At Franczek, we understand the importance of timely, thoughtful, and accurate advice regarding student issues. This broad subsection of school law covers issues as diverse as student discipline, student constitutional and civil rights and responsibilities, student assignment, student records and data privacy, and special education, requiring legal counsel to understand and keep up with changes to a host of legal issues to fully represent clients. Because of the experience of our school law team, Franczek attorneys can stay on top of the changes to this area of law so that clients do not have to. We provide thorough, complete, and practical understanding of a district’s rights and responsibilities as to student legal issues. Whether facing a special education challenge, a student discipline matter, a student data privacy concern, or a civil rights challenge to a student assignment plan, we are a partner and trusted advisor with schools in developing sound, cost-effective solutions for these often-significant challenges.
Schools no longer have carte blanche to discipline students as they see fit, and school disciplinary decisions are no longer private matters between a school and the families of students involved. Sweeping changes brought by Senate Bill 100 and scrutiny from regulators such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) mean that school discipline is one of the most highly regulated areas of school operations today. The internet, smartphone apps, and viral media mean schools can expect student misconduct and resulting disciplinary responses to be well-known in the community. Franczek attorneys are aware of and guided by this context when called upon by schools to assist with their student discipline needs.
Our attorneys have extensive experience with all aspects of the school discipline process. We help schools maintain compliant policies and procedures, and train staff so that written guidance can be faithfully effectuated on the ground. We assist with audits to ensure that students of any race, national origin, color, sex, disability status or other protected status are not disproportionately represented in discipline and special education programs. We are often one of the first lines of contact for school administrators facing a report of student misconduct. We assist with investigations, coordination with law enforcement, and decision-making and recordkeeping regarding consequences. We are partners with our clients in preparing communications for the school community where needed, and in conducting defensible threat assessments of students, if necessary. If a student challenges discipline, our attorneys represent the board in conduct hearings and any subsequent litigation or appeals, bringing to bear their knowledge of the School Code, relevant case law, and legal and community norms to protect the school’s interests.
Student Constitutional and Civil Rights and Responsibilities
50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that students do not shed their constitutional rights “at the schoolhouse gate.” Since that landmark decision, a myriad of cases have been decided regarding student rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and privacy. Those and other constitutional and civil rights must be protected in the school environment, but those rights are not unlimited. We help school leaders find the balance between protecting student rights and enforcing reasonable responsibilities. Examples of matters with which we regularly assist schools and districts include:
- Entanglement with Religion
- Religious Student Practices
- Student Searches and Seizures
- Law Enforcement Roles in Schools
- Disability Discrimination and Harassment
- Disability Accommodations and Modifications
- Race, Color, And National Origin Discrimination and Harassment
- Discriminatory Discipline or Enrollment In Special Education Programs
- Age Discrimination and Harassment
- Sexual Harassment and Assault
- Transgender Student Issues
- Sex Based Discrimination, Including in Athletics
- Student Protests and Walkouts
- Student Threats
- Disruptive Student Speech and Clothing
- Student Press Issues
- Corporal Punishment
The U.S. Supreme Court has limited student assignment and admissions methods that schools can use to bring diversity to their schools, but school districts nonetheless have tools to reach diversity goals. Franczek attorneys have extensive experience counseling school districts on how to effectuate changes within the bounds of the law, including issues such as the creation of new schools, the use of magnet schools, access to gifted and talented programs, admission to other special programs, the redrawing of existing attendance areas, transportation burdens, program locations, school capacity issues, the use of mobile classrooms, and facility conditions. When necessary, we have defended school districts in complex litigation alleging discrimination in student assignment on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin and other protected statuses.
Student Records and Data Privacy
When questions regarding the maintenance of school student records, student confidentiality rights, and student data privacy arise, school district administrators rely upon the guidance of our attorneys. From counseling districts on the requirements of the Illinois School Student Records Act and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to developing practices that maintain student confidentiality, our attorneys are dedicated to helping school districts respect the rights of parents and students, with the judgment and experience necessary to guide administrators when an imminent threat or danger makes disclosure necessary.
Student data privacy is the next generation of concerns when it comes to student confidentiality. Franczek attorneys are on the forefront of these issues, regularly working with school board associations and other groups to fight for the rights and needs of public schools when legislation is considered in this area. We help schools comply with current law and communicate about their technology programs in a manner that encourages parent buy-in and limits requests for opt-outs. When those requests or other challenges to a school’s technology program occur, we help schools respond.
We also work to protect the interest of our school clients and their students regarding contractual relationships with outside parties. Our attorneys have negotiated innumerable contracts between schools and technology and other vendors where student data is involved, with an eye toward both strict compliance with the law as well as any specific needs based on the culture of the relevant school or district. We also help schools that work with higher education entities and researchers to use student data to drive success in a legally compliant manner.
In the case of a security breach or other concern, our attorneys are poised to help schools and districts respond. We consider both the legal mandates in such circumstances as well as the potential need to repair relationships with parents and other stakeholders. We realize that technology is an essential part of education today, and we work with our clients to keep the legal barriers from becoming an impediment to successful implementation of novel and beneficial programs.
For more information about our firm’s special education practice, click here [Special Education Practice].