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The End of a Long Road: The Connecticut Supreme Court Dismisses the Appeal of the CCJEF Plaintiffs

Because we conclude that the trial court was correct in its initial determination that the plaintiffs failed to establish that the state’s educational offerings are not minimally adequate under article eighth, § 1, and in its determination that the state has not violated their equal protection rights under the state constitution, the plaintiffs cannot prevail on their claims that the state has not provided them with a suitable and substantially equal educational opportunity.

With those words, Chief Justice Rogers of the Connecticut Supreme Court announced the end of a long road for the case of Connecticut Coalition on Justice in Educational Funding v. Rell, (SC 19768, January 17, 2018) (CCJEF II). Chief Justice Rogers was joined in the majority by Justices Eveleigh, Vertefeuille and Alvord. Dissenting in part were Justices Palmer, Robinson and Sheldon. Interestingly, Justices McDonald and D’Auria did not participate on the panel because of their involvement with the case prior to appointment to the Court. Justice D’Auria argued the case on behalf of the state when it was last before the Court in 2008, and Justice McDonald had been Corporation Counsel for the City of Stamford, which is a member of the plaintiff coalition. This landmark decision essentially leaves the burden of ensuring that all children in Connecticut receive substantially equal educational opportunities squarely in the hands of the legislature going forward. To understand how we arrived at this point, it is helpful to look briefly at the history of the case.

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Register Now for Data Privacy for Public and Charter Schools: What Lies Ahead

Join Shipman & Goodwin attorneys Benjamin FrazziniKendrick and William RobertsChristopher Wardrop, Senior V.P. Public Entity Practice of USI Insurance Services LLC; and Douglas Casey, Executive Director for the CT State Commission for Educational Technology (CET) for this informative program about data privacy for public and charter schools.

The panel will cover the evolving data privacy statutory requirements, emerging cybersecurity threats, the development of internal data privacy procedures, the technical components that go into building internal protection against privacy breaches, and how to review and build cyber coverage.

Hartford Session
When: March 15, 2018 from  8:00 AM – 10:30 AM EDT
Where: Shipman & Goodwin Hartford Office, Courtroom – 20th Floor, One Constitution Plaza, Hartford, CT  Get Directions >>

Stamford Session

When: March 27, 2018 from 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM EDT
Where: Shipman & Goodwin Stamford Office, 300 Atlantic Street, Stamford, CT 06901 Get Directions >>

Hot Topics in Environmental, Construction and Renewable Energy for Independent Schools

On Friday, February 23rd, a panel of Shipman & Goodwin environmental, construction and energy attorneys will present this informative and interactive program regarding current and pressing environmental, construction and renewable energy-related issues and opportunities for independent schools. The presenters will address key legal (and practical) issues independent schools often face in their day-to-day operations as well as in connection with a campus building, renovation or demolition project, with particular focus on:

  • Managing Environmental Risks and Hazardous Building Materials (e.g., mold, asbestos, lead, PCBs)
  • Best Practices When Dealing with Outside Environmental Consultants and Contractors
  • Responding to Environmental, Health and Safety Concerns and Crisis Management
  • Best Practices, New Developments and Potential Pitfalls in Construction and Contracting
  • How to Properly Manage Construction Litigation and Dispute Avoidance
  • Facility-wide Energy Planning
  • Important Considerations for Solar and Other Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects
  • State Financing Programs for Renewable Energy and Green Building Projects

Attendees will benefit from an engaging discussion with attorneys who regularly assist independent schools with environmental, construction and energy-related matters. The presenters invite your input on particular issues your school is facing and any other matters you would like them to discuss during the presentation. Please provide your suggestions, comments and questions on the registration form if there are specific issues you would like the presenters to address. For more information and to register visit the CAIS website: http://www.caisct.org/hottopics.

WHEN:  February 23, 2018 from 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM EST
WHERE:  Hamden Hall Country Day School, Beckerman Athletic Center, 225 Skiff Street, Hamden, CT 06517


CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 2/13/2018

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

Dear Legal Mailbag:

This is the time of the year when some parents at my school really tick me off. It seems like every other day I receive an email or a call from a parent “informing” me that he or she will be withdrawing his or her child from school for a week or more for a “family vacation,” usually someplace warm. These parents act like sending their children to school is a choice they make out of the goodness of their hearts. Haven’t these people heard about the mandatory attendance laws?

To make matters worse, some of these parents insist that their children’s teachers provide assignments that the students are supposed to do (but rarely if ever actually do) while on vacation. The teachers understandably share my irritation over the cavalier attitude these parents have and they are bugging me to do something.

I have been reading the new Ninth Edition of the Practical Guide to Connecticut School Law, and I understand that a student should be considered truant if he or she has four or more unexcused absences in a month. Can I lay down the law and tell these parents that we will consider absence for these family vacations unexcused, with the result that their children will be considered truants whom I should report to the authorities? I know that I will be picking a fight, but I am really sick of these parents and their presumption that they can take their children out of school whenever they want.

Thank you,
No Use for No Shows

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SEE YOU IN COURT! – February 2018

A student recently came to Mr. Principal in tears, accusing Joe Blow, a fifth-year senior at Nutmeg Memorial High School, of threatening to beat him up if he didn’t hand over his lunch money. When Mr. Principal investigated this claim, two other students told Mr. Principal that Joe had done the same to them. Mr. Principal then called Joe down to the office for a talk. Joe admitted that each of the three students had given him money when he asked them at lunch, but he adamantly denied that he had threatened anyone, claiming instead that the other students had willingly given him lunch money. Unconvinced, Mr. Principal suspended Joe and recommended expulsion.

Mr. Superintendent agreed with Mr. Principal’s recommendation, and he notified Ms. Chairperson that the Board would have to convene an expulsion hearing. Ms. Chairperson asked Mr. Superintendent if the case would be complicated. Mr. Superintendent told her that the case against Joe is airtight; the evidence will show that Joe was robbing fellow students. Given the likelihood of a short hearing, Ms. Chairperson scheduled the hearing after the upcoming Board meeting four days later.

Joe and his family received the letter notifying them of the hearing only two days in advance, but they showed up at the appointed time with Joe’s uncle, a lawyer who does estate planning. Ms. Chairperson opened the hearing by inviting Mr. Superintendent to present the case for expulsion. Mr. Superintendent called Mr. Principal as his first and only witness. Mr. Principal described the initial complaint against Joe as well as the claims by the other students that Joe had robbed them as well.

When Mr. Superintendent concluded his direct examination of Mr. Principal, Ms. Chairperson invited Joe’s uncle to cross-examine. The uncle gamely stood up and asked Mr. Principal how much Joe had taken from each of the students. Mr. Principal admitted that the amounts were small, given that Joe had taken their lunch money, but he explained that he didn’t know because the students had not told him the amounts.

At the end of the hearing, Mr. Superintendent and Joe’s uncle presented closing arguments. Mr. Superintendent said that the case was clear and that Joe should be expelled. The uncle, however, argued that the Administration had not proven its case – indeed they did not even know how much Joe was supposed to have taken.

As soon as closing arguments were concluded, veteran Board member Bob Bombast moved that the Board accept the recommendation of Mr. Superintendent and expel Joe for the rest of the year. Fellow Board member Mal Content seconded Bob’s motion, offering a friendly amendment that Joe be given two hours of homebound tutoring each day during the expulsion period as his alternative educational opportunity. Bob agreed to Mal’s amendment, and Ms. Chairperson, hearing no further discussion, called for a vote. The Board unanimously voted in favor of the motion, and Ms. Chairperson then called for a motion to adjourn, which also promptly passed.

As he was packing up his papers, Joe’s uncle asked Ms. Chairperson how he can appeal the Board’s decision. Ms. Chairperson smiled modestly, and told the uncle that, while she is not a lawyer, she was pretty sure that the decision is final.

Can Joe appeal, and on what grounds?

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CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 1/30/2018

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

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I am the principal of a middle school and, recently, the parent of a seventh-grade student here called me to complain about a teacher. I am fortunate to work in a civilized community, and such complaints are fairly rare. I admit that I was annoyed with the complaint, given that one’s grades in middle school are not a factor in college admissions. But to be safe, I asked her to come in and talk personally with me about her concerns.

When we met, I was impressed with the parent’s sincerity. As I went through the evidence she showed me, I had to agree that the midterm and semester grades that the teacher had given the student didn’t seem to make sense. I thanked the parent for sharing the information with me and I told her that I would be getting back to her.

I next met with the teacher. Later I learned that he asked if he should have union representation when my secretary called him to schedule the appointment. Being a kind soul, my secretary told him that that would not be necessary. When we met, however, I realized that he should have brought a union representative, maybe even a good lawyer. He started out by trying to blame the parent as a grade-grubber, but, as we got into the facts, it was clear that the teacher had not kept good records and for all appearances he had just made up the grades he had assigned. To make matters worse, as we talked it through, it was clear that the teacher had not kept student work product or other documentation that would permit him, albeit after the fact, to reconstruct grades that accurately reflected student performance.

I need to get back to the parent; and, I certainly need to deal with this teacher. Can I fire the teacher and just give the student an A?

Thank you,
Making (Up) the Grade

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Webinar: Are You at Risk? An In-Depth Look at Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention and Company Culture

Join Shipman & Goodwin labor and employment attorneys Daniel Schwartz, Jarad Lucan and Ashley Marshall for this complimentary CLE webinar where they will explore sexual harassment and cultural shifts taking place in the workplace.  Attendees will learn best practices for responding to sexual harassment complaints, tips for properly investigating claims, and the basics for how to implement effective prevention training.

Topics will include:

  • Indicators of harassment
  • Risk management
  • Appropriate response and zero tolerance approach
  • Mixed messages and how to navigate them
  • Sexual harassment response in the public eye and responding to FOIA requests

When: February 13, 2018, 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Where: Webinar
Who should attend
: In-House General Counsel, Human Resource Professionals, Supervisory Personnel and Decision Makers

CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 1/23/2018

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

Dear Legal Mailbag:

As the principal of a middle school, sometimes I feel more like a referee than an educator. Recently, I have received a number of complaints from teachers about one seventh grade biology teacher “hogging” the copier. It seems that she is constantly copying worksheets and other materials. Other teachers are having problems every morning making their own copies because this teacher gets to the copier early and stands there making hundreds of copies every morning.

Being a good principal, I met with her to discuss her copying practices. She was rather dismissive, asking me if I had ever taught biology. She claims that the textbook is woefully inadequate and that she must supplement the textbook extensively to teach her students appropriately. I asked her to show me what she meant, and she shared a number of articles and worksheets that she has gathered from other sources for just that one day of instruction. She claims that it is necessary for her to copy 30 to 40 pages of materials each day for her 100+ students. To make matters worse, she warned me ominously that, since she has been making this large number of copies every day since the beginning of the year, she is now protected by “past practice,” and I cannot impose restrictions now.

Am I stuck?

Thank you,

Copying Conundrum

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CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 1/17/2018

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

Dear Legal Mailbag:

As the principal of a medium-size high school, I am responsible for investigating and acting on bullying claims.  Last week, two sophomore girls came to me to report that a senior male student had been posting a number of insulting comments about them on his Instagram account.  In this case, there wasn’t much to investigate.  They brought print-outs of the posts, and the posts were really mean.  He had posted pictures of both of them using some sort of app that made them look terrible, and he included various snotty comments about them.  These poor girls told me that these posts were humiliating and that they were having trouble coming to school to face the snarky comments from their classmates.  I then met with the male student to get his side of the story.  He was unapologetic; indeed he laughed at his handiwork.  At that point, I told him that he would be suspended for two days for violating the board’s bullying policy, but he contradicted me.

“You can’t do that!” he said.  In a rather patronizing tone, the male student asked me if I had heard about the First Amendment, and then he proceeded to lecture me about the Tinker standard, i.e., the rule announced by the United States Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (U.S. 1969).  Citing Tinker, the student claimed that he has a right of free speech unless I can reasonably forecast significant disruption or material disruption of the educational process.  I told him that I know all about Tinker, and I complimented him on his scholarship.  When I told him that the suspension would stand, however, he challenged me, saying that school discipline for these posts would violate his First Amendment because his posts were certainly not disruptive.  “The ACLU will have a field day with you,” he threatened.

I do feel sorry for the two girls whose feelings were hurt, but I am not sure that I can really say that the posts disrupted my school.  Is this oaf possibly correct?

Thank you,
Help Me Out Here Continue Reading

CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 1/9/2018

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

Dear Legal Mailbag:

As a middle school principal, I run a tight ship, and I expect that the students in my school will be respectful in their interactions with me and all the other staff members. I was infuriated, therefore, by the conduct of a seventh grader last week. A teacher complained that the student had used vulgarity in her classroom and she sent him down to the office. I was surprised that the student was totally relaxed when I called him into my office for a little chat, but I was totally shocked when, after my first question, his response was “Buzz off, Fatso!” I know that I did gain a little weight over the holidays but his impertinence was astounding. When I told him that he owed me an apology, his response was that I owed him an apology, and then he simply repeated everything I said in a sing-song voice, ending with “You’re suspended.”

After calling his mother to come pick him up, my next call was to the superintendent with my recommendation that we expel the student for his misconduct. Mr. Superintendent was surprisingly unsympathetic and responded simply with “That’s not going to happen.” I tried to impress upon him the importance of maintaining standards and making an example of this student, but he was not buying it. “We can’t expel every mouthy kid,” he responded. “We would go bankrupt!”

I was shocked that my superintendent would let financial considerations color his decision whether to expel this student. Do you know what he is talking about?

Thank you,
Perplexed Principal Continue Reading