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By Dr. John Urkevich, Executive Director

Recently the American School Board Journal compiled a list of legal topics prevalent in K-12 education today. (Click here for the accompanying article in the journal by Del Stover and Glenn Cook).

What’s On Your Legal List?

Members of the Council of School Attorneys were asked to pick the top 10 issues from a list of 19 topics identified by the editors of American School Board Journal and NSBA’s Office of General Counsel. The survey was conducted in early November 2008, and 209 responses were received.legal-list

The top 10 legal issues in K-12 education, in order, are:
1.  Employee discrimination/termination
2.  Finance adequacy and equity issues
3.  Student discipline
4.  Collective bargaining
5.  Employment issues related to changes in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act
6.  Private placement issues related to special education
7.  Disputes regarding attorney fees in special education cases
8.  Free speech
9.  Educator sexual misconduct
10. No Child Left Behind Act interventions

Topics that received votes but were not in the top 10 were: employee and student misuse of the Internet; student searches; civil rights; discrimination; sexual harassment/sex discrimination claims; denial of Free Appropriate Public Education under Section 504 for Students with Disabilities; student and employee privacy; school board member governance; and contract issues such as superintendent procurement.

Missouri schools are not immune to these above complicated issues. As recently as January 12, Missouri School Board’s Association (MSBA) posted on their “Legal Pad” section of their website, regarding employee background checks: “Districts must be very careful not to release the results of a criminal background check to anyone other than the applicant and those responsible for the hiring and contracting of staff. Districts are advised to make a list of the individuals authorized to receive the results of the background check. If the results are ever released to someone other than a person on that list, the district should make a record of when, why and to whom the record was released.”

Other matters listed on MSBA’s website include Collective Bargaining, Special Education, and Online Social Networking Profiles.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has several web pages devoted to No Child Left Behind to navigate to help educators and parents. In addition, last year, a group of St. Louis area superintendents and I connected over videoconference to Congressmen Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri) and George Miller (D-California) to discuss NCLB and air our concerns.

Clearly there is no doubt administrators have many legal matters to contend with in schools as well as many resources to help them with such concerns. What K-12 legal issues challenge you? What kind of measures do you take when working with them?