School employees who fail to report child abuse may face tougher penalties for failing to report such incidents to DCF or the police as a result of a law passed by the General Assembly.

Public Act 15-205, An Act Protecting School Children, increases, from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony, the penalty

Michigan Forest Hills School District reached a $600,000 settlement with a female student who sued the district in federal court alleging that she was sexually assaulted in her school’s band room by a male classmate, MM.  The female identified as Jane Doe was a 15 year old sophomore at the time of the assault and

The way student records are created, accessed and stored is changing drastically increasing concerns about schools’ ability to protect student privacy as required under laws such as the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Schools are shifting from a traditional paper model to the electronic creation, maintenance and sharing of records, particularly through the use of the Internet and cloud computing including cloud based classroom and school educational computer applications. Schools find themselves outsourcing school records functions to third party service providers more frequently, as well as increasingly sharing and assessing student testing information with or among multiple educational agencies. This paradigm has resulted in yet to be resolved legal issues with potential landmines for schools.

There are two general but distinct concerns resulting from this changing school landscape. The first is for the security of the data itself, particularly when it is no longer maintained in house on hardware physically located at school or in the school district, rather is kept in the cloud in an unknown location. 


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U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Chief Catherine Lhamon along with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)Education Opportunities Section head Anurima Bhargava attended the April 2014 School Law Seminar held in New Orleans and fielded questions from attending school attorneys who sought clarification of the Departments’ position related to harassment standards for student on student harassment and asked questions about the Departments’ “Dear Colleague Letters” (DCL) on topics ranging from transgender students, athletics and extracurricular activities for students with disabilities and bullying and harassment to name some.

Here are a few highlights from the discourse:

  • Transgender Students: When questioned about a district’s obligation to honor requests by a transgender student to use the restroom of the gender with which the student identifies, the unequivocal response by OCR/DOJ was that districts must grant such requests or be subject to claims of discrimination, and that an offer for the student to use a private restroom which is not otherwise provided to all students would not suffice to meet legal obligations.


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Earlier this year, FERPA was amended to grant child welfare agency representatives, agency caseworkers, or a tribal organization access to the education records of children within their care and protection.  The new exemption was created in order to prevent delays and complications in the education of children in foster care.  Prior to the amendment, child welfare agency representatives and caseworkers were required to obtain parental consent or seek a court order to gain access to a child’s education records.  This sometimes caused delays and issues with the education of foster children.  Now, upon request, a school district can release the education records of a student who is the legal responsibility of a child welfare agency or organization to a caseworker or agency representative.  The agency in turn can only disclose the student’s records to an entity that addresses the student’s educational needs and is authorized to receive the disclosure.  The Act streamlines the process for child welfare agency representatives and caseworkers. 


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Although rarely done, in the past few years, several Connecticut public school districts have been featured in the news for seeking criminal remedies against parents for theft of educational services.  Parents who allegedly enrolled and sent their child to a school located in a town or city other than the one where the child actually resided were referred to the police.  On June 24, 2013, Governor Malloy signed into law Substitute House Bill No. 6677/ PA-13-211 an Act Excluding School Accommodations from Services That Are Subject to Larceny Statute. The law, effective October 1, 2013, repeals and replaces subsection (a) of C.G.S. 53a-118, a definitional section under which Connecticut police have derived authority to arrest parents who engage in theft of services from school districts. Under the repealed law, the term “services” was interpreted to include school accommodations. Under the revised C.G.S. 53a-118, “school accommodations” are specifically excluded from the definition of “services”. This change appears to decriminalize the behavior.


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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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Some of you may have noticed that this blog has gone somewhat silent in the last couple of months.  It’s not that there haven’t been developments in education law worthy of comment.  But business as usual has been difficult to reestablish.  Instead, we seem to be establishing a "new normal", much as I imagine schools in Colorado did in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting.  In the days and weeks since the Sandy Hook tragedy, I have tried to put into words some coherent view of this from the perspective of a school attorney.  A coherent view of it through any lens seems impossible.  Six weeks later, we look back at the abject shock and horror of Friday, December 14, 2012, the desperate search for basic facts amid the storm of misinformation and speculation, quickly followed by denial regarding the enormity of the loss of life, admiration for the courage of the educators who did their utmost to protect the innocent children in their charge, some of them making the ultimate sacrifice in service of children, and profound sorrow at the loss of each and every teacher hero and precious little angel.  We are thankful for the courage of the first responders and others in the law enforcement and medical fields who may still be able to shed light on why and how this happened once they have completed their full investigation.


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School is back in session for the 2012-2013 academic year and the time has arrived for school districts to fully implement all aspects of Connecticut’s anti-bullying law.  July 1, 2012 marked the deadline for implementation of certain remaining aspects of the state’s bullying law last revised in 2011.  With the advent of a new school year and with the July 1, 2012 deadline having come and gone, school districts should be busy reviewing their districts’ bullying policies and related policies such as their anti-discrimination and anti- harassment policies, any related regulations, examining their safe school climate plans, and creating or revising procedures for implementation of the plans, policies and regulations to ensure compliance with all aspects of the law.


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On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, the Connecticut State Board of Education (CSBOE) adopted long awaited definitions of excused and unexcused student absences as required under Public Act 11-136, An Act Concerning Minor Revisions to the Education Statutes. The new definitions promise to promote consistency and reliability in the state’s data collection and reporting related to student attendance. The new definitions are to be used by school districts to determine which students qualify as truant for state reporting purposes; however, school districts retain the right to maintain their existing definitions for internal purposes such as promotion and grading. The current definition of truant and school district reporting requirements under the Families with Service Needs statute remain unchanged; a truant is a student who has four unexcused absences in a month or ten unexcused absences in a school year.


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