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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Security ImageIn 2013, as part of Public Act 13-1, Connecticut enacted legislation that requires the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP), in consultation with the State Department of Education, to develop school security and safety standards and further requires boards of education to establish committees to develop and implement school security and safety plans.  The state recently released its newest iteration of the security and safety standards as well as revised versions of its templates for district and school security and safety plans.  The new school security and safety standards are not yet posted on the DESPP website, but can be accessed here.

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In response to the Ebola epidemic, the U.S. Department of Education (“USDOE”) has issued a letter to schools and districts providing updated guidance and resources to assist schools and communities in establishing practices and protocols related to Ebola, as well as seasonal flu.

The most comprehensive resource provided through this letter, which was issued in December 2014, is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”).  The CDC guidance outlines actions school officials may implement, in consultation with public health authorities, to further reduce the potential risk of Ebola transmission in schools.  In doing so, the CDC delineates the roles of public health officials and educators and warns against educators usurping the responsibilities of public health officials.  Specifically, this guidance clarifies and confirms that the assessment of a person’s risk of Ebola exposure and evaluation of clinical condition to determine appropriate public health actions is within the purview of public health authorities and advises that only public health authorities may determine whether, and to what extent, monitoring or restriction on movement, including the issue of school attendance, is necessary.

Conversely, the CDC guidance advises educators to develop an emergency operations plan for responding to Ebola-related incidents, including situations where a school may need to contain the disease.  To assist in this process, the CDC guidance provides educators with practical considerations and advises the review of, and compliance with, “public health codes, infection control guidance, and applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.”  Further, the guidance provides school officials with recommended actions based on a person’s identified risk level, which may be found here.

In addressing issues related to Ebola, the CDC reminds schools and districts to be cognizant and compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPPA”) and any applicable privacy laws when working with public health authorities to establish protocols for communication and implementation of recommendations relative to Ebola.


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