SEE YOU IN COURT! – November 2018

As the Nutmeg Board of Education prepares for new budget season, Board member Mal Content is worried about the budget discussions becoming antagonistic and personal. The last budget season had been brutal, but people were generally civil and respectful in their comments on the budget. However, the last year has been hard on civility in public discourse at the local, state and federal levels of government, and Mal was worried that during budget deliberations the Board will experience the rude behavior seen too often these days on the television news.

Mal would not have to wait long. Seymour Dollars, the venerable Chairperson of the Nutmeg Board of Finance, invited the Board of Education to a preliminary meeting to provide “guidance” to the Board during the budget process. Ms. Chairperson of the Board of Education saw little choice but to play ball and ask her colleagues on Board of Education to suck it up and attend the meeting.

When Seymour called the meeting to order a few days later, he grandly announced, “This is my meeting,” he intoned, “and the members of the Board of Education are here as my guests.” Though it was early in the meeting, veteran Board of Education member Bob Bombast lost his composure. “It is our meeting too, you old windbag,” Bob blurted out. Seymour glared and ruled Bob out of order, cautioning Bob that he would be ejected from the meeting if he kept it up.

“We have invited the Board of Education here to remind our spendthrift colleagues that money is still tight. We suggest that you follow the zero-based budget approach and ask for more money only if there is a compelling need for it. Got it?” The Board members didn’t want to dignify Seymour’s condescending suggestion with a response. However, as they walked out quietly, Seymour called after them, “Remember, we are waiting for your suggestions for efficiencies and collaboration!”

In the weeks that followed, the Board of Education struggled to come up with a low-increase budget, and at the public hearing on the Board budget, it was the public’s turn to get testy. Bruno, President of the Nutmeg Union of Teachers, was first up, and he was anything but deferential. “This budget is a sham, and you are all cowards,” he shouted. To the applause of his union coterie, he sat down. But the criticism continued unabated. The PTO President was in high dudgeon as well, accusing the Board members of being “traitors” to the cause of high quality education. With that, a group of parents stood up and started waiving signs and chanting, “Traitors, Traitors.”

Ms. Chairperson had never seen anything like it, and she banged and banged on her gavel to restore order. Eventually, the group quieted down, but whenever Ms. Chairperson tried to move on with the Board meeting, the claque from the PTO stood back up and started chanting again. Eventually, Ms. Chairperson gave up trying, and over the din she asked whether there was a motion to adjourn. Bob Bombast made the motion, which was quickly seconded and passed unanimously.

Did Ms. Chairperson have any alternative here? Continue Reading

CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 10/30/2018

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

In case you didn’t notice, it’s election season. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the property was being littered with campaign signs from the summer primary, I recently noticed that a candidate for state office has used school property and images of my school in his campaign literature. As the principal of the school and its leader, I’d rather not be affiliated with any candidate. I know schools are public property. However, I am concerned that the images of the school may give voters the wrong impression.

Thank you,
It’s the Principle of the Thing

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Recent Unionizing Developments on Campus

College CampusThere have been two recent developments regarding union organizing efforts on University campuses.  At Northwestern University, a mail ballot election among adjunct faculty took place in July 2016. The Service Employees International Union challenged 25 of those ballots but the challenged ballots were not finally resolved and opened until earlier this month.  Those ballots, which represented approximately 5 percent of the total vote, were sufficient to determine the outcome of the vote.  The Labor Board reviewed the eligibility of each of the persons whose vote the Union  challenged and found that each was eligible to vote.  The Labor Board then opened the ballots and as a result, the final count led to a University victory.  The final vote was 242 to 231 against joining the Union.  Although the University prevailed, getting eligible voters to participate in the election process  continues to present a significant challenge.  In this case, there were approximately 700 eligible voters, but only about 72 percent of them cast votes in the election. In any organizing drive, it is imperative to get eligible voters to vote, particularly those who are apathetic, as they tend to resist change and are not supportive of having to pay a union.  Colleges and universities, therefore, must consider the best ways, through actions and words, to inspire voting.  Continue Reading

Julie Fay Presents at the 2018 AISNE Governance Conference

Shipman & Goodwin attorney Julie C. Fay will present the session, “Legal Landscape: Today’s Hot Topics and Trends” at the 2018 Association of Independent Schools New England Annual Governance Conference. This session will review some of the emerging and recurring issues facing independent schools, including topics such as data privacy and protection, student mental health, campus security and new challenges related to the student use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices. As part of this discussion, she will review recent cases and discuss best practices for risk management.

When: November 1, 2018, 8:00 AM – 2:30 PM EDT
Where: Four Points by Sheraton, Norwood, MA

The AISNE Governance Conference is a place for board members and senior school leadership to consider what the practice of great governance looks like, in service to schools, students and society. It’s a time to come together to share and learn, recognizing the support and power within the community of AISNE peer member schools. For more information and to register, visit AISNE’s Governance Conference event page.

Gwen Zittoun Presents on Student Data Privacy

Shipman & Goodwin attorney Gwen J. Zittoun will co-present on legal compliance and best practices of student data privacy on November 20, 2018, at the CEN Education and Development Advisory Council Workshop.

The interactive workshop will provide a solid understanding of, and how to comply with, relevant federal and Connecticut laws protecting student data privacy, especially PA 16-189 and recent updates to the law.

When: November 20, 2018, 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST
Where: Connecticut Education Network, 55 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105

Click here for more information on the event.

CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 10/16/2018

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I had a weird experience the other day that I need to share with you. A family new to the district came by to enroll their 4th grade daughter, and they stopped in to see me. I was delighted to welcome the newcomer to our happy little school. However, I was not happy to see her “best friend,” Woofy. I politely told the family that we do not allow dogs in our school, but they pushed back immediately. “Woofy,” the dad said, “is more than a dog, much more. Woofy is a service animal who provides emotional support for our daughter.”

I did my best to be polite, but Woofy was out of control, running around my office, sniffing everything in sight, and even licking my face. “Isn’t he great?” the dad asked rhetorically. “He brings such joy and comfort to our little girl.”

I admit that I am a cat person, but I am not anti-dog per se. However, I can’t imagine letting this “Woofy” creature into my school. Can I tell the family that Woofy belongs in the dog house? Please email me your answer, because the daughter is starting school tomorrow.

Thank you,
Dog Be Gone
Continue Reading

CAS Legal Mailbag Question of the Week – 10/9/2018

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

As the principal of a large middle school, I pride myself in running a tight ship. I want my teachers on time where they are assigned. I want my custodians to keep the building spic and span. I want my parents to keep out of my hair, and above all else, I don’t want to be surprised. Ever.

Given my admittedly inflexible personality, I was disappointed that one of my teachers did in fact surprise me, big time. The other day I received a call out of the blue from DCF asking to schedule some meetings as part of an investigation. Apparently, one of my teachers decided all on her own that the way a paraprofessional was treating a special needs child was child abuse. Given that she teaches math, I really don’t see how she is qualified to make that determination, and I was miffed that she would not consult with me before opening up this Pandora’s box.

I sent her an email, directing her to schedule a meeting with me. I plan to convey my disappointment and to tell her that she should talk with me first before filing a DCF report, but I don’t plan to impose any formal discipline. Nonetheless, she wrote back and asked if she can bring a union representative. That’s the last thing that I want. Can I tell her no?

Thank you,
Stiff Spine

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Julie Fay, Bob O’Brien and Laurann Asklof to Present at the 2018 NAIS-TABS Legal Symposium

Shipman & Goodwin attorneys Julie Fay, Bob O’Brien and Laurann Asklof will present sessions at the 2018 NAIS-TABS Legal Symposium.

Julie will present the session, “Managing Students: A Day in the Life of a Dean.”  This session will address legal issues and best practices on issues such as misuse of social media, searching student phones, vaping, and how to develop an effective and compliant student handbook. As part of this discussion, Julie will discuss challenges in developing sexual misconduct policies, addressing confidentiality issues and establishing effective adjudication process.

Bob and Laurann will present a roundtable discussion titled, “Key Considerations for School Construction Projects.”  This roundtable discussion will review school construction matters, including request for qualifications/proposals, project delivery methods, contract forms, consistency among documents, liquidated damages provisions, bonding, types of insurance, dispute resolution provisions, and risk management/mitigation.

Designed for trustees and school administrators of all kinds to learn about the pressing legal issues facing independent schools, the NAIS-TABS Legal Symposium is a unique opportunity to spend quality time with legal professionals and colleagues to dig into the concerns of the day and come away with solutions.  The Symposium will be held October 18-19 in Philadelphia, PA.

Shipman & Goodwin is a proud sponsor of this year’s event. For more information and to register, visit the NAIS-TABS Legal Symposium website.

2018 Labor and Employment Fall Seminar

Please join us for our annual fall seminar on October 25, 2018 at the Hartford Marriott Downtown. This promises to be an interesting and informative program regarding recent developments in labor and employment law. Our half-day seminar will include discussions of the timely topics listed here as well as updates on recent legislation and court decisions affecting employers.

When: October 25, 2018
8:00 AM – 12:00 PM EDT

Where: Hartford Marriott Downtown
200 Columbus Boulevard, Hartford, CT

REGISTER NOW! Continue Reading

SEE YOU IN COURT! – October 2018

Mr. Chairperson has had his hands full with two new members of the Nutmeg Board of Education. Mal Content and Chrissie Critical were elected to the Board just last November, but they quickly started antagonizing Mr. Chairperson and the other Board members. Nothing, it seemed, was right in their view. Mal and Chrissie complained at the Board meetings about the “do-nothing” Board, and they repeatedly complained by email to all the other Board members. Some Board members tried to respond to their concerns by return email, but the disaffected two were unmoved and continued to find fault with the Board.

Mal and Chrissie were frustrated, they claimed, because Mr. Chairperson was thwarting their reform efforts. They had both repeatedly asked that an item be added to the Board meeting agenda – appointment of a special counsel to investigate Board member collusion with Seymour Dollars, venerable Chair of the Nutmeg Board of Finance. They claimed that Seymour was pulling the strings on Board decision-making, and they wanted the other Board members to be questioned under oath as to what Seymour Dollars has said to them and when he said it. They even suggested that Mr. Chairperson take an straw poll of the Board members by email, claiming that he would find that a majority of the Board members agree with their request. However, Mr. Chairperson stonewalled them, telling them that such a witch hunt would not be allowed on his watch.

Finally, the other Board members had had it with the disaffected two, and speaking for the others, veteran Board member Bob Bombast proposed at a special meeting to add an item to the agenda – “Executive session for the purpose of evaluation of the performance of two difficult Board members.” Before the motion could even be seconded, however, Mal spoke up, stating the any discussion as to his efforts to straighten out the “dysfunctional” Board of Education should be held in open session. Chrissie weighed in as well, claiming that she would not be a party to any attempt secretly to defame her and interfere with her efforts to clean house.

“Never mind,” Bob responded. “If we can’t have a candid discussion about these two trouble-makers in executive session, we’ll just have a more general discussion in executive session about Board operation.” With that, the Board voted to convene into executive session. Not surprisingly, however, the discussion of “Board operation” soon devolved to an angry exchange between the other Board members and Mal and Chrissie about how they as Board members were misbehaving.

Mal and Chrissie were unchastened, and they decided to pursue their crusade through FOI requests. They asked for any and all email communications between and among any member of the Board and/or with Seymour Dollars concerning budget matters. Pushing hard, they demanded that all such emails be produced within four business days, “in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act,” they said.

Mr. Superintendent responded within four business days, informing Mal and Chrissie that the district is working on their request, but it will take some weeks to find, review and produce all of the emails.

Can Mal and Chrissie file an FOIA complaint, and will they win? Continue Reading