News & Resources

REMINDER: Public School Substance Abuse Prevention Policies Due October 28

As noted in our March 2016 Client Alert, as part of Massachusetts’ Omnibus Substance Abuse Legislation, there were several action items for schools. One of those action items was the requirement that all public schools must file their policies regarding substance use and prevention and educating students about the dangers of substance abuse with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”). According to Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s September 16, 2016 Weekly Update, by October 28, 2016 all public schools (including charter schools and vocational-technical schools) must accomplish the following:

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Changes to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), which amended the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (“McKinney-Vento”).  The amended McKinney-Vento goes into effect on July 1, 2016, with a few exceptions.

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Transgender Students' Rights

On May 13, 2016, the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued a Dear Colleague Letter reinforcing their prior interpretation that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”) and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.  OCR and the DOJ informed school districts that as a condition of receiving Federal funds, a school district must adhere to the Dear Colleague Letter.

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Ensuring The Accessibility of School District Websites

The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) is receiving hundreds of complaints across the country about the accessibility of public schools’ websites for individuals with disabilities.  It is, accordingly, investigating school districts’ compliance with applicable Federal laws as they relate to school websites and applicable policies.  The Boston OCR office, which has jurisdiction over Massachusetts school districts, has previously investigated and found compliance concerns with the website of a Massachusetts school district.  The Federal District Court in Massachusetts has refused to dismiss a complaint against Harvard University that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by not having an accessible website.   

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DESE Makes Use of Electronic Restraint Reporting Form Optional

In November, 2015, this office issued an Education Client Alert concerning a new, electronic Restraint Reporting Form posted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”). On January 5, 2016, the Department updated it guidance and determined that public education program’s use of the Restraint Reporting Form will be optional. However, public education programs will still be required to annually submit all of the information reflected in the Restraint Reporting Form spreadsheet.

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DESE Mandates Method of Reporting and Submitting Physical Restraint Data

On January 1, 2016, the revised regulations on physical restraint in public education programs, 603 CMR 46.00, will become effective.  On November 19, 2015, In anticipation of new requirements under these regulations, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) posted a new, electronic Restraint Reporting Form designed to log individual instances of restraint and track program restraint data on a linked spreadsheet.

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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Vacates Judgment Finding That Settlement Agreements Placing Students In Private Special Education Placements Are Public RecordsNew Education Alerts Page

In a decision in favor of the Weston Public Schools, the Supreme Judicial Court found that settlement agreements between a public school and parents of students who require special education services are exempt from the definition of public records under both the statutory and privacy exemptions to the public records law. This decision vacates a prior decision from the Superior Court.

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DESE Publishes Guidance to Changes in Physical Restraint and Time-Out

On approximately July 31, 2015, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) published additional guidance on the implementation of physical restraint and time-out under the revised regulations at 603 CMR 46.00 et seq. Although the revised regulations are not effective until January 1, 2016, DESE has indicated that schools are strongly encouraged to begin working towards implementation in the fall of the 2015-2016 school year.

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What's Happening @ MHTL?

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St. Mary's Center for Women and Children Diamonds of Dorchester

On October 20, 2016, Attorney Katherine Hesse introduced Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker at the annual St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children Diamonds of Dorchester event which was held at the Westin Copley Place.  Ms. Hesse currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Trustees for the St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children which focuses on offering innovative and family-centered programs for women and children who have experienced trauma and are living in poverty.  As Governor Baker noted, the St. Mary’s Center has been known for “healing” for well over 100 years.   According to Attorney Hesse, “of the many charities in which I have been involved over the last 40 years of my professional career, St. Mary’s is closest to my heart.”  Other highlights of the evening included Lorrie Higgins receiving the John M. Corcoran Award for Excellence based upon her advocacy of and commitment in helping those most vulnerable in our community.  Over six hundred individuals attended the event, which raised approximately $500,000 for the women and children who rely upon the center.  

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Legal Updates

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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Issues Landmark Ruling on Medical Marijuana in the Workplace

In a much anticipated ruling,the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) issued a decision recognizing a potential claim for disability discrimination if an employer terminates or otherwise takes an adverse employment action against an employee who uses lawfully prescribed medicinal marijuana while off-duty.   In short, this decision prohibits blanket restrictions on the off-duty use of marijuana and requires employers to engage in an interactive process to determine whether the off-duty use of lawfully prescribed medical marijuana may be a reasonable accommodation under Massachusetts anti-discrimination law, M.G.L. c. 151B.

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