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August 23, 2017

Policies and Notices Required by Federal Law

Various federal laws require school districts to have policies and notices in furtherance of those laws. Now is a good time to ensure that your District is compliant. The following is a brief listing of just some of the policies school districts should have and their notice requirements:

Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA)
ESSA is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and will take effect at the start of the 2017-2018 school year. ESSA requires state education agencies, school districts, and individual schools to provide numerous notices to parents, the public, and others. Some of the notices required by ESSA include: annual report cards; parental involvement policies; state education agency complaint procedures; teacher and paraprofessional qualifications; student achievement information; a disclosure that the district routinely releases the names, addresses, and phone numbers of secondary students to military recruiters unless parents opt out; and information about the status of English Language Learners.

Anti-discrimination laws
The various federal anti-discrimination laws generally require that notice be given to students, parents, and the public that the District does not discriminate on the basis of age (the Age Discrimination Act); disability (Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act); race, color, ethnicity, and national origin (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964); and sex (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972). Each of these laws generally require the notice to identify and provide the contact information of the employee(s) designated as coordinating compliance, and in some cases, investigations under the act. These laws also generally require that districts adopt and publish grievance procedures. This information should be available on the District’s website, in student handbooks, and other communications to students and parents.

Labor Laws
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) require that notice be given to employees explaining each law’s provisions and employees’ rights and responsibilities. The Department of Labor provides posters regarding the above notices, which can be found at https://www.dol.gov/general/topics/posters. The relevant notices should be posted where employees can readily see them.

School Nutrition
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires districts to adopt local school wellness policies and inform and update parents, students, and the public about the content and implementation of those policies. Additionally, districts must have procedures that enable parents to request modifications to meal services for their children with disabilities. The National School Lunch Act requires that notice be given to parents and the public about free and reduced-price meals and/or free milk near the beginning of the school year. Parents must also be provided with an application form.

Special Education Update – Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

In March 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its highly anticipated ruling in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The court held that Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) must give children with disabilities more than a de minimus, or minimal, educational benefit.

In a unanimous decision written by Chief Justice Roberts, the court rejected the school district’s de minimus standard but also rejected the “equal opportunity” standard for which the parents advocated. Acknowledging that IEPs are developed based on each child’s unique needs and circumstances, Roberts crafted a more flexible standard – that IEPs “must be reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

Importantly, the opinion emphasized that the IDEA requires IEPs to be developed with expertise from schools and input from parents, and schools must give “cogent and responsive explanation[s]” for their decisions.

The Endrew F. decision is likely not a game-changer regarding the standard for FAPE for school districts. However, in South Carolina, since our Districts followed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ “some” benefit analysis, the decision will likely have a greater impact in that it confirms that South Carolina districts will need to apply a “meaningful” benefit standard in judging the effectiveness of IEPs.

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