Federal and State Role in Education

"All-Gender Restrooms" Sign (Close-Up)On February 22, 2017, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education withdrew guidance for educational institutions, issued in 2015 and 2016, that took the position that the prohibitions in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and implementing regulations against discrimination on the basis of sex require access to sex-segregated facilities on the basis of gender identity rather than biological sex.  In the February 22, 2017 Dear Colleague Letter rescinding the prior guidance, the U.S. Department of Education noted that interpreting “sex” as referring to gender identity rather than biological sex “has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms.”  A copy of the Dear Colleague Letter may be accessed here.
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Students in ClassroomOn January 30, 2017, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE”) released a memorandum titled, “Guidance for Districts Regarding Refugee Students,” in response to an Executive Order signed on January 27, 2017, restricting immigration into the United States.  The CSDE memorandum reaffirmed the obligation of public schools to provide children with an education regardless of their race, color, national origin, citizenship, immigration status, or the status of their parents.
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Cybersecurity of network of connected devices and personal data securityOn January 19, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education issued new Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) regulations that change the name of office
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On January 11, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE 1, Docket No. 15-187, to address the level of benefit a school must confer on students to provide them with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA.  The Court’s ultimate ruling on the case could have provide some clarity as to what constitutes a FAPE, especially for students with severe disabilities.

In 1982, the Supreme Court stated that the IDEA required districts to provide students with special needs with “some educational benefit.”  Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982).  It stated that for students who participated in the regular education curriculum, this meant schools had to provide the student with a program that was “reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.”  Id. at 204.  It did not articulate a similar test for determining when students who were not participating in the general education curriculum were receiving “some educational benefit.”

In Endrew F., the student petitioner argued that the Supreme Court should clarify that, for such students, “some benefit” meant more than a “barely de minimis educational benefit.”  He urged the Court to interpret the IDEA to require schools to provide programs for students not participating in the general education curriculum that were “reasonably calculated to provide substantially equal educational opportunities” and included “standards, that were the highest possible achievable by the student.”  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, however, that this was the standard the majority of the Court rejected in Rowley.  The petitioner responded that Congress had amended the IDEA twice since the Rowley decision, indicating an intent to require districts to provide students with “[e]qual educational opportunity.”
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On September 29, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case of Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE 1, Docket No. 15-187  to decide the question “What is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.?” See Appellant’s Petition for Certiorari.  At issue is how courts have applied the well-known Rowley FAPE standard, announced by the Supreme Court in 1982, which provides that a school district must provide an individualized education program that allows a child with a disability to receive “educational benefit.” See Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982).  The Rowley case expressly rejected a potential-maximizing FAPE standard. Id. at 198-99.  Since Rowley, lower courts subsequently have described the Rowley standard as ranging from requiring “some” or merely “more than trivial” benefit to requiring “meaningful” benefit.  Congress has amended what is now known as the IDEA several times since the Rowley case, most notably in 1986, 1990, 1997, and 2004, but Congress has never expressly provided a standard by which to analyze whether a child’s programming and services substantively provide the child with FAPE.
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On September 8, 2016, the United States Department of Education and the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) jointly released new guidance regarding school resource officer programs.  The new Safe School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (“SECURe”) rubrics are the result of the collaboration and partnership between these two federal agencies in an attempt to ensure that local and state educational agencies are implementing effective and positive school resource officer programs in the nation’s schools.  The SECURe rubric for local educational agencies aims to provide guidance to school districts on how to build trust between students and law enforcement officials through the school resource officer programs, while ensuring that school resource officer programs are administered responsibly in a non-discriminatory manner that takes a proactive approach to keeping students out of the school-to-prison pipeline.


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On Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher ruled in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, x07 HHD 14-5037565-S, that the current Connecticut education system violates the state constitution.  This ruling is the latest in a case first filed on December 12, 2005.

In 2007, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims and held that the Connecticut Constitution did not contain a right to “suitable educational opportunities.”  In 2010, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed that 2007 decision and remanded the case back to Superior Court for trial, although the Supreme Court was split and there was no majority opinion.


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colorful restroom or toilet sign

In a closely watched case, the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court decision and, in a 2-1 split opinion, held that, based on guidance from the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Education, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 requires covered schools to allow transgender students access to restroom facilities in accordance with their gender identity.


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