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Georgia Special Education Law Blog

Self-Defense and Georgia School Discipline

on Sun, 09/17/2017 - 23:57

Many school districts in Georgia took the position that student behavior must be beyond question, no matter how trying the circumstances. For example, when one student punches another student, most school discipline codes expect the injured student to retreat or find a teacher to address the problem, not strike back. Typically, discipline rules do not allow a student to defend themselves, no matter how much danger they face. Defending oneself violates rules against fighting in school. There is zero tolerance.  

In S.G. v Henry County School District, the Supreme Court of Georgia rejected this position and held that students who are defending themselves do not violate school rules and thus may not be disciplined. Further, students are not required to wait to be hit to defend themselves if they reasonably believe that the force was necessary to protect themselves.  

Before this decision, it was essentially impossible to raise relevant defenses to school discipline at the tribunal hearing because even proving them would not prevent a ruling against the student. Now, the unduly harsh zero-tolerance policies of many school districts are sharply limited. This is a step forward for justice, because school discipline, like everything else in the education system, should shape student behavior towards what we expect from the adults that students will become.  

In other news, the winner of the Dyslexia Education Scholarship has been selected. The winner is Dr. Dara Delancy! Thank you to all the entrants. Due to the recent hurricanes, the early bird registration deadline has been extended to September 20, 2017.

Dyslexia Education Scholarship 2017

on Wed, 08/23/2017 - 16:10

Teachers, parents, and other providers often struggle to help students with reading difficulties - sometime because they don't have the intervention skill or knowledge to help those students.  

To help close this deficit, I am pleased to announce the Dyslexia Education Scholarship 2017, allowing one person to attend the International Dyslexia Association's national conference at no cost to register. Spanning from November 8 to November 11, 2017, the conference is filled with opportunities to learn multiple strategies and interventions to help remediate and educate students who are having difficulty learning to read.

Bullying In Public Schools

on Fri, 07/28/2017 - 14:33

If a student is bullied in school, parents can feel powerless to help. Georgia law has a broad definition of bullying, but nothing in Georgia law requires school districts take particular steps at the request of a parent or guardian. This can be very frustrating if school officials are not doing enough to protect a student.  

Federal law does require school districts to act in certain circumstances when the bullying is interferes with a student's ability to learn. However, these protects only apply if the bullying based on a protected classification, such as race, religion, sex, national origin, or disability. Although that sounds like a high standard, in practice I can often demonstrate it.  

For example, if the student-victim of bullying and the perpetrator are from different backgrounds, that is frequently the reason that student was selected as the target, which would show the bullying was based on a category such as race. Likewise, if a male student is targeted as nerdy or being LGBTQ+, that likely is based on a stereotype of how males show behave, which is a form of sex discrimination. Regardless if the bullying is based on a protected classification, a disabled student's issues with bullying should be addressed by the IEP or 504 team.  

It is very important to remember that a school district is only liable for failing to address bullying. In other words, if a district can plausibly state that it did not know about the bullying, then legal proceedings against the district would be very difficult. In practice, that means parents and students have to make sure that the principal or equivalent at the school knows about the bullying, including every instance when it occurs. A notebook with the time, date, and description of every incident, including when senior school staff were informed, is a powerful piece of evidence.  

If your student is being bullied in the public schools, contact me to schedule an initial consultation.

ESSA Feedback July 2017

on Fri, 07/07/2017 - 15:05

In education policy news, Georgia has just completed a draft plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA, the successor statute to No Child Left Behind, is the federal law controlling funding and requirements for public education. ESSA requires States solicit public comments on the draft plan. Information on Georgia's plan is available here, and the deadline for submitting comments is July 14, 2017.  

Major changes in the ESSA include more flexibility for states dealing with low-performing schools and increased data collection, especially progress monitoring of vulnerable subgroups. It is important that the community's voice be heard, because it is likely that this plan will be Georgia's education framework for the next decade.  

One of my concerns is that the school quality indicator should not contain too many different measures, to make sure that the quality indicator is easy to understand and that particular measures are not lost in the noise.  

Submit feedback by clicking the survey here or email essa@doe.k12.ga.us  The deadline to submit is July 14, 2017

Resources you can review to find more information  

studentscantwait.org - a consortium of education advocacy organizations  

State Snapshots from the National Center for Learning Disabilities  

Georgia ESSA Advocacy Toolkit from Understood.org

Endrew F

on Fri, 04/21/2017 - 13:17

Since I last wrote about the legal measure of an IEP, there have been significant legal developments. In March 2017, the Supreme Court decided Endrew F v. Douglas County Sch. Dist. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that school districts must do substantially more than the minimum. School districts are still not required to maximize a student's potential, with all the difficulties that result from that stance. But an IEP "must be appropriate in light of the child's circumstances."  

For a student who can be mainstreamed, the student should be "progressing smoothly through the regular curriculum." For students who are not mainstreamed, the IEP must be ambitious. In other words, every student "should have the chance to meet challenging objectives."  

Also interesting is the Court's discussion of deference to school district decisions. Courts cannot create educational policy. But school districts must bring expertise to bear on problems in support of their choices about how to educate the student. A Court "may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions." This means that, in litigation, I may be able to convince a judge to apply less deference to a school district decision that is not supported by contemporaneous cogent and responsive reasoning.

In sum, this Supreme Court decision will create a major change in the process of drafting IEPs. Before, school districts could rely on the expectation of a collaborative process to make a take-it-or-leave-it offer, then use parental objections as evidence of non-collaboration. Now, parents have some leverage to make the process truly collaborative.

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