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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.
Preventive Law: Serving Parentally-Placed Private School Students with Disabilities in Public Schools
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.
Preventive Law: Dogs and Horses and . . . Peacocks? Service, Therapy, and Comfort Animals in the Classroom – What Does the Law Require?
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?
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.