School Actions (or Inactions) That Can Cause Lawsuits

Most children spend the majority of their day in a public school setting, so there is an important responsibility  placed on schools for their role in the children’s lives. With a responsibility that nature, there is also a large possibility of disputes arising over a variety of situations, school actions which if handled poorly can lead to lawsuits and big Pharma class actions filed against the school district.

Bullying and Harassment

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In the case of bullying and harassment, is is inaction, or failure to prevent or stop the bullying, for which school districts are most often sued. Each state has different laws regarding what school districts are required to do or not do, there are several things every school should do that will increase the safety and wellbeing of its students, as well as prevent potential lawsuits.

These steps include:

Assessing Bullying in the School

Find out when, where and how often bullying is occurring. This can be done through official surveys, asking general questions and performing subtle observations when students interact. Conduct this survey at least once a year, and ensure that respondents’ information will be kept private at all times.

Engaging the Community

Campaign in the community to increase awareness of what bullying is and how to end it. Parents should be treated as partners in the process of helping students feel safe at school.

Establish a Safe School Environment

Nurture a culture of tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of the school, from teachers’ meetings to the PTA to students’ group projects. Draw up a list of rules for treatment of others in the school that must be followed by everyone at all times. Monitor areas where bullying often occurs, and enlist school staff in keeping an eye on student interactions.

Discrimination

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Lawsuits are also filed against schools for discrimination, especially in regards to students in special education programs. Discrimination can occur in many areas- admissions, grading, class placement and personal instruction, among others. Because it covers such a wide span of potential issues,  it highlights the importance of school districts treating each student equally, and providing extra help to those who require it.

Retaliation

School districts can also be sued for retaliation, as in the case of Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools. Ms. Settlegoode was a physical education teacher who was struck by the inequalities in services for her students with disabilities. After advocating for these students, the school retaliated by firing her and blackballing her from gaining employment at any other area school. After the difficult trial, she was awarded one million dollars.

Interference with Right

Interference with a student’s constitutional rights are also grounds for a lawsuit against a school district. Whether a student’s rights have been violated is determined by what is called the “Tinker test,” after the landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In this case, the court ruled that the first amendment applied to public schools, and that the school could not restrict students’ free speech unless it was proven to be disruptive to education. The Tinker test is now applied in all instances in which a school district is accused of limiting free speech.

To learn more about school districts and legal proceedings, take a look at the cases mentioned. For school districts to avoid being involved in lawsuits, they must take exacting steps to ensure each student and staff member feels safe, receives the best education possible (if a student), is not targeted in any way by the school, and is not deprived of any constitutional rights.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

The Special Education Lawyer: Not Your Average Advocate

As the number of children with autism or learning disabilities across the United States continues to grow, and legislation designed to oversee the education of these children is increasingly drawn upon, it is no small wonder that those schooled in law are looking to become a special education lawyer because they are needed now more than ever.

Those who have studied and practice in education law and have experience in special education issues can help parents navigate the legal complexities of this area of the law. More often than not, a special education lawyer helps to resolve matters of dispute more effectively and efficiently than can parents alone.

Defining a Special Education Lawyer

 

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Special education lawyers must be familiar with all aspects of education law, such as education reform and student  and teacher civil rights. It is also helpful for special education lawyers to be familiar with autism and all types of learning disabilities.

In addition, they need to have a strong understanding of all federal and state legislation regarding special education. They need to have knowledge of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (most notably Section 504, which protects those with disabilities from being discriminated against from any organization).

Special education lawyers mainly help to develop an Individual Education Program (IEP) for a special needs child. This is a plan describing how a school will educate a particular special needs child. Special education lawyers can also help mediate disagreements between parents and schools if an IEP is not adhered to, or if other problems arise concerning how the child is educated.

Advocating for the Special Needs Child

In many cases, parents become advocates for their children when it comes to education. However, many parents are simply not knowledgeable in areas of negotiation, legal communication or due process when problems concerning their special needs child or children arise. Some parents simply don’t have the time nor the resources to adequately prepare and present their arguments.

This is where special education lawyers come in.

“A good attorney can advise a parent how to obtain a better program and services, how to effectively advocate for the child,” says David A. Sherman, a special education lawyer for Medical malpractice lawyers phoenix, he also wrote: “Autism: Asserting Your Child’s Right to a Special Education.” Source: (http://www.baizlaw.com/practice-areas/medical-malpractice)

What’s more, Sherman says, “A special education attorney will advise a parent as to how to assert their child’s numerous and substantial rights.”

Going the Extra (Special) Mile

Do special education lawyers do more than any other type of lawyer? On the surface, no. They file documents, attend meetings and hearings, write briefs…in short, do all of the things any lawyer would do no matter the nature of the issue, whether it be a criminal case, divorce proceeding or child custody battle.

 

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But special education lawyers perform a service that other lawyers do not: they bring a voice to those who may not be able to speak for themselves. In many cases, defendants can go to the stand on their own behalf. Some even become active participants in the preparation of their defense.

Special needs children do not have this luxury. They do not understand the laws that are being broken when the school they attend does not honor their IEPs or federal legislative mandates. Most parents are not well versed in these laws. It is the special education lawyer who must act as advocate for these special needs children.

And not just your average advocate, but one who is armed with the legal knowledge and mediation skills needed to get the job done. Considering the importance of what’s at stake (a fair education for all), the impact of a special education lawyer cannot be understated.