The Need for Cyber Law Research in Education

Cyber law in education is an issue that is ripe for scholarly research and analysis.  The importance of this topic is growing exponentially with the meteoric rise in social networking and other online forums which are becoming a primary source of interaction among school aged students. One result of these “virtual” relationships is a blurring of the lines of jurisdiction for disciplinary responsibility. At what point do a student’s actions fall outside of the authority of his or her school? When the student uses school equipment on school grounds the analysis is very clear, but case law has created a continuum that defies any objective definition of where that jurisdiction ends. Similarly, at what point does a teacher or administrator’s actions leave the authority of their employer and become protected by their right to privacy? The question of jurisdiction must be addressed before meaningful processes can be implemented to counteract the damage that online actions can have on the school system.

The harms that are caused at the hands of students through cyber actions include marring the reputation of teachers and administrators, harassing other students and threatening the security of testing and other educational information. Similarly, educators often cause harm through their own cyber actions by using online forums in an inappropriate manner to the detriment of their school or district. These actions may compromise the safety and morals of their students and affect the integrity of the educational system itself. Yet any restriction on these actions runs the risk of violating constitutional rights of free speech and privacy. Needless to say, there is a careful and ever-evolving balancing process that needs to be maintained in this area of law. And the decisions of our courts and enactments of our legislatures must be monitored and influenced by educators and education law experts.

The bullying laws that are springing up in local legislatures provide an excellent example of the issues at stake in this field. There is an important responsibility for governments to protect children from this new form of harassment. At the same time, however, in addition to the inevitable first amendment challenges, educators need to have a voice as to the practical limits on building level school personnel in implementing these new laws. These issues present a fascinating intersection of legal issues that will only become more relevant and topical in the decades to come. 

Research and analysis will be important in normalizing policy in the field. Ultimately statutory enactments and case decisions will  provide the law on these subjects.  However, these statutes and decisions are by no means immutable.  Like any other area of law, they evolve and change over time.  And these shifting principles are all the more prevalent in a field of law that is in its infancy such as this one.  There are no long-standing seminal court decisions on the topic, nor is there any conventional wisdom with respect to a proper statutory framework.  Therefore, in this field more than any other that I can think of within education law, there is a need for scholarly research and publication to help organize and shape the developing legal trends.

Why You Need an Education Law Solicitor

If you work for an educational establishment then you’re bound to need an education law solicitor at some point.

Here’s why.

1. Schools, colleges and universities need to be just as accountable as other organisations, and private companies, so you’ll want to make sure that everything is managed properly and complies with all relevant laws.

2. Healthy and safety is perhaps more important in an educational environment than in other workplaces, due to the ages of the pupils and students. You’ll need to make sure that your working practices, and out of school activities meet the necessary legislations and law, so that you minimise the risk of accidents and incidents to staff and students in and out of the classroom.

3. You’ll want to make sure that your pupil and staff discipline policies are up to date and that unruly pupils are dealt with properly and in accordance with the relevant policies.

4. Although you work in the education sector, you need to know that employment laws still apply. Any instances of discrimination need to be taken seriously and any issues with staff contracts or working hours will need to dealt with efficiently and effectively. An employment solicitor may be able to assist you in addition to an education law solicitor.

5. You’ll need to make sure that your recruitment policies are up to date, and that they are not discriminatory. You might need to carry out further checks and investigations on potential new staff before you can employ them, and so will need to make sure that this is done legally.

6. As you will be dealing with a lot of paperwork, such as staff contracts and school policies, you’ll want to make sure that these are reviewed regularly so that any advances in technology, or changes to staff duties are incorporated. For example, you’ll need to make sure that your staff and students are aware of the implications of the potential effects of breaking IT or privacy policies.

7. You might be dealing with different suppliers and contracts, and so will want to make sure that you get the best deal for you. An education law solicitor can prove invaluable so that you’re not wasting time and resources on finding out whether the contract is legally binding, and what it really means to you.

8. Some educational establishments are reliant on donations or funding. All contributions and payments need to be properly processed and everything will need to be above board and legal for auditing and accounting purposes.

9. Estate management is an important aspect of modern educational work, and so your duties might involve negotiate the buying or selling of land, or need to be aware of the importance of planning, and dealing with the board of governors. You might also want to know how to make better use of the space that is already available to the school, college or university.

10. Perhaps you’re considering a new building for your educational establishment, and want to know how to get the planning permission you need and meet the relevant environmental and construction laws that will affect you. An education law solicitor will be able to share their expertise, skills and knowledge in order to help you.

Now you know more about the services they provide, do you need an education law solicitor?

6 Things You Need to Know About State Special Education Laws That Will Empower Your Advocacy!

Are you the parents of a child with Autism or other type of disability who receives special education services? Are you currently having a dispute with your school district related to your child’s education? Would you like to learn about State special education laws and regulations to use in your advocacy? This article is for you and will be discussing these laws,and information that you need to know to empower your advocacy!

1. Every state is required by IDEA 2004 (federal special education law) to have laws and regulations that will show how they will be complying with the law.

2. State regulations cannot “establish provisions that reduce parent’s rights or are otherwise in conflict with the requirements of IDEA and Federal Regulations.” Federal law “trumps” or is stronger than State law. State law can give a parent more rights but cannot take away rights.

3. Many States laws are not consistent with federal laws.

4. Some states have been told that they must change their state regulations to be consistent with federal law. For example: New Jersey stated in their regulations that school districts had the right to test a child in an area that they did not previously test—if a parent asked for an independent educational evaluation at public expense (IEE at public expense). Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) found this inconsistent with IDEA 2004 (300.502). They have required NJ to revise their regulations and until they do so make sure school districts are not evaluating children in an area not previously evaluated before paying for an IEE.

5. Other States regulations are also inconsistent with federal law but have not been told by the U.S. DOE that they must change their regulations. One example is New York who has a regulation that ESY eligibility is only for children with multiple disabilities and/or who show regression and slow recoupment. This is not consistent with federal special education law and may hurt children by denying them needed services. Another example is in my State of Illinois the parent guide states that parents must “request” an IEE before the testing is done. IDEA 2004 states that parents have the right to “obtain” an IEE if they disagree with the schools evaluation. A letter to the Illinois State Board of Education pointing out this inconsistency was answered with this statement “The office plans to review the identified guidance document and initiate any necessary revisions during the summer of 2012. Your information will be considered during the course of that process.” It is now 2014, and I will not be holding my breath for the State of Illinois to revise their parent guide.

6. OSEP policy letters often address inconsistent State laws and regulations! They are great advocacy tools and can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/index.html#topiclisting. I use them all the time to show special educators how the Office of Special Education Programs (at the U.S. DOE) interpret IDEA 2004 and inconsistent State regulations.

By understanding these 6 things about State Special Education Law, your advocacy will be empowered! Good Luck!