Education and Special Needs Law
We provide assistance and legal advice regarding all of the legal issues schools and public officials must face as they seek to accomplish their educational missions. Our attorneys are experienced in dealing with the myriad of issues that school committees and educational institutions must face, including special education, student discipline, open meeting law, public records law, contracts and public bidding, civil rights, and more.
In addition, our attorneys are experts in labor and employment law as it relates to educational institutions, and these issues make up a large portion of the legal work generated by schools.
We have also represented school clients in investigations and audits conducted by various regulatory agencies, including the Office of Civil Rights (U.S. Department of Education), Program Quality Assurance (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), Massachusetts Inspector General, and the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The collective experience of our attorneys allows NMP to provide school clients with all of the legal services they need in one place. Our coordinated and collective approach to servicing all of our clients’ school law needs allows clients to avoid overlapping legal fees and ensures a consistent approach and strategy to legal issues district-wide. Our attorneys are also available to help schools write policy and train staff on legal issues and new developments in the field of education law.
The following are a few examples of the practice areas and complex issues we regularly assist clients with or provide training on:
On January 10, 2013, Governor Patrick signed “An Act Relative to Background Checks,” requiring Massachusetts educators, school bus drivers, child-care workers, and others who may have “direct and unmonitored contact with children,” to undergo national background checks and fingerprinting.
Aimed at closing a loophole in existing state law, the law requires that fingerprints be submitted to the state police for a state criminal history check and forwarded to the FBI for a national background check. Under the previous law, fingerprints were not required and educators and child-care employees were only screened through the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system, which is limited to crimes committed within the Commonwealth.
Our attorneys are available to answer questions relative to the new background check law and to assist clients with changes and updates to existing policies and practices that will need to be implemented as a result of the national background checks and fingerprinting.
For a summary of the 2013 legislation, please see our article on this subject.
Click here to read the complete text of the bill.
Our attorneys regularly give advice and provide representation on matters related to compliance with state and federal laws, including employment discrimination, sexual harassment, Family and Medical Leave Act.
We regularly advise clients in the area of Special Education law, which generates a significant amount of litigation, and is an increasingly difficult area to manage from a budget perspective. We understand the delicate balance between serving the educational needs of children with Individualized Education Programs, and the school district’s responsibility to educate all children. We are familiar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), No Child Left Behind, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we are also conversant with state laws and regulations, like MGL Chapter 71B (also known as Chapter 766), and the various DESE regulations and advisories implementing all of those statutes.
We have defended our clients at hearings before the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”), and in court. We also understand the complex interplay between special needs and student discipline, and we have provided advice and representation at local hearings and in other forums. We have attended mediations and resolution sessions when requested by the client. While we tend to leave Team meetings to the educators, we have also attended those meetings when it is fruitful to do so, or when there will be a difficult parent representative present.
OCR Guidance Addressing Extracurricular Athletics for Students With Disabilities
Client Advisor Articles: September, 2013
Student discipline is a complicated and evolving issue that has taken center stage recently both in Massachusetts and nationwide. In August 2012, Governor Patrick signed into law An Act Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from School (Act) which created a new section of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 76 and requires that effective July 1, 2014, school districts and charter schools ensure that students who are suspended or expelled from school have an opportunity to make academic progress through educational services provided by their district or charter school. Nationally, in January, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice issued a first ever joint “Dear Colleague” letter with guidance on how to identify, avoid, and remedy discriminatory discipline, which, according to the letter, is a real program throughout the country.
Our attorneys are available to help school districts and administrators understand and implement the recent changes to the state’s student discipline law. We also help districts develop and revise student discipline policies that lead to uniformly enforced and discrimination free student discipline.
Our attorneys have thousands of hours and years of experience at the bargaining table on behalf of school districts. We also support employers in bargaining even when we are not at the table. We have negotiated contracts involving teachers, administrators, department heads, clerical employees, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and more.
We have bargained complex health insurance and other benefit changes, and we are familiar with the ins and outs of the Group Insurance Commission (“GIC”). We have also bargained changes in the school schedule and the use of teacher evaluation tools. In short we are familiar with virtually every wage, benefit or working condition that customarily appears in collective bargaining agreements, and some others that are not so customary.
We are skilled at drafting contract language that will have the results intended by our clients because we understand how language will be interpreted in the real world, and in the world of arbitration. We also understand how contract language might interact with state or federal law affecting the employment relationship.