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 Kimberly Rozak


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April 7, 2017
Quick Hits from the National Council of School Attorneys Annual Conference 
Each year, we attend the National Council of School Attorneys (COSA) Annual Conference.  This year was another exceptional conference that, thanks to the change in Presidential Administrations and some timely decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, offered a number of specific points that school administrators and school committee members should be aware of.
  • In recent years, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has made a habit of responding to specific complaints by conducting a full audit of the defending school district's operations.  The Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, who oversees OCR and is a former school attorney, promised a return to a focus on the specific complaint.  He also suggested that OCR's aggressive enforcement of website accessibility is likely to be re-examined.

  • Districts across the country are facing an increased number of politically charged staff "speech" issues on a wide variety of subjects such as political preferences, Black Lives Matter, and transgender rights.  When considering whether to impose disciplinary action, districts must ask whether the employee's speech relates to the employee's official duties, whether the speech pertains to a matter of public concern, and the context of the speech.  Speech related to official duties is generally not protected, but speech regarding matters of public concern may be protected depending on the context.  In the current political climate, districts are cautioned to examine these issues carefully before taking action.

  • Districts need to be more vigilant in their Section 504 compliance efforts in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools.  Based on the Court's decision, a claim alleging a violation of Section 504, which does not turn on a question of whether the student has been denied a Free and Appropriate Public Education, can be pursued in Federal Court without first exhausting administrative remedies through OCR or the Bureau of Special Education Appeals.
  • The subject of immigration enforcement in schools was another topic of discussion.  Because of the complexity of that issue, we will provide a more detailed update on this issue next week.
If you have any questions about this update or any other education or labor and employment issue, please contact any member of our Public Education Team.

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Mirick O'Connell is a full-service law firm with offices in Worcester, Westborough and Boston, Massachusetts.  The Firm's principal practice groups include Business; Creditors' Rights, Bankruptcy and Reorganization; Elder Law; Family Law and Divorce; Intellectual Property; Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits; Land Use and Environmental Law; Litigation; Personal Injury; Public and Municipal Law; and Trusts and Estates.
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