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].”
Continue Reading Connecticut Supreme Court Issues Decision in Munn v. Hotchkiss

This is an updated version of the original post, Legislature Revises Physical Restraint and Seclusion Training Requirements, published on June 28, 2017.

Earlier this
Continue Reading New Legislation Revises Physical Restraint and Seclusion Training Requirements

Dome of State House in Hartford, ConnecticutEarlier this month, the General Assembly passed House Bill 7276, now Public Act 17-220, which contains a number of provisions aimed at providing “mandate relief” to boards of education.  Section 5 of Public Act 17-220, effective July 1, 2017, makes significant changes to the physical restraint and seclusion training requirements that were enacted as part of Public Act 15-141 (now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-236b).  While this new law must still must be signed by the Governor to become law, school districts may wish to consider these revisions as they plan for staff professional development.
Continue Reading Legislature Revises Physical Restraint and Seclusion Training Requirements

Portrait of confident professor with university students in classroomEarlier this month in the city of Pittsburg, Kansas, a group of curious student journalists raised serious questions about the credentials of their newly hired principal, Amy Robertson.  According to the Kansas City Star, Robertson had received 100 percent support from the district school board, but some of the students at the Pittsburg high school were not equally convinced.  The student journalists decided to look into the legitimacy of Robertson’s qualifications.  As the students investigated Robertson’s educational credentials, what they discovered was quite suspicious and raised red flags about the new principal’s background.

First, the students learned that her university degree came from Corllins University, which operated as a diploma factory of sorts where enrollees could buy the degree of their choice.  Later, the Kansas City Star reached out to the U.S. Department of Education and learned that the federal agency had no evidence of Corllins’ operation or closure.  Subsequently, the student journalists learned that Robertson had served as Principal at the American Scientific School in Dubai, a school receiving multiple ratings of “unsatisfactory” by Dubai’s education authority, which ultimately closed down in 2013.   Armed with revealing information about Robertson’s education and career, the student journalists wrote a news story in their school paper. Days after the release of that story, Robertson resigned.

What lesson can schools take from these Pittsburg students? When considering applicants, especially for positions that require extensive scholarship and experience, schools must do more than check off credentials.  An extra search into an applicant’s background can save a school from an embarrassing situation such as that faced in Pittsburg, Kansas. 
Continue Reading High School Sleuths Expose Questionable Credentials of New Principal

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.
Continue Reading State Department of Education Addresses Immigration Executive Order

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.”
Continue Reading Oral Argument Presented in Supreme Court Case Addressing the Level of Educational Benefit that must be Provided under IDEA

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
Continue Reading Last Chance to Register! Board Meets World: A Board Member’s Guide to Working With Stakeholders

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,
Continue Reading Register Now for Board Meets World: A Board Member’s Guide to Working With Stakeholders

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.
Continue Reading Supreme Court to Revisit Rowley IDEA FAPE Standard for First Time in Nearly 35 Years