This Spring, several districts across the country have received letters from the OCR concerning their Civil Rights Data Collection (“CRDC”).  The CRDC is a data collection conducted every other year, and per Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ January 2019 announcement is part of “a new initiative to address the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion in order to protect children with disabilities.”  A critical component to the initiative requires data quality reviews of 2015-2016 data submissions regarding instances of restraint or seclusion.

Austin)—School board candidates and interested citizens can learn about the demands and rewards of school board service in a free webinar offered by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) on Tuesday, March 12, noon–1 p.m. (CST). This webinar helps participants understand what is involved in being elected to and serving on a local school board. Learn the difference between the board’s and staff’s responsibilities, how to campaign constructively, and where to find information about being a candidate.   view article arw

In February, the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) of the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance concerning School Resource Officers (SROs), School Law Enforcement Units, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The guidance answers some of the ongoing questions that districts have wrestled with as they try to balance the need to share information with law enforcement with FERPA’s confidentiality provisions.

Point Isabel ISD Board of Trustees voted to hire Theresa Alacron, Assistant Superintendent of Brownsville ISD, as the district’s new superintendent for Point Isabel ISD Superintendent of Schools. Details and updates will continue to appear on our search page. read more arw

For the second time, the Senate Nominations Committee met this week to approve the governor’s appointees — and for the second time, the Republican-dominated committee did not call a vote on David Whitley, the governor’s embattled pick for Texas secretary of state.  As the state battles three federal lawsuits over a botched attempt to clear its voter rolls of supposed noncitizens, Whitley has been fighting a quieter battle at the Texas Capitol: to win confirmation as Texas’ chief election official. To keep his job for much longer, he needs to muster support from at least some Democratic members of the Texas Senate, which has the power to accept or reject his nomination. But with several Senate Democrats who have already declared their opposition — and with pressure mounting privately and publicly for the rest of the caucus to do the same — he’s made little public progress in what is usually an uncontroversial process for nominees. view article arw

Santa Rosa ISD Board of Trustees has chosen Angela Gonzalez, Superintendent of Ramirez CSD,  as Lone Finalist for Santa Rosa ISD Superintendent of Schools. Details and updates will continue to appear on our search page as things progress.  read more arw

What do you do when a parent drives to your school on a Friday at 2:45 p.m. waving ‘custody papers’ in the air and demands that the school immediately withdraw her child or prevent the other parent from picking the child up from school? Take a deep breath and convince yourself that this person did not do this just to ruin your weekend. Then, explain that you will need to review the document to make sure the school complies with it and make a copy for the school’s records. When you review ‘custody’ documents, here are some steps you can use to help you interpret them and navigate through the legalese.

Texas Education Code § 34.007 allows (but does not require) a district to operate “an economical public school transportation system.” That same section requires that all bus drivers must be certified in accordance with Texas Department of Public Safety rules. Employees who drive regular bus routes must be certified by the DPS or be currently enrolled in an approved school bus safety education course. Tex. Transp. Code § 521.022(e). Because some employees who are not regular bus route drivers, especially extra-curricular coaches, must sometimes transport students, it is important to know if they must also hold school bus driver certification. The answer to the question is found by a combination of the Texas Transportation Code and the Texas Administrative Code.

We all know the importance of keeping employee information in a secure location, but did you know that you have the same responsibility to protect employee data electronically? In a recent case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Dittman v. UPMC, the court found an employer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees' sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet-accessible computer system. The employees alleged that a data breach had occurred through which personal and financial information, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, tax forms, and bank account information of all 62,000 current and former employees was accessed and stolen from company computer systems. The employees further alleged that the stolen data, which consisted of information the company required the employees to provide as a condition of their employment, was used to file fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the victimized employees, resulting in actual damages. The court agreed with the employees and found that the company was negligent in protecting employee data.

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.

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).

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.

Special education teachers are the heart and soul of special education programs. They are among the most talented and hard-working educators in our state. Ask any special education teacher about the amount of data generated on individual students, and she will tell you that it is staggering. If that data is focused on the right things, it can go a long way toward proving that a school district provided a student with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If the data focused on the wrong things, all that effort was for naught.

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?