Texas lawmakers return to Austin this week for the start of a new legislative session. It will be the first one since the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, and it will be the second regular session since the COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions in education. Public education advocates have a wish list of issues they’d like the Legislature to prioritize. Topping that list is increasing state funding for public schools to help, among other things, raise teacher salaries after tens of thousands of educators have left their jobs. Democratic lawmakers, including two from Austin, are seeking a major change to the state’s school finance system which would increase funding for public education. Meanwhile, Republican state leaders, like Gov. Greg Abbott, have voiced support for school choice, which would allow families to use taxpayer dollars to send kids to nonpublic schools. view article arw

Whether a district is acquiring property for immediate use or to simply hold until they are ready to use it, acquiring and owning property burdened with easements can complicate a district’s long-range planning. On the other hand, selling property that is burdened with easements raises separate, and distinct, concerns. Here are some tips on how to effectively deal with property that is burdened with easements.

The Waller Independent School District acquired 19 acres of land within the Bridgeland master-planned community for an elementary school. The land is located in Prairieland, Bridgeland’s third village. The Howard Hughes Corporation will serve as the developers of the project. “Waller ISD and Bridgeland share a deep commitment to educational excellence, and our continued partnership is important for the growth and success of both Prairieland Village and the forthcoming Creekland Village,” said Steve Sams, senior vice president of MPC Residential for The Howard Hughes Corporation. “Waller ISD’s decision to purchase a second school site west of Grand Parkway in the early stages of development for Prairieland Village speaks to the growth of the community and the desire for personal, community-oriented educational opportunities.” view article arw

The dueling approaches are coming into focus as lawmakers prepare to return to Austin for the session which begins Jan. 10.  The legislative session is more than a month away, but fault lines are already emerging between Texas’ top two Republican leaders on two major issues.  Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick want to use the state’s massive budget surplus to deliver property tax relief, but they appear split on how far to go — and how to pay for it. And in a starker contrast, Patrick has deemed it a top priority to continue fixing the power grid, while Abbott has declared the issue resolved.  “Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas,” Abbott famously said after the 2021 regular legislative session.  Patrick, by contrast, said Wednesday that making the grid more reliable was “the most important thing this session besides managing our money.”    (07) view article arw

By state law, school boards must promulgate policies that prohibit students from smoking, using, or possessing e-cigarettes or tobacco products at school-related or school-sanctioned activities on or off school property. Tex. Educ. Code § 38.006(b). To accomplish this mandate, numerous districts have adopted language along these lines, stating, “[s]tudents are prohibited from possessing or using any type of tobacco product, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), or any other electronic vaporizing device, while on school property at any time or while attending an off-campus school related activity. The district and its staff strictly enforce prohibitions against the use of all tobacco products, e-cigarettes, or any other electronic vaporizing device, by students and all others on school property and at school-sponsored and school-related activities.”

School districts are often able to utilize federal funds, such as through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal program, to finance their construction projects. These funds can be utilized for architectural/engineering (“A/E”) services associated with those projects, provided that districts adhere to the federal requirements that are tied to the use of federal funds. Unfortunately, these requirements are not always straightforward, and they require some analysis in order to comply with both federal law and Texas state law. For this article, we will highlight two particular areas of potential conflict: (1) consideration of price, and (2) a public-advertising requirement.

The Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, Texas Public Information Act (“TPIA” or the “Act”) provides citizens a statutory process to obtain access and copies of public information. School districts, as custodians of records both public and confidential by law, are tasked with the difficult role of balancing the public policy of open government with its duty to protect student, employee, and various third-party information. In light of the recent public education climate morphing citizens’ understanding of what the Act permits versus what it entitles, this article aims to clarify the Act’s purpose and compliance requirements.

Going to school after having a baby is tough, and a potential complication to any new mother’s day is finding the time, place, and quiet for expressing breastmilk for their child. The law and current school policies have express guidelines for schools to provide assistance for these mothers, and with the upcoming Title IX changes, there may be more you need to do. Here are the “must’s,” “might’s,” “should’s,” and “could’s” for addressing breastfeeders that need to express milk at school.

On June 23, 2022, the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) released proposed changes to its Title IX regulations that help schools implement the law. The regulations were published in the Federal Register on July 12, 2022, with a 60-day comment period, meaning that comments are due by September 12, 2022. Comments can be submitted electronically here:

In light of the senseless tragedy at Uvalde ISD’s Ross Elementary, it is now more important than ever that school districts reexamine their school security needs in order to optimally protect their students, staff, and greater school communities from both internal and external threats. Although the number of violent events impacting schools around the nation increase year over year at an alarming rate, it is critical that school districts understand that there are a number of practical options available to secure their campuses.

When it comes to advising clients on construction-related matters, there are few things I hate more than having to tell a superintendent that they must stop in their tracks and put the project on a temporary hold because of legal requirements that may not have been considered prior to our telephone call. [WAIT: Before you start to tell yourself that this particular article might not apply to the project you are planning because it is “not construction,” bear in mind that I used the term “construction-related” for a reason]. Ironically, it is the smaller projects that prove to be the most problematic. The point of this article is not to list every single requirement that you will have to comply with when procuring and completing a small project. Rather, it is to show you one concrete step you can take to mitigate some of the delays that can arise and make the project go more smoothly.

Graduation is a big life cycle event, and many students wish to take the opportunity to stand out amongst a wave of one-colored caps and gowns by decorating their regalia with their own personal expressions. We see honor cords, medals, and other tokens for awards and honors that the school hands out, but how should districts respond to students who wish to decorate their mortar board, their gown, or wear an additional stole not given to them by the school?

Regardless of how often school lawyers tell their clients to wait until 10 days before the last day of instruction, we do not actually live in a fantasy world, so we know you offer contracts earlier. Is there any way to protect yourself from the social media gaffe, occasional rant, or outright insubordination that comes from someone knowing they have a contract for another year and saying, so what are you going to do about it now? Termination can be pretty expensive, so let’s look at other options to protect the district.

If you don’t care about the Texas Constitution, stop reading. If you do, then read on. This article is one part civics, two parts history, mixed with one ounce of prevention. Let’s begin.

The Texas Constitution establishes three branches of government. The Legislative Branch is the only branch that can create a “legislative enactment.” The Executive Branch, which includes the office of the Governor, the Attorney General, and all of the state agencies, must work within the framework of a legislative enactment and can create rules to support the aims of a legislative enactment. The Judicial Branch interprets the laws and rules and sometimes is called to test the constitutionality of a legislative enactment. Of these three branches, only the Legislature has the power to make an act that was previously made legal by the Legislature into an illegal act. Think of the three branches like “rock-paper-scissors.” Okay, now… One! Two! Three! Throw!  It’s checks and balances. Civics lesson complete. History module commencing in 3…2…1…

Litigation can be extremely expensive and disruptive. While it is true that school districts in Texas enjoy broad governmental immunity, there are plenty of opportunities for disappointed parties to sue a school district. Reducing the risk of being sued requires lowering frustration levels and supporting the public’s perception of fairness in both the district’s process and the district’s treatment of complaints. Based on nearly three decades of “in the trenches” litigation work, people sue when they are frustrated and feel they have not been treated fairly. Given this insight, a district can reduce its risk of being sued by using the three Ps—process, perception, and preparation.