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2018 Education Legislation Summary

In its 2018 regular session, the General Assembly made a number of changes in the statutes that affect public education in Connecticut. This summary is intended to give you a brief overview of some of the more significant changes that were made this year in the area of education. In addition, for more information about new legislation affecting employers in general, please see our Employment Legislation Summary.

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SEE YOU IN COURT! – July/August 2018

Bob Bombast was watching “Fox News” on June 27 when the scroll at the bottom of the screen caught his eye.  “Supreme Court strikes down agency fees; deals big blow to public sector unions!!”  Though Bob had chaired the Personnel Committee for the Nutmeg Board of Education for many years, he had no idea that the various Board employees did not have to be union members, and he had never heard about agency fees.  But being intellectually curious, Bob found the Court’s opinion in Janus v. AFSCME online, read the syllabus and some of the press coverage, and Bob decided to share this news with the Personnel Committee.

Bob emailed Penny Pincher and Mal Content, the other members of the Personnel Committee, with a copy to Mr. Superintendent and the other Board members.  In the email, Bob described the Court’s decision, and he informed everyone that he was calling a meeting of the Personnel Committee for the following Thursday to review the implications of the decision for the Nutmeg Public Schools.

Mr. Chairperson promptly responded to Bob that he would like to attend the Committee meeting as well, because he too is interested in learning more about the Janus decision.  Indeed, within twenty-four hours all of the Board members had informed Bob that they would also be attending the next meeting of the Personnel Committee.  Bob, who never shied away from the limelight, grandly thanked the Board members for their interest and promised them an enlightening evening.  Bob was so pleased with the response to the announced Personnel Committee meeting that he even invited local reporter Nancy Newshound of the Nutmeg Bugle to the meeting.

Given that Personnel Committee members usually met alone, Bob Bombast beamed as he looked out at the full room, with the other Board members and Nancy Newshound sitting in the front row.  Bob opened the meeting by describing the Court’s decision, which holds that compulsory agency fees for non-members violate the free speech rights of those employees, and Bob recommended that the Personnel Committee notify all Board employees of this new ruling.  After a brief discussion among the Committee members, Bob opened the meeting up to public discussion.  First to raise his hand was Mr. Chairperson, whom Bob promptly recognized.

“I don’t know why we would have to tell everyone about the decision,” Mr. Chairperson asked rhetorically, “since it only affects agency fee payers.”  But before Bob could respond, Nancy Newshound piped up.

“I think that this is an illegal meeting!” Nancy announced.  “The meeting is posted as a Personnel Committee meeting, but all the members of the Board are here tonight.  This is an unposted and illegal meeting of the Nutmeg Board of Education!”

“That’s what I get for inviting you, Nancy?” Bob snapped back.  “This is my meeting, a public meeting of the Personnel Committee, and if the other members of the Board want to attend, that is their right!”

Who’s correct here, Bob or Nancy?

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CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 7/11/2018

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

At the end of each year, the English Department at the High School publishes “The Light,” an anthology of poetry written by our students. Teachers can nominate particularly good student work, and students can submit work themselves for publication. A small group of teachers reads the submissions and chooses the “best” poetry for inclusion in the anthology. I say “best” in quotations because one of the poems that was included has caused a firestorm on social media. I am no tender flower, but the poem in question made even me uneasy in its quite graphic depiction of a sexual encounter between two students. Now, the Internet is blowing up with parental and community outrage that we would have published this poem in a school anthology.

I talked to the members of the selection committee, and they sheepishly agreed that they wondered whether the poem was appropriate for a school publication. After some debate, however, they agreed that the poem has substantial artistic merit, and they felt that they could not censor this student’s poem because the student has free speech rights.

I know that the United States Supreme Court has provided some guidelines for addressing student speech in its decisions in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) and Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986). However, I don’t know where we can draw the line in telling a student that her poem won’t be included in the anthology despite, in the eyes of some, its artistic merit. Help!

Thank you,
What’s Art Anyway

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Janus v. AFSCME: Implementation Issues

On June 27, we issued an alert concerning the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME (June 27, 2018). There, the Court held that mandatory agency fees (also sometimes known as service fees) for public employees violate the First Amendment rights of the affected employees. We wish now to follow up with further observations and recommendations for actions that public employers should consider to comply with the ruling. Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Compelled Public Sector Agency Fees Unconstitutional

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court today ruled that provisions requiring public employees to pay agency fees violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In doing so, the Supreme Court expressly overruled its own 41-year-old precedent.

This closely watched case arose from a challenge by an Illinois public employee to the requirement that he pay agency fees. Prior case law prohibited public sector employees from being forced to join a union and pay union dues as a condition of employment. However, twenty-two states permitted contractual provisions requiring employees to pay an agency fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining and contract administration. The plaintiff in Janus argued that the requirement to pay an agency fee interfered with his First Amendment rights because it forced him to financially support his union’s political activities, even if he disagreed with them. Continue Reading

CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 6/8/2018

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I understand that we can no longer make referrals to the juvenile courts for truancy, and I have a simple question – now what? The problem of student truancy didn’t just go away, and now the courts won’t help us.

As you know, these days we are being told to call almost everything in to DCF, and I remember that the law refers to “neglect” as well as “abuse.” The way I see it, if a parent is not making sure that his or her child is attending school, that’s “educational neglect.” Next time I have one of those students who are out of school for days and days without good excuse, I will just call DCF and let them deal with it. Does that sound good to you?

Thank you,
I’m Calling It In

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SEE YOU IN COURT! – June 2018

The Nutmeg Board of Education finally has a budget for the 2018-2019 school year.  Difficult as the process was, however, the hard work for the Board of Education was now beginning.  Somehow, somewhere, the Nutmeg Board of Education must find savings in the amount of $2,000,000 in the budget reconciliation process.

Ms. Superintendent knows that the only way to find the necessary reductions will be to cut both programs and staff, but even she was daunted by the scope of the task.  By contrast, veteran Board member Bob Bombast is a font of ideas, good and bad, and he is not shy about sharing them.

“Let’s start with some furloughs for teachers,” Bob began grandly at the last meeting of the Board.  “We have six days in the calendar for professional development for whatever that is worth.  Who wouldn’t like some time off instead?”

Board members Penny Pincher and Red Cent nodded in agreement, but Mal Content was not convinced.  “Don’t we have to negotiate with the Nutmeg Union of Teachers about this?  I don’t know why they would just agree to take a pay cut.”

Bob was unfazed.  “NUTS will agree if it knows what is good for its members.  Besides, I am just warming up.  We will certainly have to cut staff and programs too.  World language in elementary school, for example, is a luxury we can longer afford.”

“Hold on, Bob,” Mal Content interrupted.  “We should have this discussion in executive session.  We don’t want teachers reading in the paper that the Board is considering the elimination of their positions.”

“For once, Mal, you make a good point,” Bob responded, and on Bob’s motion, the Board promptly convened in executive session to discuss “personnel matters.”  Once the Board was in executive session, Bob continued.  “We need to make some serious reductions, and world language is a great place to start.  With Google translation, we certainly don’t have to clutter our minds learning foreign languages.”

Penny Pincher chimed in.  “I agree with Bob, but I am concerned that getting rid of world language at the elementary school will not be nearly enough to close the $2,000,000 shortfall.  What else can we do?”

“Let’s get rid of art in the elementary school as well,” Bob responded.  “Elementary teachers can just take care of art instruction as well.”

“With all due respect, Bob, I am not sure that even eliminating world language and art instruction at the elementary level will be enough,” Ms. Superintendent said.

“Well, it’s a good start,” Bob responded.  “We will show our good faith to the Town fathers, and if despite our efforts we run out of money, we can just ask for a supplemental appropriation.  Who’s in?”

Other than Mal, who seems to oppose everything, the Board members agreed to go ahead with Bob’s plan.  The Nutmeg Board of Education reconvened into public session and announced that teachers would be furloughed for six days next year and that elementary art and world language will not be taught as separate subjects anymore, starting in September.

Problem solved?

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Office for Civil Rights Launches Website Accessibility Technical Assistance Initiative

On May 17, 2018, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the launch of a Website Accessibility Technical Assistance Initiative (the “Initiative”). As part of the Initiative, OCR will offer a series of general and personalized webinars to provide technical assistance directly to information technology (“IT”) professionals, including webmasters, who work with schools, state education agencies, libraries, colleges, and universities, to assist them in making their websites and online content more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

OCR is responsible for enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), neither of which explicitly address accessibility to online content. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that it has not issued specific policy guidelines regarding website accessibility, OCR has taken the position that public agencies, other institutions receiving federal funds, and entities subject to Title II of ADA, whose websites do not comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) and the Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (“WAI-ARIA”), fail to comply with Section 504 and the ADA.

Subsequently, hundreds of educational institutions throughout the country have found themselves the subject of OCR investigations in response to complaints that their websites are not satisfying the requirements of these incredibly intricate guidelines. Many educational institutions have already entered into resolution agreements with OCR to resolve such complaints. These website accessibility complaints, and compliance with the resolution agreements, have placed a huge burden on the resources of both educational institutions’ and OCR alike. The announcement of the Initiative comes in tandem with OCR’s release of a new, streamlined resolution agreement (the “streamlined agreement”) designed, according to OCR representatives, to help educational institutions and OCR work together more efficiently to bring websites into compliance while providing such educational institutions with technical assistance. Recently, OCR has been allowing educational institutions who have already signed a resolution agreement the chance to switch to the streamlined agreement.

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The FMLA: Challenges for Independent Schools

HR Forum
June 15, 2018
St. George’s School, 372 Purgatory Road,  Middletown, RI
9:45 AM – 11:00 AM EDT

Leander Dolphin will present on the FMLA and its applications to and challenges for independent schools at the HR Forum at St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island. The annual HR Forum is a gathering of HR Directors from independent schools throughout the northeast.

Colleges and Universities Facing Union Organizing Campaigns: An Update

The 2018 CCIC Annual Member Forum
June 12, 2018
Quinnipiac University, North Haven Campus
8:15 AM – 1:00 PM EDT

Gary Starr and Jarad Lucan will present a workshop entitled “Colleges and Universities Facing Union Organizing Campaigns: An Update” as part of the 2018 Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges’ (CCIC) Annual Member Forum at Quinnipiac University’s North Haven Campus. This session, which will run from 10:00 to 10:50 AM, will explore union organizing efforts at colleges and universities, including with respect to students and adjunct faculty. Attendees will learn about recent cases involving successful and unsuccessful attempts to organize staff and the current state of the law as it relates to organizing on campuses.

Pre-registration is required. Click to download the event brochure, or visit www.theccic.org for more information.