Education

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Overview

Overview

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 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.

Experience

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 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 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® 2015 “Best Law Firms” rankings:
  • METROPOLITAN TIER 1: 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 the largest number of participating firms and the highest number of client ballots since these rankings were initiated - more than 17,000 attorneys provided nearly 600,000 law firm evaluations, and almost 7,500 clients also participated in the evaluation process.

U.S. News - Best Lawyers® 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 their abilities, their professionalism and their integrity."
2014 rankings:
  • Metropolitan Tier 1 – 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 Endrews 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.

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