Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
The “Legal Question of the Week” is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Readers are invited to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, CAS will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. CAS may edit your questions, and will not identify the authors.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
The end of the year is always a difficult time. In these days of tight budgets, we need to watch every nickel. Unfortunately, some of our students continue to be careless and either forget to return books or, even worse, damage them beyond repair. It seems self-evident that parents should step up and replace books that are damaged or lost. However, when I told one parent that it would be nice if she reimbursed me for the book that her son trashed, she laughed and responded that it would be nice if she were a millionaire and could afford to do so. Her response was annoying, to say the least, but I am reluctant to impose discipline on the student simply because his mother is a cheapskate. Do you have a better idea?
Looking At My Options
If a student damages school property, that student is subject to school discipline because such conduct can be considered that which “endangers . . . property” or “is violative of a publicized policy of [the] board.” Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-233c(a). However, the statutes give you an option other than discipline.
Specifically, Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-221(c) provides:
(c) Boards of education may prescribe rules to impose sanctions against pupils who damage or fail to return textbooks, library materials or other educational materials. Said boards may charge pupils for such damaged or lost textbooks, library materials or other educational materials and may withhold grades, transcripts or report cards until the pupil pays for or returns the textbook, library book or other educational material.
It may be that the board of education in your town has already established such rules and you just didn’t get the memo. Alternatively, given that Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-157 provides that the superintendent is the chief executive officer of the board of education, he or she may prescribe such rules (if the superintendent has not already done so). The important thing is that you do have another option here, and you can either enforce such rules or ask that such rules be established to authorize you and other administrators to charge pupils for damaged or lost textbooks, library materials or other educational materials and to withhold grades, transcripts or report cards until students or their parents make such payments.
Finally, the term “other educational materials” is not defined in the statute. However, given the public policy of holding students accountable that underlies this statutory provision, Legal Mailbag takes the position that “other educational materials” includes items loaned to students to participate in school activities, including sports equipment or uniforms. Dare to be great.
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