Greater Danbury education law attorneys
The area of Education Law is comprised of many different aspects which include assisting students involved in disciplinary actions taken by or threatened by a public or private school, protecting the rights of students with special needs under the Individual With Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) under federal law and the applicable State laws and regulations, and teachers and other school professionals whose rights under State laws and applicable contractual rights, as union members or otherwise, are being threatened. The law firm of Collins Hannafin, P.C. is available to assist you in these and other areas, under the leadership of Attorney Robert M. Opotzner.
School disciplinary law
Connecticut State Statutes as augmented by school student policies allow local boards of education to take disciplinary action against public school students who violate the provisions of the applicable statutes and policies. Similarly, contractual arrangements and school policies in the private schools and public and private universities empower administrators to discipline students in those educational environments as well. When these types of cases arise, the student is often given limited advance notice that the disciplinary action is being contemplated; therefore, knowing one’s rights and contacting an attorney should be effectuated as soon as possible.
In Connecticut, a public school student can be suspended from school in his/her school district for up to ten (10) days by the school administration, which has broad discretion in this regard. If a school district intends to discipline a student by requiring that the student be removed from school for more than ten (10) days, then a formal hearing usually conducted by the local board of education must be convened. State statutes in Connecticut list some offenses as being discretionary grounds for an expulsion and others are listed as mandatory grounds for expulsion. Determining at an early stage of the process which category the alleged offense fits into can be critical.
If a student has been identified as having special needs or as someone who should have been so identified, then a manifestation hearing must first be conducted by the school district before the expulsion proceeding in order to determine whether the student’s actions for which he/she is being disciplined is a manifestation of his/her disability. The results of the manifestation hearing, which is a critical part of the disciplinary process when applicable, will determine whether the student can or cannot be subject to expulsion from school.
The duration of the expulsion, which cannot exceed 180 days, the educational opportunities, if any, that will be afforded a student, the impact on future school (college) admissions, are some of the questions that arise in the process. Attorney Robert Opotzner has served for almost 15 years on boards of education in two school districts in Fairfield County and has served on many panels during that time which decided expulsion cases. This has provided him with invaluable insights in defendant–students’ expulsion cases, which he has handled on numerous occasions. He is a member of the Connecticut Bar Association Education Law Section, and served this past year on its Executive Board.
Students with special needs
Children with special needs are entitled to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) and to be educated in a manner in which the student is not discriminated against because of his/her disability.
Two federal statutes that directly impact the student’s rights are the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), which was reauthorized in 2004, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability (“Section 504″). Connecticut statutes and regulations, which regulations were recently issued effective in 2013, are also important determinants of a student’s rights.
IDEA and Section 504 are distinguished by the fact that IDEA requires that the child’s right to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) be protected while Section 504 is broader in that said statute protects the child from being discriminated against because of his/her disability, which may or may not directly impact education but may severely impact the child’s ability to comfortably function in school or elsewhere. The rights that exist for a student who qualifies for protection under IDEA differ from those that exist under Section 504. Every student who is covered by IDEA is automatically covered by Section 504; however the reverse is not true since students may be covered under Section 504 but not be eligible for special education and related services under IDEA. By way of example, a student who has a vision issue but functions at an extraordinarily high level in all educational activities may qualify for accommodations under Section 504 such as being placed in the front row of the class room for an easier view of the whiteboard and tests with larger print, but no IDEA special education coverage.
The determination of whether a student qualifies for IDEA or Section 504 is the obligation of the school district under the concept of “child find”. A parent can bring issues to the attention of the district, and advocate for the child. A school district is required to conduct an initial evaluation as soon as it is reasonably possible once it recognizes that a student is or may be eligible for coverage. The team that meets is known in Connecticut as a Planning and Placement Team (“PPT”). It is the function of the PPT to develop an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”). Amongst many rights that a student has, the school district is required to pay for an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) for the student through his/her parents’ request, at the public expense.
IDEA and Section 504 are important protections of the rights of the student, for which competent legal advice is critical.
Protecting the rights of teachers and school personnel
In addition to serving the needs of students and parents who require advice and representation for resolving legal or administrative problems at school, our Connecticut education law attorneys assist teachers, principals, coaches, counselors, and other education professionals whose employment or licenses, in K-12 and at the college levels, are jeopardized by adverse actions that may be taken against them. We can and have helped clients in the investigation, development, and presentation of responses to charges and allegations made by the administration. We have experience in representing individuals and municipalities in the enforcement of Union rights and in the pursuit and defense of grievances and other administrative proceedings. Although employees sometimes have the benefit of Union direct representation on matters, clients often seek our advice for a second opinion.
A recent Connecticut Superior Court decision provides an example of when legal advice for school personnel may be important. In the case of Rosemary E. Bonaguide et al. vs. Regional School District No. 6, 55 Conn L. Rptr. #23, 917 (7/8/13), which was not handled by our law firm, two paraprofessionals were terminated from their employment in a Connecticut School District. The paraprofessionals claimed that they were terminated essentially because they advocated, to the disgruntlement of the school district, for the rights of certain students with special needs on the autistic spectrum. The Court denies the attempt of the School District to prohibit the case from proceeding (pursuant to a Motion to Strike) and in a detailed decision, the Court allowed the case to continue and denied the School District’s attempt to end the case at a pretrial proceeding. Having competent legal advice through experienced education lawyers was critical to the initial success of the paraprofessionals at the pretrial level.
Contact our firm
For additional information about the scope of our education law practice, contact us at Collins Hannafin, P.C. and ask for Attorney Robert M. Opotzner.