What's On Your Legal List?

By Del Stover and Glenn Cook

Members of the Council of School Attorneys were asked to pick the top 10 issues from a list of 19 topics identified by the editors of American School Board Journal and NSBA’s Office of General Counsel. The survey was conducted in early November 2008, and 209 responses were received.

The top 10 legal issues in K-12 education, in order, are:

1. Employee discrimination/termination

2. Finance adequacy and equity issues

3. Student discipline

4. Collective bargaining

5. Employment issues related to changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act

6. Private placement issues related to special education

7. Disputes regarding attorney fees in special education cases

8. Free speech

9. Educator sexual misconduct

10. No Child Left Behind Act interventions

Topics that received votes but were not in the top 10 were: employee and student misuse of the Internet; student searches; civil rights; discrimination; sexual harassment/sex discrimination claims; denial of Free Appropriate Public Education under Section 504 for Students with Disabilities; student and employee privacy; school board member governance; and contract issues such as superintendent procurement.

Juan Cruz thought it was “a simple issue.” Keys were missing from a teacher’s classroom in Laredo, Texas, and the principal told four students that they would be questioned the next day.

All four arrived at school with their attorneys, meaning that Cruz, a lawyer who represents the Laredo Independent School District, had to be called in as well.

“I believe some parents think that they may be doing their child a favor by not allowing them to go through the punishment phase of discipline,” Cruz says. “When, in fact, it works in the opposite. If the child does not learn a lesson about what he did wrong or she did wrong, then that’s just going to be a student who will continue to do those things again knowing that mom or dad can get him or her out of trouble.”

Student discipline is one of the top --  and potentially most litigious --  concerns for many school districts, as a national survey by ASBJ and NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) shows. According to the attorneys, it ranks third on the list of the top 10 legal issues in K-12 education.

More than 200 COSA members responded to the survey, the first of its kind conducted by the magazine. Their answers reflect how school districts struggle to deal --  and at times comply --  with a maze of laws and regulations that is growing almost annually. Four of the top 10 are on employee issues, with employee discipline and termination finishing number one overall.

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