Schools have an obligation to students that extends beyond providing a safe and appropriate education. Although students are minors, they still have important rights that schools must respect. Too often, teachers and school administrators throw their hands up in the air when a parent raises an issue. An Austin school law lawyer can help make sure that school administrators take you seriously and advocate on behalf of your child’s rights.
At the Law Office of Jason Wright, PLLC, we help parents protect their children’s rights at school. We understand that nothing is more important than your child’s education. When something comes up at school—whether it be a disciplinary issue or an IEP-related concern—it can be highly frustrating when the school is unwilling to deal with it effectively. You may feel as though the school is not taking you seriously, and it may not be. The Austin school law firm lawyers at the Law Office of Jason Wright handle all types of issues that come up between schools and students, helping parents ensure their children get the education they need, deserve and are legally entitled to.
What Is School Law?
To most, “school law” relates to education-related obligations a school has to each student. To be sure, this covers a large portion of the type of issues that fall under the school law umbrella. However, school law also extends to many other problems between students, teachers, administrators and school districts.
The foundation of school law is rooted in the United States Constitution and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). The United States Constitution provides students with the right to privacy and free speech. And while these rights are not identical to the rights students enjoy outside the schoolhouse, they are still extensive and important.
The IDEA is a complex law that governs a school’s duty to students. The IDEA mandates that all students—regardless of their level of ability—are entitled to a free and appropriate education. If a student faces learning challenges or the current curriculum is unsuitable for their learning style due to a qualifying disability, the school must provide the student with an alternate education that meets their needs.
In a 1963 opinion, the Supreme Court of the United States stated that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” While this case arose in the context of a student’s First Amendment rights, the principle that students maintain their constitutional rights while at school also applies more broadly. Students have the following rights:
• The right to be free from discrimination;
• The right to be free from sex stereotypes;
• The right to express their views;
• The right to a fairly enforced dress code;
• The right to a formal disciplinary process;
• The right to privacy;
• The right to be free from bullying and harassment;
• The right to decline a police officer’s request to search their person or belongings; and
• The right to equal access to educational opportunities.
However, teachers and school administrators are busy and rely on general rules that work well for most students in most situations. These general guidelines may work most of the time; however, students with unique needs or viewpoints are too often seen as “problem students.” There is no such thing as a problem student. The problem arises from a school’s inability to address a student’s needs effectively. Often, this is because the school does not know how to deal with the issue effectively. Occasionally, schools trivialize the significance of a student’s concerns.
At the Law Office of Jason Wright, our Austin school law attorneys work closely with students and their families to ensure that their rights are protected and that they obtain the education they are entitled to. We handle all types of school law matters pertaining to education, disciplinary action, discrimination and more.
Austin Special Education Laws
One of the largest areas of school law involves a school’s duty to provide a “free and appropriate education” for students who live with a disability that impacts their learning style or abilities. The IDEA was first passed in 1975 and later amended in 2004. It recognizes that not all students have the same learning capabilities and require schools to cater to students whose disabilities make the general curriculum a poor fit.
When IDEA speaks of disability, it refers to a broad range of conditions that impact students’ ability to learn. While severe disabilities are undoubtedly included within the definition, so are more common and less serious disabilities. The IDEA covers 13 categories of disabilities, including:
• Specific learning disabilities
• Autism spectrum disorder
• Emotional disturbance
• Speech or language impairment
• Visual impairment
• Hearing impairment
• Orthopedic impairment
• Intellectual disability
• Traumatic brain injury
• Other health impairments
• Multiple disabilities
The IDEA acknowledges that the general curriculum may not be appropriate for students experiencing these conditions. So, schools must create a process to identify a child’s needs and implement alternative educational methods to serve the student better.
Schools must respond to parents who raise concerns about a student’s education. Also, schools must implement procedures to affirmatively identify the students who need special education services and refer those students when necessary.
What Is an Individualized Education Program?
An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a document that outlines the educational and support needs of a student. An IEP sets forth what a school needs to do to provide students with the education they are legally entitled to.
While most parents have probably heard the term IEP before, the IEP process is frequently misunderstood. For example, parents may be hesitant to “label” their child as someone who has a disability for fear of what that may mean for their future. However, if a student is facing learning challenges at school, an IEP is often the solution. Further, because schools are prohibited from discriminating against students, there is little risk that obtaining an IEP will negatively impact students’ future opportunities. According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2018-2019 school year, more than seven million students had an IEP. This represents 14 percent of the student body across the country.
The data shows that the most common disabilities for which students obtain IEPs are:
• 33 percent of all IEPs were for students with specific learning disabilities
• 19 percent of all IEPs were for students with speech and language impairments
• 15 percent of all IEPs were for students with other health impairments
Another critical aspect of IEPs is that schools must use the “least restrictive environment” when providing special education services. This means that schools must provide special needs students with as much time as possible in the general education environment.
The Austin education law attorneys at the Law Office of Jason Wright have extensive experience helping parents and students navigate the IEP process. The IDEA requires schools to implement formal procedures for obtaining an IEP, and when schools fail to live up to their obligations, students suffer. We can help. Our attorneys understand the complexities of the IDEA and how to guide families through the IEP process effectively.
Bullying and Harassment
Among the rights students have when they attend school is to be free from bullying and other types of harassment. Schools have an affirmative duty to prevent this bullying and harassment. However, schools often fail to promptly address students’ and parents’ concerns, leading to an increasingly difficult and dangerous educational environment.
Students who fear their safety are less likely to enjoy going to school and may negatively associate the education process. This often has a detrimental impact on their future.
Bullying and harassment are not a normal part of the education process. Students do not need to suffer at the hands of their fellow students, and schools are responsible for stopping the behavior before it escalates. If your child has expressed concern or frustration with harassment or bullying, and school administrators have failed to take the situation seriously, you may need the assistance of an Austin school law attorney.
Other School Law Issues
At the Law Office of Jason Wright, our Austin school law attorneys handle all types of issues that arise between students and other students, students and teachers, and students and administrators. Whatever problems your child is facing at school, we can help. A few of the other issues we regularly handle include:
• School disciplinary procedures
• Discrimination at school
• School safety issues
• IEP enforcement
• Special education needs
• Students’ freedom of speech and expression
• Students’ right to privacy
Regardless of the difficulties your child is facing at school, our Austin school law lawyers can help. We value every client that comes through our doors and promise to take the time to listen to your concerns and offer thoughtful guidance on how best to overcome them.
If your child is struggling at school, you have options. Whether your child is dealing with bullying or harassment or is not thriving academically because the curriculum does not fit their unique needs, the Law Office of Jason Wright can help. When you call us to schedule a consultation, we will take as much time as necessary to understand what your child is dealing with and work with you to develop an effective solution. We will communicate with the school on your behalf, providing you with peace of mind that your child’s future is in good hands. We also offer a comprehensive set of services related to family law. To learn more, give us a call at 512-884-1221. You can also reach us through our online form, and one of our attorneys will contact you shortly.