Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
Recently, a parent stopped by my office unannounced to complain that one of my teachers was rude to her darling little son. This is not the first time that she has leveled an accusation against one of my teachers, and I decided to call her bluff by telling her that I really can’t do anything unless she puts her complaint in writing.
I thought that would be the end of it, but the parent surprised me by showing up at my office yesterday, again unannounced, to give me her written complaint. She spared no effort in castigating the teacher, and she casts a wide net of blame, faulting another teacher and the paraprofessional as well for not intervening in the teacher’s “emotional abuse” of her son. When I read further, I was annoyed to read that the alleged “abuse” involved the teacher’s making her son stay in at recess a couple of times because he had been repeatedly talking to his friends during class. I brought the teacher in, and he explained that this child is a real talker and that it is a constant struggle to get him to pay attention. I thanked the teacher for his good work and got back to the parent. When I told her that the teacher was just doing his job, however, she didn’t take it well and threatened to take it further. Can I just throw out her complaint and call it a day?
I am afraid that you and the teacher may have a problem; and, in any event, you can’t just toss her complaint. The problem is that the teacher’s actions in keeping the student in from recess may have violated a policy of your board of education. Since 2013, boards of education have been subject to Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-221o, which provides in relevant part:
(a) Each local and regional board of education shall require each school under its jurisdiction to (1) offer all full day students a daily lunch period of not less than twenty minutes, and (2) include in the regular school day for each student enrolled in elementary school time devoted to physical exercise of not less than twenty minutes in total.
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(b) Not later than October 1, 2013, each local and regional board of education shall adopt a policy, as the board deems appropriate, concerning the issue regarding any school employee being involved in preventing a student from participating in the entire time devoted to physical exercise in the regular school day, pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, as a form of discipline.
Admittedly, the statute is poorly drafted in that it does not state clearly what such policy should say. However, one may reasonably infer that the General Assembly was concerned about students not receiving the twenty minutes of physical exercise daily as required by the statute. It is, therefore, likely that your board of education has adopted a policy prohibiting teachers from keeping elementary school children in from recess as a disciplinary intervention if the result of that action will be to deny the child the required twenty minutes of time for physical exercise. You should check on that and, if there is indeed such a policy, you should make sure all of your teachers are aware of and follow it.
Also, do I really have to tell you not to destroy public records? As soon as you received the parent’s complaint, it became a public record under the Freedom of Information Act. Suggesting that the parent put her complaint in writing was not your finest moment. While you don’t have to keep the complaint in the teacher’s personnel file, you do have to maintain the complaint as correspondence subject to the record retention requirements of the Public Records Administrator. Before you invite a parent to put a complaint in writing (thus creating a public record), you should think it through and decide whether you really want the record in question.
Please submit questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.