College CampusEarlier this month, Massachusetts’ highest court ruled favorably for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) and three school officials in a wrongful death lawsuit closely watched
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Less than one week after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its own landmark Title VII decision finding that the antidiscrimination statute prohibits discrimination against transgender or transitioning individuals even where an employer’s religious exercise may be substantially burdened.
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College CampusOn Thursday, in a speech by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos, the Department announced that it would undertake a review of its current
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On Friday, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling in Munn v. Hotchkiss School, the case involving a private school student who contracted tick-borne encephalitis on a school-sponsored trip to China.  In its ruling, the Supreme Court found unanimously that 1) the state’s public policy supports imposing an affirmative duty on schools to warn about and protect against the risk of insect-borne diseases and 2) an award of $41.5 million for the breach of that duty fell within the limits of just compensation.

Cara Munn was a 15-year-old student who participated in a school-sponsored trip to China in 2007.  The itinerary for this trip included a visit to Mount Pan, located in a forested region of northeast China.  Upon descending the mountain on foot, the student suffered several insect bites, and ten days later, began to experience symptoms of tick-borne encephalitis.  Though her condition subsequently stabilized, the student suffered permanent brain damage and has lost the ability to speak and has limited control of her facial muscles.  The student and her family sued the school for negligence. Following a 2013 jury trial, a federal district court in Bridgeport found the school negligent for failing to warn the student and her parents about the remote possibility of insect-borne diseases and ordered the school to pay $41.5 million in damages—$31.5 million of which was for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.  The school appealed.  In August 2015, the Second Circuit found that the student’s injuries were foreseeable; however, the court requested guidance from the Connecticut Supreme Court on two specific issues:  1) whether state public policy imposed a legal duty on schools “to warn or protect against the foreseeable risk of a serious insect-borne disease when organizing a trip abroad and, if so, 2) whether the jury’s damages award, particularly the noneconomic portion, warranted [vacation of or reduction in the jury’s damages award].”
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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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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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In recent years, there have been increasing concerns involving discrimination faced by the transgender community.  Not surprisingly, these concerns have centered on the challenges faced by gender non-conforming students and whether the needs of such students are being met by school officials.  Though the law on gender identity is still in its relative infancy, schools are now mandated to create and maintain a safe school environment free from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression under Connecticut law.  Though the relevant federal civil rights laws do not expressly extend to gender identity or expression, it is increasingly clear that the federal government has taken the position that there is protection for gender non-conforming students under federal law.  For example, last month, the U.S Departments of Education and Justice (the “Government”) jointly filed a “Statement of Interest” challenging a school district’s legal contention that a transgender student may only establish a claim of sex discrimination based on evidence of sex stereotyping.

In his complaint, the plaintiff, a student presenting as male, alleged that school officials refused to allow him to use male restrooms, and instead, required that he use a female staff or a unisex restroom, which resulted in peer harassment. The plaintiff also alleged that school officials revealed his status to members of the school community by repeatedly using his birth name and female pronouns when referring to him. Moreover, the plaintiff alleged that after his mother expressed concerns to school officials, an administrator told his mother she was “being overly sensitive.”

In defense, the school district filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing that the evidence proffered by the plaintiff was insufficient to establish a claim of sex discrimination.  In challenging the school district’s argument, the Government argued that Title IX provides protection for transgender students.  More specifically, the Government asserted that “[u]nder Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause, discrimination based on a person’s non-conformity to sex stereotypes, a person’s gender identity, or a person’s transgender status constitutes [sic] discrimination based on sex.”
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In a recent court ruling, Judge Garvan Murthai of the Vermont District Court allowed a parent’s First Amendment claims to go forward to trial after the Superintendent banned the parent, whose child was eligible for special education and related services, from all school grounds, including banning the parent from board of education meetings.

The school district banned the parent after he had made harassing and threatening statements to school staff and committed acts that frightened school staff. The parent allegedly drove past his child’s teacher’s house in another state, banged his fists on tables during meetings, randomly drove by the school when it was not in session and honked the horn when he knew that the school’s principal was the only person in the building, and shouted loudly at school staff on a continual basis. The parent also filed several complaints against the school district, put up signs and handed out flyers at board meetings. Additionally, the parent made threatening and potentially violent statements in online forums about the school and school staff.

The Superintendent called the police department after receiving a “duty to warn” call from the student’s psychologist because the student had expressed a desire to kill school staff with an axe. School staff believed that the student must have repeated something that he heard in the home and became alarmed. The police department provided the Superintendent with a “notice against trespass” that the Superintendent gave to the parent. The “notice of trespass” banned the parent for two years from entering any school grounds for any reason.

In its ruling allowing the case to go to trial, the court found that the parent had no First Amendment right of access to school buildings and that school board meetings were limited public fora. Accordingly, the judge held that the limits on the parent’s speech by banning him from school property were “collateral consequences” of his own potentially dangerous actions and that his right of access was not implicated because the school district did not ban him based on his speech. 
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