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 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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Back view of a businesswoman asking a question on seminar.There’s still time to register for this complimentary seminar offered to board of education members.

School Law attorneys Richard A. Mills, Rebecca Rudnick Santiago
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This workshop will provide board of education members with best practices and guidance regarding effective board operation with respect to internal governance, administration, school staff,
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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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Group of high school girls eating healthy lunch togetherThe Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture has released its final rule regarding Local School Wellness Policies under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  All local school wellness policies must be compliant with the new rule by June 30, 2017.  The new rule requires local educational agencies that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to update their wellness policies in line with the content requirements outlined in the rule.  The new rule also highlights the requirement for local educational agencies to collaborate with community stakeholders in making the required updates to their wellness policies and in implementing the policies.  The new rule further provides that local educational agencies must assess the effectiveness of school wellness policies on at least a triennial basis.  Finally, under the new rule, each state educational agency will be responsible for evaluating the wellness policies of local educational agencies under its jurisdiction.

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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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Frustrated teenage girlOn July 27, 2016, the United States Department of Education (“Department of Education”) released a dear colleague letter (DCL) and a non-regulatory guidance document (“Guidance Document”) discussing school districts’ obligations under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (“McKinney-Vento Act”) as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  In an accompanying fact sheet, the Department of Education points out that the number of homeless students enrolled in public schools during the 2013-2014 school was more than 1.3 million, nearly double the number of homeless students enrolled in public schools in the 2006-2007 school year.

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