While the other aspects of Connecticut’s new gun control law have received more notoriety, the new law included a number of provisions intended to improve school safety and security including the following: 

  1. Requires each school to have a safety committee;
  2. Requires each school to conduct a risk vulnerability assessment;
  3. Require each school to have a safety and security plan which incorporates national standards and takes an “all hazards” approach;
  4. While not requiring it, the new law encourages schools to conduct “mental health first aid” training for teachers, and directs the Commissioner of Education to consider requiring such training as part of new teacher training programs.
  5. Requires all new school construction utilizing State grant funds to comply with new (yet to be promulgated) school construction safety standards.


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School administrators frequently grapple with the treatment of video recordings. From Constitutional issues to concerns about education records, administrators need to be aware of how to use surveillance cameras appropriately and how to respond to requests for copies of those video recordings. As more and more districts are using video surveillance in schools, this issue promises to remain a big issue for districts into the foreseeable future.


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As you may recall from our previous posts regarding student’s online speech, the summer of 2011 brought with it a split in the Circuit Courts regarding how to handle discipline of student’s off-campus online  speech.  Specifically, the cases J.S. v. Blue Mountain Sch. Dist. and Layshock v. Hermitage Sch. Dist. out of the Third Circuit and Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools out of the Fourth Circuit, all three involving students’ online speech, were appealed to the Supreme Court. of the United States.  The two cases from the Third Circuit ruled in favor of the students, finding that their speech was protected by the First Amendment, while the Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools out of the Fourth Circuit, was decided in favor of the school district.  Our hopes were that the Supreme Court would weigh in on this controversial issue of student’s off campus online speech and provide school districts and administrators with clear guidance regarding how to appropriately discipline students’ off-campus speech, but unfortunately, the Supreme Court has declined to hear the cases that were brought before it regarding off-campus online speech. So, where does that leave us?


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The issue in Cox v. Warwick Valley Central School District stemmed from a student assignment to write an essay for English class. The teacher asked students to write about what they would do if they had 24 hours to live. While this sort of creative writing occurs every day in classrooms across the country, teachers sometimes get troubling responses. One student in this class, Raphael, wrote an essay called “Racing Time”, in which he described drinking, smoking, doing drugs and doing other illegal activities, and ended the essay with him taking cyanide and shooting himself in the head in front of his friends. After Principal John Kolesar removed the student from class and later called the Department of Children and Family Services (DCYS) because he felt the parents did not take the essay seriously enough, the parents sued, alleging retaliation against their son in violation of his First Amendment rights, and for deprivation of the parents’ substantive due process rights for calling DCYS.


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School districts in Connecticut looking for guidance on how to handle discipline of students engaging in provocative speech on-line at home have been watching with interest the outcome of two cases in the Third Circuit that seemed to reach conflicting results.  Both cases were re-heard by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, which recently ruled in favor of the student in both cases.  So, where does that leave us? 


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In the most recent of legal challenges to the recitation of our country’s Pledge of Allegiance by public school students, the U. S. Federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rendered a decision last month in the case of Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District, 09-2473. In this case, the Court upheld as constitutional the New Hampshire Public School Patriot Act that authorizes a period of time each school day for voluntary participation by its public school students in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. This case did not consider the constitutionality of the federal Pledge statute, but was limited to an examination of the constitutionality of New Hampshire’s Patriot’s Act.


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In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Simply Storage Management, L.L.C. and O.B. Management Services, 2010 U.S. Dist., LEXIS 527661, (“E.E.O.C. v. Simply Storage”) the United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, was asked to decide a basic discovery issue in a novel context when the parties to this sexual harassment suit failed to agree on whether or not two claimants must produce internet social networking site (SNS) profiles and other communications from their Facebook and My Space accounts.


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The Connecticut Superior Court in Burbank v. Canton Bd. Of Education,  2009 WL 3366272 (Conn. Super. 9/14/09)  ruled against parents and students who sought to prohibit the Canton Public School District from continuing its practice of using local police to conduct suspicionless sweeps of parking lots and unattended lockers at its middle and high schools using dogs trained to identify illegal drugs and other contraband. The parents and the students sought a preliminary injunction challenging the practice as unconstitutional. The Burbank court rejected all of the parents’ and students’ challenges and concluded that the dog sniffing sweeps are allowable to maintain the safety of students and staff and does not amount to a fourth amendment search or seizure and that the policy/practice at issue does not intrude in any meaningful way in the core parent and student relationship.


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The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (“COBRA”) provides for a temporary extension of employer-provided group health coverage, which is commonly referred to as COBRA continuation coverage. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“Act”), which President Obama signed on February 17, 2009, includes several changes to COBRA continuation coverage that employers quickly need to address. The most notable impact is a significant reduction in the COBRA premiums paid by certain employees whose employment is involuntarily terminated. Under the Act, eligible individuals are required to pay only 35% of his or her COBRA premium. The remaining 65% of the COBRA premium will be reimbursed to the employer through a payroll tax credit.


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Two Historic Law Firms Join Forces to Become Pre-eminent Connecticut Firm

Two of the oldest law firms in Connecticut have joined forces in a move that will create one of the most comprehensive legal services businesses in the state. Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. and Wake, See, Dimes, Bryniczka & Bloom (of Westport, Conn.) have combined their practices, as of March 1, 2008, resulting in a staff of nearly 30 attorneys covering 14 different law specialties. The new firm will operate under the name of Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C., and will maintain existing offices at 75 Broad Street in Milford and 27 Imperial Avenue in Westport.

Areas of practice at Berchem, Moses & Devlin include education law, business and commercial law, labor and employment, civil litigation, land use, estate planning, and real estate law. The newly combined firm will have a particular strength in education and municipal law.


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