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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In light of the Trump administration’s rescission of 2016 federal guidance from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education concerning school district obligations to transgender and gender nonconforming students, on February 23, 2017, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, together with Commissioner of Education Dianna R. Wentzell, issued clarifying guidance to Connecticut Superintendents of Schools reaffirming the protections afforded to such individuals under relevant Connecticut state law.  Along with this joint guidance, Governor Malloy issued Executive Order 56, directing the Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”) and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) to consult and develop guidance for school districts concerning the best practices and legal requirements for protecting the rights of transgender students.

Following Executive Order 56, SDE recently developed two guidance documents summarizing civil rights protections and best practices for supporting gender nonconforming students.  The new guidance includes both a document entitled “Guidance on Civil Rights Protections and Supports for Transgender Students”, which provides an overview of legal requirements and best practices, and a Frequently Asked Questions document, which addresses discrete issues related to such topics as privacy, student records, and access to sex-segregated areas, such as bathrooms and locker rooms.  Further, the guidance urges districts to develop and implement professional development programming for staff based on the extensive information in both documents.

As noted, the guidance touches on several important and practical topics, including the construction and applicability of several laws, on-the-ground practical solutions and considerations, and administrative concerns.  We have summarized some of the main points below, and encourage further review of the guidance in its entirety.
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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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After an extensive interview and hiring process, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE”), Bureau of Special Education, released last week the list of new mediators and current due process hearing officers.  The hiring of new mediators was prompted by a directive from the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) that mediators used pursuant to the procedures required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) not be employees of the CSDE.  Thus, the list of mediators includes ten individuals, all of whom are independent contractors with the CSDE and new to the role of special education mediator.  The new mediators have been transitioning into their roles during the summer months; as of September 1, 2017, CSDE employees will no longer be conducting mediations.
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Bathroom signIn March of 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States remanded the high profile transgender student rights case, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.
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All Gender Restroom SignageYesterday, in response to the withdrawal of federal guidance relating to the rights of transgender students, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy instructed Connecticut public schools to continue to follow the withdrawn guidance, pending the release of state guidance from the Connecticut State Department of Education on the rights of transgender individuals in Connecticut schools. Specifically, Governor Malloy referred public school superintendents to the May 13, 2016 Dear Colleague Letter jointly issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education, and subsequently rescinded by these agencies on February 22, 2017.

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