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Walter | Haverfield is one of the few law firms in Ohio with a designated Education Law practice group. We provide attentive, cost-effective legal services to public school districts and private schools of varying sizes throughout Ohio. We meet the needs of our clients in numerous areas, including:

  • General Counsel
  • Labor and Employment
  • Collective Bargaining
  • Special Education
  • Student Issues
  • Board Governance
  • Sunshine Law/Public Records

Our clients also benefit from the knowledge and experience of attorneys at the firm who practice in the areas of litigation, public law, real estate, intellectual property and environmental law. Attorneys in these areas are available to our education clients to assist with projects.

Walter | Haverfield’s education law team believes in the importance of education and that knowledge is power. Our numerous professional development offerings are designed to keep clients abreast of the ever-changing laws that govern school districts. We provide complimentary professional development sessions through partnerships with several Educational Service Centers and via customized on-site training to address specific client needs. Our goal is to make sure our clients have the knowledge they need to effectively manage their workforce and educate their students.

General Counsel

Walter | Haverfield’s education law attorneys routinely serve as general counsel to school districts. In this role, we are ideally positioned as a “one-stop shop” for the legal issues that face school districts. This experience allows us to identify risk in the general operations of the district, not just on the education front. After identifying an operational issue, we then are able to utilize the breadth and depth of our firm resources in a wide variety of non-education areas, such as real estate, zoning and property matters, environmental issues, taxation, healthcare and other areas that may impact the district’s business operations. Given our firm’s full-service resources, we are able to meet the needs of our school district clients – in all facets of their operations – in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

Labor and Employment Law

All of Walter | Haverfield’s education law attorneys are well-versed in the labor and employment issues that face public school districts. This experience includes handling a myriad of personnel issues, such as hiring, firing, evaluation, corrective action counseling and internal investigations. We have also successfully handled numerous arbitrations involving employee discipline and contract interpretation challenges. Additionally, our attorneys assist districts with processing grievances and consult on the interpretation and application of collective bargaining agreements.

Our attorneys also counsel districts regarding compliance with various federal, state and local employment and civil rights laws, including the FLSA, FMLA, Title VII, Title IX, the ADA and the Ohio Civil Rights Act. In addition to general counseling, we represent school districts before administrative agencies, such as the EEOC and OCRC, and in state and federal court when employment claims are filed.

Collective Bargaining 

Walter | Haverfield’s education law team also includes skilled negotiators who have successfully negotiated numerous collective bargaining agreements with both teaching and non-teaching personnel. Through this representation, our attorneys can either serve as the management spokesperson or assist the board from behind the scenes. We understand the importance of preparation and assist districts in setting the stage for successfully asserting positions at the bargaining table. We also recognize the vital importance of the attorney-client relationship during contract negotiations. We work to gain a full understanding of our clients’ interests so that we can best help advance them through the negotiation process.

Special Education Law

Special education law is a unique practice due to the complex laws governing the education of students with disabilities. We believe special education matters are best handled proactively, so we routinely assist clients regarding evaluation, identification, IEP development, least restrictive environment and disciplining students with disabilities. We also frequently represent clients in IEP, MFE or Section 504 meetings and review draft documents to provide feedback prior to meetings.

In the event of a dispute, we counsel clients on dispute resolution strategies to attempt to resolve the matter without the need for a formal complaint. This collaborative approach saves district resources and allows parents and schools to work together as the child continues his or her education. If alternative resolution efforts are not successful and a complaint is filed, we represent clients in all phases of due process proceedings from the administrative hearing and through the appeal process. Our attorneys are also well-versed in handling complaint proceedings before the Ohio Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Student Issues

Our attorneys assist districts on a daily basis in handling a myriad of student-related issues, including student discipline, student records, student residency and custody issues. In the realm of student discipline, we recognize that not all matters require legal counsel. However, in tough situations where counsel is needed, we have represented districts in all aspects of the discipline process, e.g., initial investigation, provision of due process, board-level appeal hearings, and hearings in the court of common pleas. We also assist districts in responding to requests for access to or revision of educational records. Finally, we work with districts in residency and custody matters ranging from routine review of court documents to residency hearings.

Sunshine Law and Public Records

The advent of new technologies has added new challenges to compliance with Ohio’s Sunshine Law. Our attorneys are well-versed in basic compliance requirements, as well as the more challenging scenarios created by text messages, Google Docs and social media. We also routinely assist districts with responses to requests for public records. While these requests can be voluminous and time-consuming, we have technology in place to make the task of producing required records less onerous.


The Education group’s experience and services include the following:

  • Representation of school districts with respect to the development of legally defensible IEPs and ETRs and all aspects of IDEA procedural compliance.
  • Representation of school districts in due process cases filed with the Ohio Department of Education. These matters involved requests for private placement, allegations of denial of FAPE, and student discipline issues.
  • Representation of school districts in federal court litigation involving alleged violations of constitutional rights and Section 1983 (e.g., bullying, harassment, etc.).
  • Representation of school districts in class action complaint proceedings before the Ohio Department of Education’s Office for Exceptional Children.
  • Obtained precedent-setting decision from the Ohio State Employment Relations Board in favor of a board of education when a teachers' union attempted to prevent the school district from implementing a policy to put into operation the Ohio teacher evaluation system.
  • Defended boards of education using the Ohio Tort Liability Act in multiples causes of action including student-on- student violence and student injuries.
  • Defended board of education in student discipline matter for possession of drugs on school property, including defense of plaintiff's motions for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
  • Defended school district before the U.S. Supreme Court against a parents’ challenge to their child’s special education program.
  • Defended school district against a coach’s claim of defamation.
  • Representation of school districts in numerous cases involving the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, including issues of disability discrimination, race discrimination, harassment and bullying.
  • Representation of school districts regarding regular education and special education student discipline issues.
  • Representation of school districts in teacher termination/discipline proceedings.
  • Representation of school districts in proceedings regarding discipline/termination of classified employees.
  • Counsels school districts faced with voluminous public record requests.
  • Assisted in development of Section 504 policies for boards of education after statutory revisions.
  • Counsels clients on public records and the Sunshine Law, addressing the privacy concerns of employees and students.
  • Counsels clients on student legal issues, including challenges to board policies, discipline, and First Amendment issues.
  • Advises client how to navigate potential violations of the Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Assisted in protecting tens of thousands of public dollars in a contract dispute between a school district and a services vendor.
  • Prevented the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue by protecting school district interests at hearings before the local Board of Revision and Board of Tax Appeals.
  • Attended numerous IEP and ETR meetings on behalf of school districts to provide legal support to teams in contentious situations.
  • Resolved numerous due process complaints in mediation in a cost-effective and expedient manner.
U.S. News - Best Lawyers® 2018 “Best Law Firms” rankings:
  • METROPOLITAN TIER 1 (Cleveland): Education
According to U.S. News - Best Lawyers®, firms included in this year's listing "…are recognized for professional excellence with persistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. Achieving a tiered ranking signals a unique combination of quality law practice and breadth of legal expertise." This year's ratings were based upon a high number of participating firms and a large number of client ballots. More than 13,000 attorneys provided over 1,000,000 law firm evaluations, and over 7500 clients also participated in the evaluation process.

U.S. News - Best Lawyers® also explained that, "Ranked firms, presented in tiers, are listed on a national and/or metropolitan scale. Receiving a tier designation reflects the high level of respect a firm has earned among other leading lawyers and clients in the same communities and the same practice areas for its abilities, its professionalism, and its integrity."
2014-2017 rankings:
  • Metropolitan Tier 1 (Cleveland) – Education Law

Our hosts for these podcasts are Miriam M. Pearlmutter and Lisa H. Woloszynek

Episode One: Pending Before the Court, Part One

In our inaugural episode we talk about Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, an education law case pending before the Supreme Court this term. What is the difference between IDEA and Section 504? What remedies are available to parents under these laws and how will the Court's decisions affect school districts? Can parents take claims straight to court and will this circumvent the administrative process? For an update explaining the Court’s recent decision in this case, please take a look at this alert.

Episode Two: Pending Before the Court, Part Two

In the second part of our Supreme Court term preview, we explore Endrew F. v. Douglas County Schools, a case that addresses the most fundamental question in special education today: What level of education does a school district have to provide to its IEP students to meet federal FAPE obligations? Is any educational benefit enough to comply with the IDEA or must districts provide meaningful educational benefits to their special education students? And what is a meaningful educational benefit anyway? For an update explaining the Court’s recent decision in this case, please take a look at this alert.

Episode Three: Transgender Issues in Public Schools

Class Act tackles a fascinating and controversial topic: What does the federal government require of school districts serving transgender students and how did we get here? Lisa and Miriam summarize recent regulations issued by the Office for Civil Rights and discuss some of the more prominent case law, including Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., the famous Virginia case pending before the Supreme Court. We chat about why this topic is so controversial and how school districts across the country are reacting to these developments. For an update explaining the new administration’s perspective on transgender issues, please take a look at this alert.

Episode Four: Religion and Schools: Part One

In this episode, Miriam and Lisa tackle a sometimes-thorny issue: students' religious rights and how the First Amendment sometimes collides with school policies and practice. Learn about the law and enjoy a plethora of fascinating cases from all around the country! Can a district require students to cut their hair? Is student-led prayer before football games allowed? What about at graduation? What if a child writes an essay about her faith?

Episode Five: Update on the Goldendoodle Case: Fry v. Napoleon

Here's our update on the Supreme Court's decision in Fry v. Napoleon, the case looking at whether parents need to go through the special education hearing process or can go straight to federal court when they have a conflict with their child's school. Turns out that it depends on the central issue in the dispute: Is the conflict about special education services or one relating to disability in general?

Episode Six: Update on Endrew F.: How Much Special Education Must Districts Provide?

The Supreme Court recently ruled on whether school districts are obligated to provide more than just a minimal benefit to students with special education needs. Here's our update and analysis of what this decision means practically for you. Enjoy the episode and let us know what you think!

Episode Seven: Update on Transgender Issues in Public Schools

A lot has happened since our last episode on districts' obligations towards transgender students! Today we talk about the new administration's rescission of the guidance issued by the Office for Civil Rights, the Gloucester case development, and what to watch for in the months ahead.

Episode Eight: Religion and Schools: Part Two

In part two of our series on religion, we tackle common questions that school districts face when employees assert their religious rights. Does a teacher have a First Amendment right to teach creationism? What precautions should be taken during the interview process? How should districts handle requests for schedule changes and time off for religious holidays?

Episode Nine: Bullying and the Law

Bullying lawsuits and agency complaints are on the rise across the nation. What does the law say about bullying and what criteria do courts and agencies use in deciding legal liability? How can districts avoid being found deliberately indifferent to bullying? Miriam and Lisa start off our series on bullying with a brief overview of the laws and how they apply to school districts and their employees.

Episode Ten: Bullying and How to Minimize Liability

Continuing our series on bullying, Lisa and Miriam talk about ensuring that your district is in the best position when faced with a bullying lawsuit or agency complaint. Policies, paper trails, and anti-bullying programs are important features of a comprehensive approach to this nationwide challenge.

Episode Eleven: Immediate Steps When a Bullying Complaint Is Filed

What are the immediate steps your administrators and staff should take when a bullying complaint comes in? How does this look on a practical day-to-day basis? This episode addresses the key steps in a comprehensive response to bullying complaints and offers an often-skipped strategy to avoid these complaints in the first place.

Episode Twelve: Public Records, Student Records, and Privacy Laws

School districts are obligated to follow not only state public records laws, but also federal and state student privacy statutes and regulations. In this episode, Lisa and Miriam talk about the specific statutory requirements, particular exceptions allowed by the law, and complicated situations that districts sometimes encounter.

Episode Thirteen: Fighting in the Cafeteria, Student Discipline: Part One

Joined by Christina Peer, a partner at Walter | Haverfield, Lisa and Miriam begin a three-part series on discipline. In today's episode, we explore the due process rights all students are entitled to and take a look at some common challenges that school districts encounter in meting out disciplinary consequences. Imagine a group of children fighting in the cafeteria. You've decided that Bobby is the troublemaker and would like to suspend him immediately. What steps must you take first? What are your deadlines? What will courts look at if Bobby's parents challenge your decision?

Episode Fourteen: Children with Disabilities, Student Discipline: Part Two

In the second segment of our series on discipline, Lisa and Miriam are joined by Christina Peer for a discussion about students with special education needs. When facing disciplinary consequences, children with disabilities are often entitled to additional legal protections, including manifestation determination reviews, functional behavior assessments, and behavior intervention plans. But it is not always clear when these legal protections come into play. Do these regulations apply to students who are in the process of being evaluated or only those already eligible? What triggers a school's obligation to conduct a manifestation determination review? What are some common mistakes schools make when disciplining children with disabilities?

Episode Fifteen: Manifestation Determination Reviews, Student Discipline: Part Three

Joined by Christina Peer, Lisa and Miriam delve into the depths of manifestation determination reviews for students with disabilities who have violated their school's code of conduct. Was the behavior related to or a result of the student's disability? How do teams decide? Learn about the key issues to keep in mind and how to avoid some of the common mistakes teams make in conducting these reviews.

Episode Sixteen: Weapons Drugs, and Serious Bodily Harm

In our last episode on discipline, Christina, Lisa, and Miriam talk about some unusual situations and what the law allows school boards to do in terms of imposing discipline when weapons, drugs, or serious bodily harm are involved.

Episode Seventeen: Whatever You Do, Don't Hit Send

In this End-of-the-Year Bonus episode, Christina, Lisa, and Miriam talk about emails and texts that you and your colleagues should not be sending. Enjoy and have a fantastic winter break!

Season 2 Episode 1: Hanky Panky in the Classroom, Part One

Welcome back to the second season of Class Act: Updates in Education Law. Joined by Attorney Sara Markouc, Lisa and Miriam start off the new year by diving into employee discipline. What are the basics that an investigator must keep in mind when a school staff member is accused of violating district policy and/or the law? What are the most critical steps that administrators sometimes miss? Join our conversation and learn more about conducting defensible investigations that are upheld on review.

Season 2 Episode 2: Hanky Panky in the Classroom, Part Two

Joined by Attorney Markouc, Lisa and Miriam continue discussing the investigative process in disciplining employees. Imagine a paraprofessional who meets with the school's HR director and informs her that the special-education teacher she assists behaves inappropriately and unkindly towards the children in class, many of whom have severe disabilities. What are the immediate initial steps the HR director should take? What are the key DOs and DON'Ts in conducting such an investigation? Does it matter if the teacher's aide is a repeat complainer?

Season 2 Episode 3: Hanky Panky in the Classroom, Part Three

In our final episode on employee investigations, Attorney Sara Markouc discusses employee rights, including Weingarten and Garrity rights. Attorney Markouc also offers insight in conducting the critical employee interview, tips to remember in speaking with witnesses, and ideas for drafting the investigatory report in a thorough and specific way.

Season 2 Episode 4: Goodbye Facebook, Hello Insta! What Apps Are Your Students Using and Misusing?

Joined by James McWeeney, an attorney at Walter Haverfield, Lisa and Miriam kick off a new series about social media challenges that school districts face on a daily basis. You're probably familiar with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but what are some of the other apps most popular with adolescents and preteens? How do students misuse apps and what can school districts and parents do about it?

Season 2 Episode 5: What Can Schools and Parents Do When Kids Misuse Social Media?

How can parents monitor inappropriate app use? Why would we want to limit our digital footprints? What is the school district's role in addressing technology misuse? Today's episode addresses all of these questions and more. Attorney James McWeeney joins Lisa and Miriam to discuss how schools and families can work together to approach these challenges in a proactive way.

Season 2 Episode 6: Is My School Board on Facebook?

Rounding out our three-part series on technology, we are joined by James McWeeney who discusses what happens when school districts use social media to interact with their communities. Can a district-sponsored Facebook page, for example, delete a parent's unflattering comments? When does deleting comments implicate First Amendment issues and public-records questions? What is a public forum and how should school districts organize their social media presence to protect themselves from constitutional claims? Join us for a fascinating look at these and other challenges faced by school districts who use technology in communicating with the public.

Season 2: Episode 7 BONUS EPISODE: A Much Higher Education

In this timely bonus episode, Lisa and Miriam are joined by Attorney Kathy Perrico to discuss how recent medical marijuana legislation affects school districts' obligations. For example, are students with disabilities entitled to use medical marijuana on school grounds? What happens when federal and state laws collide and how have some school districts navigated this legal quagmire?

Season 2: Episode 8: Section 504 Basic Overview

You've probably heard of Section 504, but sometimes laws can be confusing and the details may be a bit fuzzy. What's the difference between eligibility under Section 504 and IDEA? Is the "free appropriate public education" standard different for kids who have a Section 504 disability versus those who qualify under the special education statute? What's the difference between accommodations and modifications anyway? Join Lisa and Miriam for a fantastic overview of Section 504 with Attorney Kathy Perrico who often advises districts on Section 504 laws and regulations.

Season 2: Episode 9: Section 504 Plans- Common Challenges and Pitfalls

Hope your summer has been relaxing and productive! In this timely episode, Kathy, Lisa, and Miriam continue discussing Section 504 Plans and common pitfalls that school districts encounter. Do all children with qualifying disabilities need a 504 Plan? What are the basics that must be included in a 504 Plan? How specific should the plan be and why? Join us for an informative and lively chat on these and other disability-related questions.

Season 2: Episode 10: Extracurricular Activities for Children with Disabilities Under Section 504

Rounding out our series on Section 504, Kathy chats with Lisa and Miriam about nonacademic and extracurricular activities for children with disabilities. What does the term "extracurricular" include? What are districts' obligations to accommodate children with disabilities who want to participate in standard team sports? What might try-outs look like for a student who requests such an accommodation? Join us for an insightful and interesting discussion of the challenges school districts face.

Season 2: Episode 11: Public-Sector Unions and Agency Fees- Examining Janus v. AFSCME

Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court issued a critical and controversial decision in Janus v. AFSCME, holding that public sector unions may not collect agency fees from nonmembers. What does this mean and whom will this affect? What are the implications for school boards around the country and what are some best practices for board members to keep in mind? Lisa and Miriam dive into the legal and practical ramifications of this momentous ruling.

Season 2: Episode 12: Mainstreaming Children with Disabilities

What is mainstreaming? In previous generations, most students with special education needs were taught apart from their neurotypical peers, in self-contained classrooms, separate facilities, or even state institutions. Decades of research, however, showed that children with disabilities do better when included in the general education classroom and exposed to peer modeling. Now, school districts are obligated to educate children in the least restrictive environment, also known as inclusion or mainstreaming. But mainstreaming special education students can be complicated and challenging, even for experienced educators.

In this episode, Lisa and Miriam explore a recent surprise ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that addresses mainstreaming and highlights the potential legal liability that comes with using self-contained settings for children who can be served in the general education classroom. What are the challenges teams face when it comes to determining a child's least restrictive setting? Which factors must districts consider when deciding whether inclusion or a self-contained classroom is best? What benefits must a general education setting provide to a child with severe disabilities to qualify as a least restrictive environment, and what does that instruction look like practically? In this episode, we explore these complicated questions through the lens of the Sixth Circuit's recent ruling in LH v. Hamilton, and consider the wide-range of implications for school boards, administrators, and teachers.

Season 2: Episode 13: The Challenge of College Credit Plus and Dual Enrollment for Students with Disabilities

College Credit Plus, also termed Dual Enrollment in some states, is a program that enables high school, or even middle school students, to take college courses for both college and high school credit. Although these programs are a fantastic way for families to save money and expose students to higher learning opportunities, school districts may be faced with unexpected challenges when students with IEPs or 504 Plans take college classes.

Who is responsible for ensuring 504 accommodations at the university level? Is a dually-enrolled high school student even entitled to IEP services in a college course? What should high school teams and counselors advise students with special education needs who may struggle with the higher demands and expectations of a College Credit Plus course? Lisa and Miriam explore these questions and consider decisions from the Office for Civil Rights that shed light on school districts' obligations in these changing times.

Season 2: Episode 14: Top Evaluation Team Report Mistakes

A district's special education process typically begins with a request for an evaluation, either from a teacher or a parent. But even the best teams can miss requests, forget deadlines, and slack off in communicating with families. In this last episode of our second season, Lisa and Miriam take a good long look at the most common ETR/ MFE mistakes teams make and how to avoid the liability that comes along with these errors.

Season 3: Episode 1: Secret Recording Devices in the Classroom

It seems like almost every week we hear yet another news story about a school in hot water because of a secret tape recorder or phone that a parent sent in a student's back pack. Is this even legal? And what if a parent requests to send a recording device with her child in advance? Do school districts have to agree? What if the parent wants to record a team meeting? When is a school district obligated to allow such recordings and what precautions should the team take? Lisa and Miriam kick off Season Three with a fabulous interview with Peter Zawadski, an attorney at Walter | Haverfield who often advises school districts about developments in technology and privacy laws. In this episode, Peter reviews school district obligations when parents ask to record their child's classroom or a team meeting, including considerations under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Season 3: Episode 2: Hand Over that Fight Video!

Student privacy can certainly be tricky in this era of rapidly-developing technology. It seems like everyone has privacy rights under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) these days, but sometimes these rights and obligations collide. For example, what if parents request a video recording of their child, but the clip includes footage of other students as well? Are districts obligated to redact video footage? Doesn't that get expensive? Joined once more by Peter Zawadski, an attorney at Walter | Haverfield, Lisa and Miriam review FERPA basics and discuss updated guidance from the Family Policy Compliance Office. This topic is a follow-up to the issues raised in Episode 12 of Season 1.

Season 3: Episode 3: Anonymous Reporting Apps- What Your Districts Need to Know

In the wake of school shootings and similar tragedies, many school districts across the country now offer hotline services where students can submit anonymous tips through an app, and a crisis center evaluates these concerns for bullying, suicidal ideations, or other potential violence. These technological advances come with many benefits for children and parents, but they also present some interesting legal issues for school boards and administrators. For example, can a principal search a student's backpack based on an anonymous tip? What other obligations do school districts have in responding to tips sent to a third-party crisis center? Attorney Peter Zawadski joins Lisa and Miriam in exploring the Fourth Amendment and its legal implications for school districts that use anonymous reporting apps.

Season 3: Episode 4: Booster Groups and School Boards

Booster groups are parent and community-led organizations that support and fundraise for various programs offered by public school districts, such as sports, drama, etc. Some booster groups are official and others are not, but any group's activities can raise challenging legal questions for school boards. Who is liable if a child is injured at a booster group event? Can booster events feature alcohol and gambling? What are Individual Fundraising Accounts and are they even legal? Can students be required to pay a fee if they don't want to sell chocolate door to door? Join Lisa, Miriam, and Peter to learn about booster groups and various federal and state laws that govern these organizations. We also discuss policies and practices that school boards should be implementing when working with booster groups.

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