardless of whether or not they are suspected of taking illicit drugs.”[3]

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that random drug testing of student-athletes via urinalysis did not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.[4] The Court articulated a three-part balancing test that must be used in determining whether a constitutional violation occurs in this context: the nature of the privacy interest upon which the search intrudes,[5] the character of intrusion,[6] and the nature and immediacy of the governmental concern and the efficacy of the means to meet it.[7] A school’s interest in combating student drug use has long been recognized. The Court reasoned that student-athletes have a further diminished expectation of privacy compared to regular students (consider communal showers and shared locker rooms) and noted the voluntary nature of participation.

Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court extended these principles to allow random drug testing of students who participate in any extracurricular school activities.[8] This includes chess clubs, band and choral ensembles, or even teams that participate in academic competitions. As my colleagues explained, “The circumstances surrounding a urinalysis test are no different than going to the restroom in a public facility, and a monitor is present only to make sure that your child does not tamper with the urine specimen,” a process that has been constitutionally upheld.[9]

So as a parent, what’s the take-away from this discussion? When your child wishes to participate in an extracurricular activity and the school intends to implement a suspicionless drug testing program, they may do so, but are required to adhere to the principles of Vernonia and Earls. In addition, it is comforting that the Court in Earls specifically articulated that access to the results is on a strict “need to know” basis;[10] in addition, schools are not permitted to either punish your child or hand over the results to the police.

Of course, the balancing test applied to drug testing renders a subjective analysis, and as such it is important to seek the advice of an experienced school law practitioner if your child is subject to one at his or her school.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school discipline, searches, 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.


[1] New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985).

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 54-33n.

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

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

[5] Id. at 654.

[6] Id. 658.

[7] Id. 660.

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

[9] Id. at 833.

[10] Id.

Searches by School Resource Officers

On Searches by School Resource Officers: Are They School Officials or Police Officers?

It Depends.

In light of school safety concerns that have plagued the nation since the 1990s, resource officers have become commonplace our public schools. They are the collaborative effort of local police department and boards of education, serving a myriad of roles as educator, investigator, advisor, and a source of interaction and resource for students. However, what are the constitutional burdens imposed on a resource officer when he or she conducts a search of a student or the student’s property?

First, let’s rewind to 1985, when the U.S. Supreme Court held that while the Fourth Amendment in general applies to searches conducted by teachers or school officials, they are not held to the stringent warrant requirements that constrain police action. As further elaborated:

[T]he accommodation of the privacy interests of schoolchildren with the substantial need of teacher and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools does not require strict adherence to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a twofold inquiry: first, one must consider whether the … action was justified at its inception, second, one must determine whether the search as actually conducted was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.[1]

In other words, school personnel are permitted to search student property (which includes purses, backpacks, and automobiles on school property) so long as the search is “justified at its inception” and permissible in scope. The search cannot be excessively intrusive. However, what the Court in T.L.O. declined to produce was “the appropriate standard for assessing the legality of searches conducted by school officials in conjunction with or at the behest of law enforcement agencies, and we express no opinion on that question.”[2]

Thus, we return to our original inquiry: because a resource officer serves functions both on behalf of the school and of the local police agency, what is the standard that applies? It does not appear that this question has been put to the test here in Connecticut, though other jurisdictions have progressively contemplated this scenario, and it boils down to three hypotheticals:

  1. School official initiates search/police involvement is minimal: reasonableness test applies.
  2. School resource officer initiates search on own initiative or at direction of a school official so as to “further educationally related goals”: reasonableness test applies.
  3. “Outside” police officer initiates search: warrant and probable cause requirements implicated.[3]

In determining the level of police involvement, various factors are considered:

[W]hether the officer was in uniform, whether the officer has an office on the school campus, how much time the officer is at the school each day, whether the officer is employed by the school system or an independent law enforcement agency, what the officer’s duties are at the school, who initiated the investigation, who conducted the search, whether other school officials were involved, and the officer’s purpose in conducting the search.[4]

Because of the lack of a uniform standard as promulgated by a Supreme Court decision, different courts have come to wholly divergent conclusions purely based on application of the above factors. In Alaniz, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined that the school resource officer involved was “more like a school official,” thus implicating the less stringent reasonableness standard.[5] Conversely, this past August the Washington Supreme Court ruled that “the school resource officer was not a school official and thus the more lenient standard of ‘reasonable suspicion’ applied to searches by school personnel did not apply.”[6]

Every instance of school searches conducted by resource officers is unique, and as such determining whether it was reasonable or implicated greater Fourth Amendment protections may be difficult without the assistance of an experienced school law practitioner.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions regarding school discipline, searches, 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.


[1] New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 341 (1985).

[2] Id. at 342 n.7.

[3] State v. Alaniz, 2012 N.D. 76, ¶ 10. See, e.g., T.S. v. State, 863 N.E.2d 362, 367-68 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007); Myers v. State, 839 N.E.2d 1154, 1160 (Ind. 2005); State v. Burdette, 225 P.3d 736, 750 (Kan. Ct. App. 2010); In re D.L.D., 694 S.E.2d 395, 400 (N.C. Ct. App. 2010); State v. J.M., 255 P.3d 828, 832 (Wash. Ct. App. 2011). Accessed October 4, 2012: http://www.ndcourts.gov/_court/opinions/20110259.htm

[4] Id. at ¶ 11. See T.S., at 369-71; Burdette, at 740; R.D.S. v. State, 245 S.W.3d 356, 368 (Tenn. 2008).

[5] Id. at ¶ 12.

[6] “Court Invalidates Backpack Search by School Resource Officer,” by Mark Walsh. Accessed October 4, 2012: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/school_law/2012/08/court_invalidates_backpack_sea.html

Student Speech Rights in the Information Age

For nearly twenty years, the First Amendment framework chiseled out by the Tinker[1]-Fraser[2]-Hazelwood[3] trilogy worked wonders in establishing whether student speech could be regulated. Though students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,”[4] school administrators have the authority to curtail or prohibit various forms of speech: that which would materially and substantially disrupt a classroom, is plainly offensive, or promotes illegal drug use. Educators may also exert editorial control over school-sponsored expressive activities, such as a school newspaper written by students.

As my colleague Bob, succinctly wrote, these cases were “once thought to provide parents and teachers with a viable and stable framework for reconciling student rights of free speech with educators’ rights to maintain good order and discipline.”[5] Technology, which we insist makes life easier, instead simply made things more clouded and ushered in a new battleground for student speech litigation.

Today, students are connected to each other through email, instant messaging, blogs, social networking sites, and text messages. An email can be sent to dozens or hundreds of other students by hitting ‘send.’ A blog entry posted on a site such as livejournal.com can be instantaneously viewed by students, teachers, and administrators alike. Off-campus speech can become on-campus speech with the click of a mouse.[6]

Thus, what happens when a student, who is neither on school grounds nor at a school-sponsored event, engages in speech critical of school administration? Does the school have authority to punish the student? The Second Circuit held the in the affirmative: quoting a decision rendered only two years earlier, the Court condoned discipline for speech or expressive conduct made off school grounds if the conduct “would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment”[7] should the expression reach school grounds.[8]

Findings in other cases, however, are setting up the issue of disciplining off-campus student speech for a day in the U.S. Supreme Court, in large part due to conflicting decisions in the Appellate Courts.[9] Most recently on September 6, 2012, the United States District Court of the District of Minnesota, located in 8th Circuit, denied a defendant school district (and the defendant administrators) its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a student who was punished for her off-campus speech.

In that case, using her personal computer at home, the student wrote on her own Facebook wall that she hated a school monitor because she “was mean to me.” For this, school administrators gave a warning. When the student thereafter posted a message that stated, “I want to know who the f%$# [sic] told on me,” again using her personal computer at home, she received a one-day suspension and was prohibited from attending a school-sponsored ski trip. Characterizing these posts as “a far cry from the statements made by the students in cases in which courts have approved of school intervention,” the District Court found that these statements “were not likely to cause a substantial disruption to the school environment.”[10]

While the foundations of student speech regulations are not yet set, it is important for students to realize that any electronic communication they send could potentially be viewed by anyone. All it takes is the recipient hitting the “Forward” button to send to unknown parties or “tattletaling” to a teacher or school administrator. As such, “[a]ny off-campus electronic communication relating or referring to students, teachers, administrators, or school activities has the potential to result in school discipline” and exclusion from participation in school activities.[11]

As a parent, controlling or monitoring your child’s electronic communications has become a highly difficult, if not impossible, task to fully accomplish. This is why it is imperative that you speak to your child about the ramifications of sending out messages they have no way to capture back and which may inadvertently come to the attention of school officials. Nonetheless, if your child is facing disciplinary action for off-campus conduct or speech, it is important that you are aware of your rights and consult an experienced school law practitioner.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about school discipline or other education law matters, 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.


[1] Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

[2] Bethel School District v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).

[3] Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al., 484 U.S. 260 (1988).

[4] Tinker, supra at 506.

[5] “Advocating on Your Child’s Behalf: A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut School Law,” by Joseph C. Maya, Esq., Esq, at 83.

[6] Doninger v. Niehoff, 594 F.Supp. 2d 211, 223 (D. Conn. 2009), aff’d in part and rev’d in part 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 8441 (2d Cir. Apr. 25, 2011).

[7] Wisniewski v. Board of Education, 494 F.3d 34, 40 (2d Cir. 2007).

[8] Doninger, supra at 217.

[9] Compare Doninger, supra, with J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 11947 (3d Cir. June 13, 2011) and Layshock v. Hermitage School District, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 11994 (3d Cir. June 13, 2011).

[10] R.S. et al v. Minnewaska Area School District No. 2149 et al, Civ. No. 12-588 (MJD/LIB). Accessed October 3, 2012: http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/minnesota/mndce/0:2012cv00588/124914/28/

[11] Maya and Bob, supra at 92.

Suspension Rates of Minority Students in Connecticut Schools Remains Stagnant

Suspension Rates of Minority Students in Connecticut Schools Remains Stagnant, Despite Overall Decrease

An article released yesterday on The CT Mirror reported mixed news: while the overall rate of out-of-school suspensions decreased by nearly one-fifth during the 2010-2011 academic school year, “it has not diminished Connecticut’s racial disparity in the use of the discipline technique.”[1] Indeed, the rates at which African American and Hispanic students are suspended, compared to their white peers, are staggering: twice for the latter and thrice for the former. What makes these numbers worse, however, is their disproportionate character. African American students comprise of 13% of the total student population, yet received 39% of all suspensions. Likewise for Latinos, who make up 19% of the state’s student population, they received nearly the same proportion of suspensions (36%).[2]

Unfortunately, these figures provided by the State Department of Education are not anomalies. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA recently released a study focusing on the disparate impact of suspensions and expulsions as it related to various ethnic and racial groups, gender, and disability. One key finding (out of many) was the following:

National suspension rates show that 17%, or 1 out of every 6 Black school-children enrolled in K-12, were suspended at least once. That is much higher than the 1 in 13 (8%) risk for Native Americans; 1 in 14 (7%) for Latinos; 1 in 20 (5%) for Whites; or the 1 in 50 (2%) for Asian Americans.[3]

Connecticut was ranked the highest in suspension rates for Latinos at 14% – twice the national average – with the Hartford School District at a whopping 44.2% suspension rate (the highest district in this category nationwide).[4]

So what is the cause of such wide-ranging disparity, both here in Connecticut and nationally? Unfortunately, the answers are difficult to pinpoint. “Is it a matter of discrimination? Or is it a matter of behavior issues among certain populations? Either way, you still have a problem that needs to be dealt with,” stated Joe Cirasuolo, who is the executive director of the State’s superintendents association.[5]

However, the impact is less opaque: “Overreliance on out-of-school suspensions contributes to poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and the staggering achievement gap between low-income minority children in Connecticut and their higher-income peers.”[6] Increased run-ins with the juvenile justice system also result, as evidenced by a 2007 report that “89 percent of 16 and 17-year olds involved with the juvenile justice system had been suspended or expelled from school.”[7]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Because of the potentially adverse and significant impact an out-of-school suspension can have on a student’s future, it is imperative to seek the advice of an experienced school law practitioner if your child faces a suspension. Should you have any questions regarding school discipline or other education law matters, 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.


[1] “School suspension rates drop, but minority students still overrepresented,” by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas. October 2, 2012: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17615/school-suspension-rates-plummet-minority-students-still-overrepresented

[2] Id.

[3] “Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School,” by Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillespie. August 2012: http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/federal-reports/upcoming-ccrr-research/losen-gillespie-opportunity-suspended-ccrr-2012.pdf

[4] Id.

[5] See Footnote 1.

[6] “Teaching Discipline: A Toolkit for Educators on Positive Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspensions,” by Alexandra Dufresne, J.D., Annemarie Hillman, Cari Carson, and Tamara Kramer. June 2010: http://www.ctvoices.org/sites/default/files/edu10discipline.pdf

[7] Id.

Navigating the Channels of School Suspension Protocol

Hot off the press: “A new state law has significantly reduced the number of students being suspended from school…”[1] This is in large part due to the passage of Public Act No. 08-160, “An Act Concerning School Learning Environment,” which modified the circumstances which schools under State law could suspend its students, instead showing a preference for in-school suspensions.[2] Thus, during the 2010-2011 academic school year, “when the law went into effect… the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped statewide by 19 percent, or 9,835 incidents.”[3]

While “some incidents will still warrant suspensions,” [Waterbury Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Ouellette explained that] she’s deployed several initiatives to ensure that students are not being sent home for minor infractions like dress code violations, talking back to their teachers or skipping class. “We are trying to reach them and intervene before it escalates to that point.”

The Connecticut legislature has enumerated the circumstances under which a student may be suspended: if on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity, the conduct violates an established, publicized school board policy, seriously disrupts the educational process, or endangers persons or property.[4] If the conduct took place off school grounds, the school board may only entertain a suspension if both the first two circumstances are met.

Say your child has committed an act off school grounds, and the school is contemplating a suspension. What must it consider? Under Connecticut law, to determine if the conduct will seriously disrupt the educational process, your local school board must consider at least the following, though they are not limited to these four factors:

  1. Whether the incident occurred within close proximity of a school
  2. Whether other students from the school were involved or whether there was any gang involvement
  3. Whether the conduct involved violence, threats of violence or the unlawful use of a weapon… and whether any injuries occurred
  4. Whether the conduct involved the use of alcohol

As a parent, it is vital to realize that your child cannot be automatically suspended without an informal administrative hearing. This is because in Goss v. Lopez, the U.S. Supreme Court explained the import of due process in a suspension scenario:

Among other things, the State is constrained to recognize a student’s legitimate entitlement to a public education as a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and which may not be taken away for misconduct without adherence to the minimum procedures required by [the Due Process] Clause. [5]

Thus, barring emergency circumstances, students facing a suspension (thus temporarily losing their property interest) “must be given some kind of notice and afforded some kind of hearing”[6] so they know why they are being suspended and given the chance to tell their side of the story. The hearing is the best place for a student to convince school officials that an out-of-school suspension is not warranted for any given number of reasons, such as the behavior not qualifying as prohibited conduct, the lack of disciplinary history,[7] or the use of an in-school suspension as a viable and reasonable alternative.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

The intricacies involved regarding in- and out-of-school suspensions can be difficult to comprehend, and could potentially result in the deprivation of a student’s protected rights. As such, if your child faces a suspension, it is imperative that you know all of these rights and consult with an experienced school law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding school discipline or other education law matters, 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.


[1] “School suspension rates drop, but minority students still over-represented,” by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas. October 2, 2012: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17615/school-suspension-rates-plummet-minority-students-still-overrepresented

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(g).

[3] See Footnote 1.

[4] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(a)

[5] Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 574 (1975).

[6] Id. at 580.

[7] Connecticut General Statutes § 10-223c(e)

The Disproportionate Representation of Minorities in Special Education Classes

This past July, a new law went into effect here in Connecticut that requires the State Department of Education to identify school districts that “disproportionately and inappropriately identif[y] minority students as requiring special education because such students have a reading deficiency.”[1] Under this statute, the term “minority student” takes on the public’s common understanding: any student that is non-white or of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.

In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that struck down de jure racial segregation, noting that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”[2] Since then, many great strides have been made to offer free, appropriate public education to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and disability. In the realm of special education, Congress has enacted various statutory schemes that provide comprehensive protections for children with mental or physical disabilities. This occurred most notably in the form of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and its predecessor, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which “ushered in an era in which the federal government became active in financing and regulating special education services provided by local districts.”[3]

The goal was noble: ensuring that students with disabilities would receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) on par with students in regular classrooms. Unfortunately in practice, African American and Hispanic students are being disproportionately identified as having emotional behavioral disorders and intellectual disabilities, and are thus “more likely to be served in special education classes and residential placements more than their peers.”[4] One study in Massachusetts, for example, revealed that while African Americans represented approximately 12.4% of the total U.S. population, they were “approximately 1.3 times (approximately 30%) more likely than non-African American students to be found eligible for special education.”[5] Hispanic students received similar results.

What is the source of this improper labeling? As a New York Times columnist mused, “the students are being placed in special education because educators are misinterpreting behavior problems and misunderstanding cultural differences.”[6] Connecticut was not innocent in this respect, as one civil rights lawyer dubbed “Connecticut’s dirty little secrets in education.”[7] As further highlighted in the same Times article:

  • Hartford: Hispanic students were “more than four times as likely as whites to be identified as having a learning disability.”
  • Norwalk: African American students constituted 36% of the special education population, but was only 25% of the total student population.
  • West Hartford: African American students were “more than five times as likely as whites to be diagnosed as having an emotional disturbance.”
  • Windham: Hispanic students constituted 58% of the total student population, but represented 64% of the special education population and “nearly 70 percent of students classified as having a speech or language impairment.”

Other reasons cited include subjectivity in decision-making that allows for bias and misinterpretation of cultural cues – such as “bad” as a slang for “cool” being misread by an evaluator as exposure to “negative influences.”[8] In this example, the social worker involved stated, “It really started to speak loudly to the fact that people involved didn’t understand our community.”

Nonetheless, Connecticut’s Public Act 12-116 § 90 is certainly a step in the right direction to ensure that minority students are not inappropriately and disproportionately placed into special education programs when it is not warranted. Only time will tell whether meaningful progress will be made, or whether litigation will be necessary because such progress is “uneven” or “moving too slowly in the desired direction.”[9]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you are a parent who believes that your child has been improperly placed as a special education student, it is imperative that you are aware of your rights and consult an experienced school law attorney. Should you have any questions about special education or other education law matters, 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.


[1] Public Act 12-116 § 90(a).

[2] Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 495, 74 S. Ct. 686, 692 (1954).

[3] “Special but Unequal: Race and Special Education,” by Matthew Ladner and Christopher Hammons. 2001: http://www.dlc.org/documents/SpecialEd_ch05.pdf

[4] “The overrepresentation of African American students in special education,” by Latanya Fanion. July 22, 2010: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-overrepresentation-of-african-american-students-special-education

[5] “Disproportionality: A Look at Special Education and Race in the Commonwealth,” by Matthew Deninger. Pp. 1, 4. September 2008: http://www.doe.mass.edu/research/reports/Edbrief_final.pdf

[6] “Special Education and Minorities,” by Avi Salzman. November 20, 2005: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/20ctspecial.html

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

Student’s Negligence Action Against School

Student’s Negligence Action Against School, City of Stamford Survives Motion for Summary Judgment

Jesse was a twenty-year-old special education student attending high school in Stamford. She repeatedly informed teachers and school officials about the unwanted romantic advances made by her classmate, Jonathan, but no action was ever taken. On February 28, 2005, Jesse asked to use the restroom located in the special education classroom; she was then sexually assaulted by Jonathan. Both students were sent to the office of the special education coordinator, and Jesse explained what occurred. Despite this knowledge, school officials permitted the two to ride on the same school bus home, during which Jesse was teased and called a liar by Jonathan.

Various teachers and staff, the Board of Education, and even the City of Stamford were later sued in a negligence action filed by Jesse. She contended that “the defendants were aware of [Jonathan’s behavior], but they failed to take appropriate measures to protect [her] from the sexual assault.”[1] However, in their motion for summary judgment, the defendants claimed protection through governmental immunity.

Municipal employees are “liable for the misperformance of ministerial acts, but has qualified immunity in the performance of governmental acts…”[2] Basically, governmental acts are supervisory and discretionary, while ministerial acts must “be performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion.”[3] However, even if a defendant successfully claims, as they did in this case, that the acts in question were discretionary, thus invoking governmental immunity, a plaintiff may still defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting one of three exceptions (discussed in greater detail here): in this case, the identifiable person-imminent harm exception.

The identifiable person-imminent harm exception requires a showing of three things: “(1) an imminent harm; (2) an identifiable victim; and (3) a public official to whom it is apparent that his or her conduct is likely to subject that victim to that harm.”[4] A person will be deemed “identifiable… if the harm occurs within a limited temporal and geographical zone, involving a temporary condition;”[5] a harm is imminent if it is “ready to take place within the immediate future.”[6]

In discussing the motion to dismiss, the Court agreed that Jesse was an identifiable victim of the assault, but she failed to meet the imminent harm requirement. There was no evidence on the record as to when the previous sexual advances were made, nor did she show that the defendants should have known the sexual assault would take place on or about February 28, 2005.[7] However, the Court agreed that the exception was satisfied as to the school officials’ conduct in allowing the two to ride home together:

[Two school officials] admit in their affidavits that they knew some sort of sexual conduct had occurred between [Jesse] and [Jonathan]. Despite this fact, they did not stop [Jesse] from taking the bus with [Jonathan]. At that time, [Jesse] was an identifiable victim of harassment by [Jonathan], and the risk was limited in geographic and temporal scope because [Jesse] and [Jonathan] were riding the bus together and the risk only lasted the duration of the bus ride home. Moreover, the risk of harm was arguably imminent because the dismissal bell had just sounded to release the students early because of a snowstorm, and the bus would presumably be leaving soon thereafter.

Thus, the Court denied the motion for summary judgment as to most of the counts in the complaint (it granted the motion as to one negligence per se count). Although the lawsuit was later withdrawn[8] by Jesse, this case nonetheless serves as another example of a student and/or parent surviving a motion for summary judgment in the face of defendants asserting governmental immunity protection.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Should you have any questions about any 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.


[1] Estrada v. Stamford Board of Education et al., Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford, Docket No. CT 06 5002313. 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3022 (November 19, 2010, Tobin, J.).

[2] Bonington v. Westport, 297 Conn. 297, 306, 999 A.2d 700 (2010).

[3] Id.

[4] Cotto v. Board of Education, 294 Conn. 265, 273, 984 A.2d 58 (2009).

[5] Id. at 275-76.

[6] Stavrakis v. Price, Superior Court, judicial district of Litchfield, Docket No. CV 10 6001285, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2257 (September 7, 2010, Roche, J.).

[7] See Footnote 1.

[8] http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/CaseDetail/PublicCaseDetail.aspx?DocketNo=FSTCV065002313S

In Light of Varying State Anti-Hazing Laws, Is the “Halting Hazing Act of 2012” the Solution?

“The time for Congress to act is now,” commanded U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Fla, behind a banner that read: “Hazing Kills – 163 deaths to date. If you want to haze, lose your financial aid, not for a few days, but for LIFE!”[1]

Nicknamed “the Haze Buster,” Congresswoman Wilson has announced plans to introduce a congressional bill, the Halting Hazing Act of 2012, which would make hazing “a federal offense resulting in the [permanent] loss of financial aid to students involved.”[2] Any State that does not enact a felony hazing statute would face restricted federal transportation funding,[3] similar to how Congress links highway funds to whether the State in question has a minimum drinking age of twenty-one (21). Furthermore, “an advisory committee within the Justice Department [would be formed and] dedicated to hazing prevention and elimination.”[4]

The need for this legislation stems in part from the apparent disparity in State hazing statutes, which “vary dramatically in penalties and definition,” and only eight States “classify some forms of hazing as a felony, depending on the level of severity.”[5] Under Connecticut law, hazing is defined as “any action which recklessly or intentionally endangers the health or safety of a person for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a student organization.”[6] It includes but is not limited to:

  • Requiring indecent exposure of the body;
  • Requiring any activity that would subject the person to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation or extended isolation from social contact;
  • Confinement of the person to unreasonably small, unventilated, unsanitary or unlighted areas;
  • Any assault upon the person;
  • Requiring the ingestion of any substance or any other physical activity which could adversely affect the health or safety of the individual.[7]

A victim’s voluntary participation or consent cannot be claimed as a defense. However, hazing does not constitute a felony in Connecticut: violation of this section will result in a $1,500 fine and one-year suspension of a student organization’s operating privileges or a $1,000 fine for a participant. Additional civil or criminal remedies are available. Unfortunately, the statute specifically applies to student organizations at institutions of higher learning, leaving a void as to course of action with hazing in Connecticut high schools.

While this legislation is well-meaning and has an honorable goal, the true potential impact is questionable at best. Despite the existence of anti-hazing laws in a vast majority of States, as well as similar policies within the bylaws of college fraternities, sororities, and other student organizations, hazing is “a practice that doesn’t appear to be letting up despite increasing knowledge of the risks and stepped-up education on college campuses.”[8] Furthermore, the actual language of the bill has yet to be drafted and is thus subject to pure speculation. However, if this legislation serves as a wake-up call to States to crack down on the implementation of laws already in place, as well as a direct threat to a would-be participant’s wallet, if we can save the life of the next Robert Champion, then Congresswoman Wilson’s valiant efforts will not have been for naught.

Should you have any questions about hazing or other education law matters, 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.


[1] “Florida Congresswoman Introduces Anti-hazing Legislation,” by Jamaal Abdul-Alim. September 21, 2012: http://diverseeducation.com/article/48258/

[2] “Clearing Up Hazing: Opponents Are Pushing for Stricter Laws,” by Deborah L. Cohen. October 1, 2012: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/clearing_up_hazing_opponents_are_pushing_for_stricter_laws/

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Connecticut General Statutes § 53-23a(a)(1).

[7] Id.

[8] See Footnote 2.

When Rites of Passage Turn Ugly A Study on School Hazing

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

Chuck Stenzel. Matthew Carrington. Jay Lenaghan. Garrett Watterson. Gary Devercelly, Jr. What do these individuals have in common?

Think Robert Champion.

In August 2000, Alfred University released the results of a nationwide survey[1] of American high schools on the prevalence of hazing rituals. Under this study, “hazing” was defined as “any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate.” In essence, hazing is an initiation rite that goes over the line: while “[i]nitiation rites are comprised of pro-social behaviors that build social relationships, understanding, empathy, civility, altruism and moral decision-making,” hazing is marked by humiliation, harassment, or abuse. It includes:

  1. “Humiliation: socially offensive, isolating, or uncooperative behaviors.”
  2. “Substance abuse: abuse of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs.’
  3. “Dangerous hazing: hurtful, aggressive, destructive, and disruptive behaviors.”

Other forms of humiliating and dangerous behavior include being singled out, physical humiliation, nudity, sexual acts, physical danger, and boundary testing.

Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) were subject to an activity that is considered hazing, though students appeared to be unable to distinguish between fun and hazing. “Only 14 percent said they were hazed… Most said they participated in humiliating, dangerous or potentially illegal activities as part of joining a group because those activities are ‘fun and exciting.’” Hazing starts at a younger age, before age 13, and continues through high school, and males with lower grade point averages were more likely to be the targets of hazing:

Sadly, the consequences of hazing are widespread and significant. Nearly three of every four students who reported they were hazed suffered at least one negative consequence:

As of November 2010, forty-four states had anti-hazing laws – Connecticut’s anti-hazing law is General Statutes § 53-23a.[2] Even with the statutory groundwork, what constitutes hazing behavior “relies on authorities’ subjective interpretation” of the law.[3] As Middlesex (Massachusetts) District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. explained, “What some person finds as hazing, another is going to find as a childish prank.”[4] On the other hand, some coaches and school authorities “say they draw a hard line on any initiation rites – even activities that could seem fairly innocent. ‘I just don’t think there’s any place for it, because there’s always the chance someone is going to take it beyond or too far,’ said [a longtime football coach].”[5]

Even with laws in place, hazing is still prevalent: just yesterday, I learned of the assaults of “Billy” and “John” in La Puente, California. “[Billy and John] among several students allegedly attacked as part of a soccer team hazing ritual that involved sexual assault at La Puente High School said they were grabbed in a storage room by as many as 10 older team players.”[6] One student was sodomized with a pole;[7] the second “was able to escape, to run away before he got the worst of what his attackers were planning for him.”[8] Worse still, it appears the coach knew of the abuse and took no action to prevent or report it. Although several individuals have been arrested, parents are only left with unanswered questions: one parent asked, “Where was the supervision?”[9]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

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


[1] “Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey,” by Nadine Hoover, Ph.D. and Norman Pollard, Ed.D. August 2000, Alfred University: www.alfred.edu/hs_hazing/docs/hazing__student.pdf

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 53-23a: http://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap939.htm#Sec53-23a.htm

[3] “Despite law, many still unsure when to sound hazing alarm,” by Stephanie Ebbert and Shelly Murphy. November 15, 2010: www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2010/11/15/states_antihazing_law_still_stirs_confusion_25_years_later/

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] “Victims in La Puente High sexual hazing say there are more attackers,” by Richard Winton. September 25, 2012: latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/09/la-puente-soccer-sexual-hazing.html

[7] Id.

[8] “Alleged victims describe hazing at hands of soccer teammates,” by the CNN Wire Staff. September 26, 2012: www.cnn.com/2012/09/26/us/california-student-hazing/

[9] Id.