On Wednesday, January 17, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated decision regarding the adequacy of education funding from the State.  In Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v. Rell, 2018 WL 472325 (2018), the court ruled that the State met its obligation to provide “minimally adequate” funding to school districts across Connecticut, and did not deny equal protection to students from the neediest districts.  In so ruling, the State’s highest court partially reversed Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s September 2016 decision, which held that Connecticut is “defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities because it has no rational, substantial, and verifiable plan to distribute money for education aid.”  The decision is the culmination of more than twelve (12) years of litigation dating back to 2005, when CCJEF and a group of representative families first filed suit alleging that inadequate funding violated students’ state constitutional rights to “suitable and substantially equal educational opportunities” and equal protection under the law.  The plaintiffs largely represented minority families and others residing in school districts long perceived as underfunded by the combination of State spending and local property taxes.  The decision is particularly impactful as Connecticut continues to reel from a deficit of more than $200 million, while also struggling to create and implement an education funding scheme that is both more equitable and predictable to local and regional school districts. Continue Reading State Supreme Court Rules That Education Funding Meets Minimum Adequacy Standard; No Equal Protection Violation Against Students from Neediest School Districts

Buried in the nearly 900 page document which is the biennial budget legislation are two sentences that impose a new requirement on boards of education.  Specifically, Section 157 of Public Act 17-2 from the June Special Session provides:

Sec. 157.  (NEW)(Effective from passage) Any local board of education shall file forthwith a signed copy of any contract for administrative personnel with the town clerk, which town clerk shall post a copy of any such contract on the town’s Internet web site.  Any regional board of education shall file a copy of any such contract with the town clerk in each member town, which town clerk shall post a copy of any such contract on the town’s Internet web site. Continue Reading Budget Legislation Requires That “Administrative” Contracts Be Provided To And Posted By The Town Clerk

On August 11, 2017, the State of Connecticut Supreme Court delivered its decision in Munn v. Hotchkiss School, SC 19525 (Conn. 2017), holding that the state’s public policy does not preclude imposing a duty on a school to warn about or protect students against the risk of a serious insect-borne disease when organizing a trip abroad.  The decision sets an important precedent regarding the extent to which a school may be held liable for injuries sustained by students during school-sponsored programs and activities.  Local and regional boards of education, as well as private schools and other educational institutions, are strongly advised to scrutinize their programs and activities in light of the Munn decision. Continue Reading State Supreme Court Holds that Private School had Duty to Warn and Protect Students Against Risk of Serious Insect-Borne Disease When Organizing Trip Abroad

Beginning August 10, 2017, the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), 34 C.F.R. Part 104, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“the IDEA”), 34 C.F.R. Part 300, will be revised to change references to “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.”  The revisions are being made pursuant to Public Law 111-256, better known as Rosa’s Law.  Originally enacted in October 2010, Rosa’s Law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a child with Down Syndrome whose family advocated for more accurate and progressive terminology in legislation affecting individuals with disabilities.  The Marcellino family’s efforts are part of a larger trend toward replacing outdated or pejorative legal terms with language that acknowledges the dignity and capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Continue Reading Updated Federal Regulations: Rosa’s Law Changes Section 504 and IDEA References from “Mental Retardation” to “Intellectual Disability”

It is illegal for public entities to discriminate against individuals with disabilities.  No one disputes this premise.  But did you know that if your website does not meet certain standards of accessibility you could be the subject of a complaint and investigation by OCR?

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and universities letting them know their websites and on-line portals need to be accessible to all students.  In May of 2011 that was extended to elementary and secondary institutions as well.  Since then OCR has been monitoring website accessibility through its power to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the ADA. Continue Reading Is Your Website Handicap Accessible?

Typically this time of year school district administrators ponder whether to “non-renew” non-tenured teachers in response to budget uncertainty, as opposed to waiting for the fiscal picture to become clear and possibly laying off teachers at a later time.  Given the state budget crisis, and unprecedented major cuts in funding on the table, the uncertainty is worse this year than ever before.  This has caused even superintendents and other administrators who previously were not inclined to non-renew teachers for economic reasons, to give serious consideration to doing so.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of non-renewal relative to laying off non-tenured teachers?  If a teacher is non-renewed for economic reasons pursuant to C.G.S. Section 10-151(c), he/she has no recall rights and no right to a hearing before the Board of Education.  Moreover, if after the budget is settled the district decides to continue the employment of some but not all non-renewed teachers, it can pick and choose to whom it decides to offer reinstatement, thereby, enabling it to select the best and brightest. Continue Reading The May 1st Dilemma: Non-Renewal vs. Layoff

Over the past few weeks, there have been several cyberattacks on Connecticut municipalities and boards of education.  On the municipal side, internet thieves have intercepted wire transfer instructions in two Connecticut municipalities resulting in the theft of significant sums.

Most recently, an outside party accessed a Superintendent’s email and requested W-2 information for the school district’s employees.  While local police, IRS and FBI are investigating the matter, it is believed this information was stolen with the intent of filing false tax returns for the affected employees. Continue Reading Internet Thieves Are Targeting Municipalities and Boards of Education

March 6, 2017 marks a significant development in the case of Gloucester v. G.G., the closely followed and highly publicized Virginia transgender student bathroom case. The Gloucester case involves a local school board policy that effectively denies a transgender male high school student use of his school’s male bathroom and, in turn, the student’s claim of unequal treatment and discrimination by the board based upon sex under Title IX. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari back in October 2016 certifying only two issues for its consideration: 1) whether deference should extend to an unpublished letter by the United States Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which does not carry the weight of law and was adopted in the context of the dispute at hand, indicating that Title IX applies to transgender identity, and 2) without deference to the agency, should the Department’s specific interpretation of Title IX be given effect. The United States Supreme Court will not hear the Gloucester case this month as scheduled. The Court vacated the ruling below and remanded the case back to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration of the issues, presumably to include whether Title IX’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex extends to gender identity. The Court takes such action notwithstanding requests from both parties that the case proceeds as scheduled and be heard this term. Continue Reading The United States Supreme Court Sends Virginia Transgender Bathroom Case Back to the 4th Circuit

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees students with disabilities access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and establishes a formal administrative framework within which disputes concerning the denial of FAPE are addressed. In addition, other federal statutes, such as the Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, protect individuals with disabilities, and may also be applicable to children in a school setting. Under current law, a plaintiff bringing a disability discrimination claim under these other federal discrimination statutes which seeks relief also available under the IDEA, is required to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative process before bringing suit.  However, in a recently released opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has clarified when exhaustion under the IDEA may not be required. Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court: Exhaustion of administrative remedies under the IDEA not required for disability discrimination claim if claim does not involve denial of FAPE

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy has acted quickly to respond to recent developments in Federal law affecting the rights of transgender students by issuing an executive order reasserting the State’s protections for transgender people.  Despite a change in Federal guidance, and as detailed below, Connecticut affords greater protections to transgender people than currently provided under Federal law.

In recent weeks, the Federal government has withdrawn support and guidance providing protections to transgender students.  As detailed in this blog earlier this month, the Federal government signaled its new policy position when the Department of Justice effectively decided not to pursue an appeal against a Texas federal district court’s order granting a nationwide injunction challenging the implementation of joint guidance issued by the Department of Justice and Department of Education regarding Title IX protections available to transgender students. The Department of Justice and Department of Education jointly followed suit on February 22, 2017 by rescinding the Obama-era guidance extending Title IX protections to transgender students.  https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201702-title-ix.docx Continue Reading Connecticut Swiftly Responds to Federal Rollback of Transgender Student Protections