Civil Rights of Students

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remedying official abuse and misconduct.

Lawyers that fight school cases on behalf of Connecticut students will advise families that teachers and administrators can be as liable for official misconduct as any other representative of the state.

Students at Connecticut's public schools, private schools, colleges and universities are citizens with civil rights protected by our state and national constitutions. Of course, officials have authority to maintain order in schools and colleges, but that does not mean they can violate constitutional guarantees. You may need a lawyer for students' rights to protect your child.

Due process

Officials at schools and colleges must publish in the handbook the procedures they will follow. Students have a right to rely on fair application of those procedures. When officials fail to follow procedure in imposing discipline, investigating sexual harassment or administering academic programs, they violate students’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

               Due Process in Discipline at Schools and Colleges

Lawyers for Connecticut students will advise them and their families that administrators must provide a fair hearing in accordance with published procedures. That provision includes the opportunity to confront witnesses and present favorable evidence. In public schools it also includes the right to private counsel. In college and university hearings it includes the right to have an advisor that can confer with the student but not speak for them.   

Private schools, colleges and universities can depart from due process in discipline in three ways. First, apart from its overall obligation to provide a reasonable educational program, the institution makes a specific contractual promise to conduct the disciplinary process as stated in its handbook. Second, the administration cannot substantially depart from academic norms. School officials have the right to exercise their professional judgment, but they do not have license to act arbitrarily or capriciously in their procedural mechanisms. Third, every contract carries an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. An administration cannot use bad faith in conducting disciplinary proceedings without injuring the right of the other party to receive the benefits of the agreement.

               Due Process in Defense of Accusations of Sexual Harassment

Title IX prohibits any public school, college or university from discriminating on the basis of sex. It protects students --- male and female --- from all forms of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and gender discrimination. A school’s grievance procedures must include adequate, reliable, and impartial investigation of complaints, including the opportunity for both the complainant and alleged perpetrator to present witnesses and evidence. 

This process must be fair and equitable. That means, for example, that the school must corroborate the complainant’s accusations. It means the school must show the touching was unwelcome. Most importantly, it means the school must prove harassment by a preponderance of the evidence.

At the same time, if a school fails to investigate accusations, or deliberately remains indifferent to them, the victim has the right under Title IX to hold the school accountable.

Equal Protection

An education lawyer can advise you that the Fourteenth Amendment also protects a student from being singled out. The Equal Protection clause requires teachers and administrators to treat all similar students in the same way. They cannot treat one person worse than every other person in the same situation.  

Discrimination

The United States Constitution forbids discrimination by public officials. Public schools and colleges in Connecticut receive federal funding, so they count as "public officials" subject to federal laws against discrimination. They cannot treat students differently simply on the basis of their disability, race, sex, ethnicity or national origin.

               Discrimination That Violates Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act

The discrimination that most often happens to Connecticut students is discrimination on the basis of disability.  When officials do not give students in schools and colleges the accommodations to which they are entitled, they violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the two laws prohibit similar behavior and provide the same remedies).

Lawyers for school cases know that 504 plans frustrate students in the way they are carried out. To receive a plan a students must have medical proof of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (attending classes counts as such an activity). But even with such a plan in place, officials often fail to follow it. For example, a student whose disability prevents him from getting to school early enough may have in his plan the accommodation, as long as he does the work, to arrive to class late. Such an adjustment normally provokes resistance from teachers and instructors. Consequently they wrongly mark the student absent and threaten to withhold credit. In situations like this education lawyer Gregory Smith has often had to advise the student or his family to be prepared to fight administrators to have the accommodation enforced as written.    

Accommodations must give a disabled child the chance to get an education just as good as any other student’s. When they don’t, education lawyers like Gregory Smith advise clients they have the right to sue in state or federal court. They also have the right to sue when officials discriminate, or allow others to discriminate, against a student simply for their disability. Mr. Smith has represented families in claims against their child’s district for violence or ridicule directed against the disability.  

If you believe your child’s school or your college violated their constitutional rights, call Connecticut students' rights lawyer Gregory Smith right away for an experienced civil rights attorney’s assessment of your case.