Due Process Protects Us All
Many people view attorneys as artful dodgers. In my judgment, that is a good thing. School districts often benefit from a prerequisite known as “exhaustion,” which forces plaintiffs to touch every administrative base before trotting to home plate and the courthouse.
Hiring an Education Ombudsman
Far too many lawsuits against school districts are born of frustration. They are conceived in an initial gripe, incubated by callous and dismissive attitudes, and then pushed into the harsh public spotlight when the person feels no other choice remains. Appointing an official ombudsman can help district residents feel heard.
School Board Censure
School boards have a legal or policy right, and sometimes both, to police their own. But members have options in how to go about it. Formal actions are rare and titillating, and they inevitably spark citizen and media interest. Public shaming also could generate a lawsuit.
School Law's Top Issues
The interplay between funding and its impact on all areas of operations and policy makes finance adequacy and equity issues the biggest concern for school attorneys, according to our survey. By a 2-to-1 margin, school funding outranked such perennial hot-topic legal issues as special education, employee discipline, and collective bargaining.
Equal Access in Schools
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires school districts to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a physically or mentally challenged employee. Deciding whether an accommodation is reasonable means tricky calculations and complicated decision-making that beckons for the help of a school attorney. Superintendents and board members would be wise to heed that cry.
Sidelining Unsportsmanlike Behavior
At high school sports events nationwide, enthusiastic fans are known to use edgy tactics to distract opponents and, they hope, to help the home team win. Whether the perpetrators are students, parents, or visitors, it pays for school boards to be clear about the behavior expected at sporting events.
The Law and Student Transportation
The big yellow school buses that move millions of students to and from school each day provide a valuable service. And yet, superintendents and school board members are secretly aware of this inconvenient truth: The oversized taxis are also a movable feast of legal problems. You can’t be too careful.
Student Publications Going Digital
Schools are supplementing their print publications by using the Internet, updating the traditional yearbook for a generation accustomed to multimedia. Some high schools have similar online profiles and websites for their newspapers and other publications. The rules governing the use of social networking to promote school-sponsored media are often murky.
Power to the Student Press
Student reporters terrify adults, and I’ve never understood why. Admittedly, good student journalism does have a tendency to “stir the pot” and cause controversy. But at the same time, student reporting can make adults in the community aware of situations, concerns, and perspectives that otherwise might never come to light.
Weird School Law Stories
In the world of school law, dreadful things seem to cling unfairly to exemplary people. Yet, there is a flip side. A cluster of folks deserve all of the trouble they attract, landing them a spot in our annual education law “tales of the weird” column.
Work-Related Injuries at School
While school districts are not typically categorized as hazardous environments, accidents do happen and employees with legitimate work-related injuries deserve to be compensated. A major point of legal contention, however, is how “work-related” is defined and which accidents qualify for coverage.
Open School Board Meetings
In the past decade, with the explosive growth of e-mail and texting, school board members have more opportunities than ever to run afoul of their state’s open meeting law. A walking quorum (staggered meeting) can take place by e-mail, where such “meetings” can occur in minutes – possibly violating state law.
For some adults, children are merely vulnerable, trusting souls who make a perfect target for abuse. Thankfully, the law intervenes. Educators are in a unique position to observe and interact with children daily. According to U.S. government records, 17 percent of all child abuse reports came from teachers.
Special Education Restraint Questioned
An investigation by the federal Government Accounting Office last year found that restraining or isolating disruptive students may be much more common than expected, particularly in special education classrooms. Some states already have counted thousands of incidents, and researchers studying the issue believe those numbers are underestimated.
Policies on Student and Teacher Writing
The standing advice of school attorneys is be careful what you say, but be even more careful what you write. That admonishment applies equally to students and school employees, because a written record is powerful evidence in court. Although less dramatic, written proof is as strong if not stronger than verbal witness testimony.
The School's Role in Custody Disputes
Any public school principal will tell you that families come in all varieties. This column focuses on the “non-custodial parent” -- the biological mother or father who no longer lives with the student and does not possess some of the legal rights that might otherwise apply.
JROTC and the Law
While JROTC may serve both patriotic and curricular aims, whether it exists at all is a judgment that cannot be legally forced on a school district. Yet, school board members must beware that, while they can be legally right, such pronouncements can be politically wrong.