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Significant Special Education Case to Come Before the Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, a case involving the question of whether a plaintiff must exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in order to maintain suit for relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Facts

Miguel Perez, who is deaf, emigrated from Mexico to Michigan when he was nine years old. The Sturgis Public School District assigned him a classroom aide who was not trained to work with deaf students and did not know sign language. Despite receiving As and Bs, and being on the Honor Roll every semester, the school informed his family just months before graduation that he did not qualify for a diploma but was only eligible for a “certification of completion.”

Initial Complaint

Perez filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Education alleging that Sturgis denied him an adequate education and violated federal and state disability laws. In response to Sturgis’ motion to dismiss, the administrative law judge dismissed some of the claims but set a hearing for the IDEA claim.

Before the hearing, Perez settled with the school district. The school district agreed to pay for Perez to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf and for any “post-secondary compensatory education.” In addition, the school district agreed to pay for sign language instruction for Perez and his family and pay for the family’s attorney’s fees.

Federal Court Case

A few months after the settlement, Perez sued the Sturgis Public Schools and the Sturgis Board of Education in federal district court. He raised a couple of claims, including an ADA claim, alleging that the school had discriminated against him by not providing him the resources necessary for him to fully participate in class. He sought both declaratory relief and compensatory damages for his emotional distress.

Sturgis moved to dismiss the case arguing that the IDEA required Perez to exhaust administrative remedies before filing an ADA claim. Sturgis argued that since Perez settled his IDEA claim, the IDEA barred his ADA claim. The district court agreed with Sturgis and dismissed his claims. Perez appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Case

The Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the district court’s decision, finding that the crux of Perez’s ADA claim is that he was denied an adequate education. Based on this finding, the court found that the IDEA requires that Perez exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA before bringing his ADA claim, even when the relief sought by Perez under the ADA is not available under the IDEA. According to the Sixth Circuit, § 1415(l) of the IDEA requires parents exhaust the IDEA’s administrative procedures “to the same extent as would be required had the action been brought under the IDEA,” before bringing any suit under federal law if the suit involves a claim alleging the denial of a free appropriate public education.

The court also rejected Perez’s claim that his failure to exhaust administrative remedies should be excused because it would have been futile to go through the administrative process since it could not provide damages for his emotional distress and that he had obtained all of the educational relief available under the IDEA through the settlement. The court found that § 1415(l) does not come with a “futility exception.”

The dissenting opinion in the Sixth Circuit notes that Perez’s ADA claim is not based on the school district’s failure to provide educational services but rather on its failure to provide appropriate interpretation services, which is a classic ADA claim. The dissent found that the majority opinion’s focus on the fact that Perez’s factual allegations involve his education, deprives him, and other disabled students like him, of their ability to seek relief and damages under the ADA.

With respect to the futility argument, the dissent stated that the majority opinion, in finding no “futility exception” in § 1415(l), ignores the explanatory statements made by the legislators who wrote the provision. The dissent noted that § 1415(l) was passed by the legislature after the sponsors of the bill “explicitly and repeatedly” stated that exhaustion of administrative remedies should be excused when “it is improbable that adequate relief can be obtained by pursuing administrative remedies,” including where “the hearing officer lacks the authority to grant the relief sought,” which is exactly the case with Perez.

U.S. Supreme Court

On October 3, 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case.

The questions presented are:

1) Whether, and in what circumstances, courts should excuse further exhaustion of the IDEA’s administrative proceedings under Section 1415(l) when such proceedings would be futile; and

2) Whether Section 1415(l) requires exhaustion of a non-IDEA claim seeking money damages that are not available under the IDEA.

As of Nov. 10, 2022, the hearing for this case had not yet been scheduled.

The Scoop on Educational Equity from MABE Strategic Partner Newsela

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How can educational equity strengthen communities as a whole? How does it have the power to unlock student potential?

Maryland law makes school boards responsible for the creation of educational policies designed to “provide quality education and equal educational opportunity for all children,” and boards also are directed to seek ways to “promote the interests of the schools” within their systems. As part of our related efforts to support Maryland school board members in reaching these goals, MABE partnered this year on our ongoing educational equity project with Newsela, known for its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging which is echoed in their mission of meaningful learning for every student.

The launch of the 2022-2023 school year was an ideal time to check in with Hasan Rafiq, Newsela’s VP of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, to get his thoughts on the value of educational equity, MABE’s recently launched “Leading for Educational Equity Through School Board Governance” workbook, and why placing a premium on educational equity in school systems holds such intrinsic promise. We invite you to access our special September issue of ‘The MABE Scoop” to read the interview with Mr. Rafiq, and access recent related headlines and MABE resources.

MABE Searching for Accountant to Join Financial Team

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Do you have a Bachelor’s degree in accounting? Are you QuickBooks certified? Are you as solid in software programs (including Microsoft Office) as you are in accounting and financial principles? Then you might just be the right fit as an Accountant with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. Details for this full-time position and related benefits information is available here. Good luck to all applicants!

Legal Alert: Kennedy v. Bremerton School District 597 U.S. ____ (2022)

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On June 27th the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the Kennedy v. Bremerton School District case, which asked whether a public school employee praying during school sports activities was protected speech, and if so, is the employee’s public school employer permitted to prohibit prayer to avoid violating the Establishment Clause? 

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 opinion in favor of the public school employee held that “the free exercise and free speech clauses of the First Amendment protect an individual engaging in a personal religious observance from government reprisal; [and] the Constitution neither mandates nor permits the government to suppress such religious expression.” The court’s ruling is notable in that it overturned decades of precedent when it comes to the separation of church and state in a school setting. Please visit this related summary by MABE Director of Legal & Policy Services Debra Yerg Daniel for a breakdown of this case and landmark ruling; how to apply the ruling moving forward; and relevant, existing provisions in Maryland law.

For further information, contact Debra Yerg Daniel, Ph: (443) 603-0391.

Call for Applications for Accountability and Implementation Board (AID) Advisory Committees

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June 20, 2022 is the deadline for applications to join the Advisory Committees of the Accountability and Implementation Board (AID) of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.  AIB writes that it “wants to closely involve as many stakeholders from diverse geographic, economic, racial, ethnic, cultural, and gender backgrounds who represent various life experiences and viewpoints as is possible from across the State.”  AIB’s four Advisory Committees are Early Childhood Education; High-Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders; College and Career Readiness Pathways; and More Resources to Ensure All Students are Successful.

Know someone who should be considered for one of AIB’s Advisory Committees? Nomination/application information available here contains relevant details, as does the AIB Advisory Committee Application. (Note that applicants do not need to be nominated in order to apply for a position on an advisory committee and may apply on their own.)

Questions? Email AIB@Maryland.gov. You can also follow AIB on Twitter.

Good luck with your application for this very worthy, timely project!

MABE Launches “Leading for Educational Equity Through School Board Governance” Workbook

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Maryland law makes school boards responsible for the creation of educational policies designed “to provide quality education and equal educational opportunity for all children,” and boards also are directed to seek ways to “promote the interests of the schools” within their systems.

This, combined with how educational equity is an established priority of the Maryland State Board of Education, led MABE’s Educational Equity Committee to create its Leading for Educational Equity Through School Board Governance workbook, designed for school board members and related education stakeholders. While the workbook is written with Maryland’s 24 boards of education in mind, it potentially may apply to any board charged with this important focus, whether in or outside of Maryland.

Our sincere thanks go out to our educational equity project’s strategic partner, Newsela, known for its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

We invite you to read more about the Educational Equity Through School Board Governance workbook.

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, III to Receive MABE’s Biennial Excellence in Education Award

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In recognition of his exemplary leadership and service to excellence in public education in Maryland, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III has earned MABE’s distinguished Excellence in Education Award. The award will be presented to Dr. Hrabowski during MABE’s 2022 Annual Conference, to be held October 6-8 in Annapolis, MD.

Dr. Hrabowski passionately believes in transforming lives through education. His leadership at UMBC transformed the institution into one of the most innovative research institutions in the United States. He is a passionate advocate, mathematician, author and renowned speaker, who believes in transforming lives through education. Importantly, his much-valued work has helped lead to higher graduation rates and a growing focus on STEM fields of study. You can read more about Dr. Hrabowski’s fascinating background and track record of success in this related press release.

“Dr. Hrabowski’s efforts continue to inspire and influence countless students and educators,” noted MABE President Virginia (Ginny) McGraw. “His work serves as a valuable reminder of just how much true progress can be made by one dedicated individual devoting his life’s work to such a noble and worthy mission.”

Our sincere congratulations go out to this incredibly talented, dedicated individual, who has helped shape so many lives and minds.

School Safety: A Guest Post from Eastern DataComm

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A concerning reality in recent years is that the need for services to help secure schools continues to grow. Indeed, Education Week recently reported that “following the return of most U.S. schoolchildren to full-time, in-person learning, a raft of anecdotal reports indicate that violence may be rising in K-12 schools.”

According to this daunting statistic from the Report on Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2020 published by the Institute of Education Sciences, 80 percent of public schools reported during the 2017-18 school year that “one or more incidents of violence, theft, or other crimes had taken place, amounting to 1.4 million incidents.”

At Eastern DataComm, our goal is to keep the schools we serve connected and protected. We firmly believe that when it comes to school safety, we are all in this together.

As we continue to collaborate with schools throughout the U.S., our conversations inevitably turn to lockdowns and how quickly and effectively school officials or staff can alert everyone on school property about what is going on, and about what steps to take. This is understandably a real problem for most schools that often struggle to find a reliable and comprehensive system – one that will work regardless of the severity of a school’s situation on any given day.

Response to crisis situations must be immediate, automatic, and reliable, and it needs to cover every area of school grounds – inside and out. That’s where we come in. We invite you to visit our website to learn more about our patented LENS +OPTICS technology, featuring our Lockdown and Emergency Notification System and Continuous Monitoring Service, and to read related testimonials from satisfied education customers.

We can’t end all crises, but knowing your school’s safety technology is best prepared to handle the worst provides invaluable peace of mind. For further information, please contact Paul Jenne at (201) 457-3311 ext 131.

Spring issue of “The MABE Scoop” Features Updates on Funding, Legislative Happenings, MABE’s New Educational Equity Workbook, and Recent Headlines

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It’s no surprise that 2022 has been an incredibly busy year so far for Maryland school boards, and the spring issue of The MABE Scoop partly reflects that reality. As MABE President Virginia McGraw (Charles County) writes, this current issue brings “the latest legislative developments, word on upcoming professional development opportunities, and recent state and national education headlines. We also share information on the $1 billion available to improve at-home student and teacher internet access via the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund; a profile of Carroll County Board of Education member Pat Dorsey; word on the exciting launch of MABE’s new educational equity workbook; and news about MABE’s new Strategic Partner, Newsela.”

You can access these features and much more by visiting here.

MABE Accepting Applications for Executive Assistant Position

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Are you a consistently proactive, positive, problem-solving administrative professional? Do you have at least five years of progressively responsible administrative experience? Are you a sophisticated communicator, impeccable proofreader, and enthusiastic teammate? Then you might be a fit for MABE’s open Executive Assistant position.

Associate degree is preferred. Outstanding organizational and research skills are required, along with the ability to smoothly manage multiple tasks simultaneously. Read more details about the responsibilities, qualifications and benefits of this challenging position here.