It has become common place to hear and read about requests for therapy dogs and horses in the classroom, emotional support peacocks and other animals on airplanes, and comfort critters in restaurants. This can lead to confusion concerning what type of accommodations a school district must make for students with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), or what types of animals must be allowed on campus to support a student pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). The information below is intended as a general guideline to help answer some of the most common questions concerning animals on campus and help district personnel prevent setting a precedent by approving overly broad requests while also avoiding liability for denying requests that may be appropriate under the state and federal law. Districts should however contact their general or special education counsel with questions concerning specific scenarios or making exceptions for unique individual circumstances.

DAMON — Superintendent Donald Rhodes could be placed on personal leave next week depending on the outcome of a special meeting of Damon ISD’s board of trustees Monday. The board posted notice of the special meeting Friday morning. Both of the agenda’s action items regard the district’s top administrator, including the approval of a request for personal leave from Rhodes and the possible appointment of an acting superintendent. view article arw

In April this year the Texas Supreme Court appears to have sunk to a new low in rebutting not only the Me Too movement, but the common sense barometer. Before them was a sexual harassment case whose facts would shock the senses of most readers; the case involves a female school employee who claimed sexual harassment by her fellow female employees. See Alamo Heights Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Clark, 544 S.W.3d 755 (Tex. 2018).

Just in time for high school football season, a Dallas-area school district is opening a new $70 million stadium this week. The McKinney ISD facility will serve three campuses and join the growing list of mega-high school football stadiums that have made headlines in recent years. By our count, the new $70 million structure is the second most expensive high school stadium in Texas, losing out only to Cy-Fair ISD's $80 million Berry Center in Houston that opened in 2006. view article arw

Following expressions of support from several community members, the Ector County Independent School District Board of Trustees voted to call a tax ratification election for Nov. 6 at their meeting Monday. The board also voted to hire Jim Nelson, an attorney, former Texas Education Commissioner and executive director–chief executive director of AVID, as interim superintendent as of Sept. 1. He will replace Superintendent Tom Crowe, who is retiring effective Sept. 1. The original date was Dec. 22.  view article arw

The Texas Public Information Act (the “PIA”) gives members of the public the right to request access to government information. While the requested information is presumed public, the PIA provides exceptions to disclosure. These exceptions fall into two main categories: those that require a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General and those that allow the governmental body to make redactions on its own. The most common of the exceptions you can apply on your own are FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and sections 552.117, 552.130, and 552.147 of the Government Code.

In April, the Family Policy Compliance Office (FPCO) issued new guidance concerning FERPA and video surveillance. It answers some of the ongoing questions that districts have wrestled with as video surveillance has become more prevalent.

In another example of the Texas Legislature taking over classroom instruction, beginning this year the Legislature has told us we must now step down and stop education in order to permit “Patriotic Societies” to have ten minutes to make a presentation to our students. Moreover, this practice should be in place by now. So what does this involve?

Did you know that every time your special education staff completes an evaluation for a special education student, the parent of that student can request the same evaluation be performed by an outside person, with the cost of that evaluation paid out of district funds? The parent’s right to this request--called an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)—is outlined in §300.502 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA.) More and more parents are asking for IEEs, and the costs can have a big impact on special education budgets.

Reporting suspected abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services has always been an affirmative duty in Texas, and even more so for educators who bear additional responsibility to convey their concerns timely on behalf of students. One way that this duty is made less intimidating is the assurance that the identity of the reporter will be kept confidential. In this age of government transparency through Public Information Act requests and parent inspection of student records under FERPA, just how confidential can these reports stay? This is a common concern voiced by educators, and with good reason: doing the right thing under the reporting statute seldom wins friends.

In a November 13, 2017, To the Administrator Addressed bulletin, the Texas Education Agency issued its official form for use in complying with new requirements in Texas Education Code § 21.009 that applies to all applicants for educator positions at school districts, districts of innovation, open-enrollment charter schools, regional education service centers, or shared services arrangements.

If you closely read contracts for technology products and services your district uses, you will frequently see provisions in the contract regarding who owns the data within the technology application. “What data?” you ask. For example, you may have contracted with a provider to operate cloud- or Internet-based services for your student information system (SIS) or your special education data. These online services are just giant databases where you store all the information you once would have kept in dozens of filing cabinets. You can now enter into the database all the sensitive and personal information about students that you traditionally kept under lock and key. All that information is considered “personally identifiable information,” or PII, about each student. That PII also constitutes “educational records” about the student, and is information that is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Interlocal agreements received a publicity boost earlier this year due to the Texas Attorney General’s ruling that a school district may not operate a transportation system (for taking students to and from school) outside its boundaries unless it enters into an “interlocal contract as provided by Chapter 791, Government Code.” Interlocal agreements are a common occurrence for school districts. They are the primary way in which districts formalize arrangements with other local government entities.  

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 693 related to three-point seat belts on buses that transport schoolchildren. S.B. 693, 85th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Tex. 2017). Effective September 1, 2017, every bus operated by or contracted for use by a school district for the transportation of schoolchildren (included school-charted buses) shall be equipped with a three-point seat belt for each passenger, including the operator. Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § Senate Bill 693 (West 2017). According to the statute, a “bus” includes a school bus, school activity bus, multifunction school activity bus, or school-chartered bus. Id. The seat belt requirement does not apply to: