Every Student is Entitled to a Safe Education Environment free from Discrimination
Children have the right to a free education. This right encompasses more than simply the opportunity to attend school. Children must be provided with a safe environment for learning that is free of harassment, bullying and discrimination. Unfortunately, many schools are overpopulated, understaffed and lack sufficient resources to meet this obligation. At Seattle Litigation Group, we are committed to enforcing the obligation to provide an education that meets the needs of every child.
Seattle Litigation Group is well known for our school law practice in Washington. Our attorneys handle matters ranging from redress of negligent supervision of students to discrimination based on race and disability status.
We have experience advocating on behalf of children. We take the time to understand you and your child in order to reach the right resolution. While we are able to pursue litigation, we frequently find that other means are faster, less expensive and generally more positive for everyone involved. Below you will find a summary of some of the issues families face in navigating the school system. If your child’s rights have been violation, we want to help.
HOW HAS YOUR CHILD’S RIGHTS BEEN VIOLATED?
Washington Public Schools May Not Discriminate
Washington requires that school districts comply with all civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender expression, or the presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability. Districts may not discriminate in educational activities or recreational, athletic activities, and extracurricular activities. To ensure compliance with this state mandate against discrimination, each school district and public charter school must provide training to all administrators and certificated and classroom personnel regarding their responsibilities to provide a discrimination-free environment. This includes a requirement to raise awareness and eliminate bias.
Discrimination in the Disciplinary Process
Statistical data has proven that, in Washington, a disproportionate number of minority students and students with disabilities are subjected to discipline. This may also be true for students of poverty regardless of other factors. Because a school is not permitted to discriminate against students on any grounds, a school may not discriminate in its disciplinary process. Typically, a school may cite “behavioral” issues for a student that are, in reality, related to a disability, economic disadvantage, or other discriminatory bias leading a school to rush to discipline when it is not warranted or a less severe discipline is appropriate.
However, if you are being investigated or disciplined by a private school or institution of higher learning, you may not be afforded the same due process rights and your rights will likely be governed by your school’s rules and regulations, which are codified in your school’s handbooks. These handbooks are considered contracts, and are binding on you, your parents, and your school’s faculty and staff.
Due Process Rights
Students have a right to due process in public school disciplinary proceedings. These rights may vary for students attending private school or institutions of higher learning. In a public school, student disciplinary proceedings must include notice, right to a fair hearing, appeal procedures, and other procedural safeguards to ensure disciplinary proceedings are occurring appropriately and without discrimination.
Manifest Determination Requirements for Children with Disabilities
If your child has a disability and is facing school discipline, he or she is entitled to additional protections under IDEA. This additional protection is known as a manifestation determination and its purpose is to determine whether an alleged disciplinary problem is due to a child’s disability. If so, different disciplinary measures must be applied. First, the school must understand the full and complete scope of the child’s disability. Oftentimes, many characteristics of certain disabilities present as disciplinary issues at first blush. Children who are labeled by their school as “discipline problems” when in fact a disability exception applies, are at high risk for emotional and behavioral issues that may last a lifetime. Ensuring such children receive appropriate support and disciplinary response is critical at this stage of a child’s development. These types of problems often occur with children with ADD/ADHD, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, child who have been abused and suffered emotional neglect, a range of neurological disorders, and children with learning disabilities. Such children should be encouraged to excel and work through their challenges, not sent a message that they are “bad” kids who will never succeed.
Bullying and Harassment
Bullying and harassment should not be tolerated in a school environment. Unfortunately, both occur with regularity and schools are often subjective and inconsistent in their response. Beginning in January of 2020, each school district must have in place a policy and procedure prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying of any student. This policy and procedure must be shared with parents, guardians, students, volunteers, and school employees. Further, within each school district, there must be on designated person as the primary contact regarding the policy and procedure prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying. This person will be the central point of contact for all complaints about harassment, intimidation and bullying.
THE VALUE OF WORKING WITH AN ATTORNEY
Working with an attorney enables families to navigate complicated educational and legal issues in K-12, with confidence to ensure your student can access a safe and successful school experience. The Seattle Litigation Group assists students and families with the following legal issues:
- Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying
- Special Education Eligibility
- IEP & 504 Plan Review
- Special Education Due Process and OCR Citizen’s Complaints
- Discipline Appeals
- Civil Rights Violations
- Tort and Personal Injury Claims
- Title IX Sex Assault and Gender Discrimination Claims
- Title VI Race Discrimination Claims
- Safety & Negligence
- Athletic Eligibility
- Extracurriculars & Inclusion
- School Discipline & Dismissal
Contact an attorney at the Seattle Litigation Group now for a free consultation to discuss the educational needs of your child.
Contact our attorneys today!