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.

Leading an 11-state coalition, Attorney General Ken Paxton today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to review the case of two Oregon bakers and their constitutionally-protected conscience rights.  The state of Oregon forced Aaron and Melissa Klein to shut down their business, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, after declining to create a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony in 2013 because of their deeply held religious belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ordered the Kleins to pay $135,000 in compensatory damages for violating the state’s public accommodations law. The couple filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to overturn the state of Oregon’s ruling. view article arw

It is sometimes unclear what a public school district’s duty is when it comes to serving children with disabilities placed by their parents in private schools. Further complicating matters is the fact that sometimes a private school student requesting services can reside in the boundaries of one district and attend a private school in the boundaries of another district. What follows is a simplified list of steps to follow, and an explanation of each step, when evaluating a district’s responsibility to a private school student.

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.

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).