Pullman & Comley’s School Law practice works with public school districts to find practical, innovative and cost effective solutions to the array of legal issues they face. Our attorneys have won groundbreaking cases in both state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, and have established legal precedents that are repeatedly cited by courts and scholarly works on education law. We represent the interests of local and regional school districts in the areas of education, labor and employment law, board governance, special education, vendor relations and student issues. We also work directly with general counsel, senior management, and boards of directors and trustees to provide legal advice and representation in the areas of the law that affect educational institutions.
We have extensive experience in school board governance and provide legal counsel to boards of education as they negotiate contracts, review and revise policies and procedures, develop budgets, respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, draft model policies on federal and state mandates and address other challenges. To assist school boards in remaining focused in serving the school district, our attorneys advise boards of education on board members’ rights and responsibilities and work with school boards when there are conflicts among board members. When necessary, our attorneys have defended client interests in both federal and state courts, as well as in proceedings before numerous administrative agencies including the Freedom of Information Commission, the State Elections Enforcements Commission, and the Commissioner of Human Rights and Opportunities.
Our attorneys continuously represent school boards in special education hearings and advise clients on issues arising under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and matters relating to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. We assist school district administrators in carrying out the terms of negotiated labor contracts and advise school boards regarding changes in insurance providers or plan provisions, revisions to job descriptions, organizational changes and sub-contracting of bargaining unit work. When labor disputes advance to formal complaints or grievances, we defend school boards before the State Board of Labor Relations, the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, the American Arbitration Association and other similar administrative agencies, as well as handling cases in state and federal courts.
Our School Law team includes attorneys from practice areas including business organizations, government finance, property valuation, employee benefits, technology and intellectual property, energy, real estate, environmental and land use, nonprofit organizations, labor and employment, litigation, and cybersecurity, privacy and infrastructure protection. Our team has represented educational institutions on matters ranging from retirement and compensation plans, endowment issues and management of institutional funds, to real estate, financing of capital projects and energy procurement. Additionally, our attorneys provide legal counsel in the areas of contract negotiations and drafting, statutory and regulatory compliance including Title IX, municipal taxation and exemption issues, student affairs and athletics, litigation and alternate dispute resolution, and Constitutional law issues.
Members of the School Law practice publish "Education Law Notes," a blog alerting readers to, and providing insights on, new developments in education law. "Education Law Notes" covers legal matters that pertain to public school districts, as well as private schools, colleges and universities ranging from issues in academics, labor and employment and gender equality to disability rights, social media, bullying and administrative policies and procedures. Visit schoollaw.pullcomblog.com.
News & Insights
- Mark Sommaruga Speaks with Multiple News Outlets Regarding School Policies and COVID-19 VaccinationsWNPR, FOX 61, WTNH News 8, and CT Post, December 19 - December 29, 2020
- Forbes, 12.31.2020
- CT Mirror, 09.04.2020
- CT Examiner, 03.19.2020
- Mark J. Sommaruga Interviewed Regarding "Understanding Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act, Fifth Edition"Connecticut Law Journal, 04.01.2019
- Zoom Webinar, 11.19.2020
- Zoom Video, 09.23.2020
- Leave in COVID-19 Times: How to Properly Respond09.2020
- GoTo Meeting Webinar, 08.20.2020
- GoTo Meeting Webinar, 08.17.2020
- Zoom Webinar, 07.29.2020
- GoTo Meeting Webinar, 07.10.2020
- Zoom Webinar, 06.25.2020
- Zoom Webinar, 06.10.2020
- GoToMeeting Webinar, 06.04.2020
- GoTo Meeting Webinar, 05.12.2020
- demio Webinar, 04.15.2020
- Recent Changes to CDC Guidance May Allow Employers to Safely Return Employees Exposed to COVID-19 to Work in Fewer Than 14 Days12.14.2020
- The Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, 12.04.2020
- Governor Lamont Declares Continuing State of Emergency, Extends Executive Emergency Powers Through February 9, 202109.04.2020
- Governor Lamont’s Executive Order No. 7I Offers Local Budget and Deadline Clarification Amidst COVID-1903.23.2020
- Developments from the 2019 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly: New Laws Affecting the Schools (and Public Employers)08.05.2019
Pullman & Comley assisted the Southport School and its board with navigating the legal requirements for an historic name change, which included a restatement of its certificate of incorporation.
A Pullman & Comley's School Law attorney's case in a recent Connecticut Superior Court
decision was among the first in the country to interpret and apply the Supreme Court’s new standard under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.
The firm's Education Law attorneys are well-versed on the emerging legal considerations pertaining to transgender students in schools, colleges and universities.
Education Law Notes Blog
Education Law Notes Blog
Attorneys from Pullman & Comley's School Law practice publish "Education Law Notes," which alerts readers to, and provides insights on, new developments in education law. "Education Law Notes" covers legal matters that pertain to public school districts, private schools, colleges and universities ranging from issues in academics, labor and employment and gender equality to disability rights, social media, bullying and administrative policies and procedures. For your reference our most recent Education Law Notes posts are highlighted below.
We have been closely monitoring the legal implications of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic for educators, and have been responding to a broad range of client questions. For a complete list of all of our firm's advisories related to COVID-19, please visit our FOCUS-Responding to COVID-19 page.
March is Maple Month! – February 23, 2021
A Connecticut board of education frequently manages the most acreage and employs the most people of any business in the community. While this column usually focuses upon legal issues concerning the education of students, and the employment of people who deliver those educational services, there are myriad reasons boards of education consult with their attorney. This article is about acreage, and a possible use of a natural resource. The State of Connecticut has excellent VoAg institutions that concern themselves with farming and land use. But this doesn’t mean that school districts are excluded from that domain.
Executive Order 10 Requires Public Schools to Continue Paid Leave Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act – February 5, 2021
Governor Lamont has issued a new Executive Order that requires local and regional boards of education to continue providing eligible employees with certain paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. (“FFCRA”). Executive Order 10, Section 6, was issued yesterday (February 4, 2021) and is entitled “Paid Leave Requirements for Staff of Local and Regional Boards of Education.”
Does President Biden’s Executive Order on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Discrimination Overrule OCR’s Recent Guidance? – February 1, 2021
As discussed in a prior post, OCR under the former President went to great lengths to interpret Bostock v. Clayton (which established that discrimination against someone for being transgender or homosexual was sex discrimination under Title VII’s prohibition against workplace sex discrimination) as actually requiring school districts to discriminate against transgender students in schools under Title IX by prohibiting them from using personal spaces such as bathrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity and requiring them to play on sports teams of their birth sex.
OCR Doubles Down on Position that Title IX Equity Rules Do Not Protect Transgender Students – January 14, 2021
On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a memorandum containing its interpretation of Bostock v. Clayton and its lack of effect on OCR’s interpretation of Title IX. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Bostock, definitively ruled that Title VII, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in employment, protects employees who are discriminated against because they are transgender and/or homosexual.
EEOC Issues Guidance on Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates – December 18, 2020
Last week, we addressed the ability of the schools to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for staff and students. As discussed in that post, we were awaiting updated federal guidance that would specifically address the COVID-19 vaccine. On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued “technical assistance” guidance addressing several COVID-19 related issues, including an employer COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
COVID-19 Testing and (Eventually/Hopefully) Vaccines: What Can the Schools Require? – December 8, 2020
We are now entering the dark winter of the COVID-19 crisis; at the same time, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, Connecticut’s educational institutions (and employers in general) must consider how they can survive in a world with increasing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and death.
"Over the River and Through the Woods" in 2020? Travel During Thanksgiving, Quarantining, and Covid-19 Testing (and What Connecticut Schools Can Do) – November 6, 2020
This blog post covers how to properly address the possibility that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday mini-break could lead to COVID-19 incidents. Specifically, clients are concerned that employees (and students) will be celebrating the holiday by visiting relatives and in the process 1) travel to states that are on the Connecticut Travel Advisory listing as a COVID-19 “hotspot”, and/or 2) potentially be in close contact with persons who have COVID-19.
New York Federal District Court Holds That Title IX Regulations Apply Retroactively – November 2, 2020
Despite the US Department of Education’s direction that the new Title IX regulations on sexual harassment will not be enforced retroactively, at least one federal court has disagreed. This blog post discusses details of the Doe v. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute case.
What to Do and When to Do It: The Latest Guidance for Connecticut’s Schools on COVID-19 and Switching Away From (or to) In-Person Learning – October 30, 2020
To the shock of no one, the guidance concerning the use of in-person, “hybrid” and remote learning models in the Connecticut schools during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. This is not completely surprising. After all, the factors to be used by Connecticut schools in assessing the degree of in-person learning (and whether to go with a more “remote” model) cannot be static, but rather are subject to evolution in light of 1) the practical experiences of schools on the ground, and 2) the increase in knowledge about the nature of COVID-19 and its spread.
COVID-19 and Remote (and "Hybrid”)Meetings: The Latest in Light of Executive Order 9H – October 27, 2020
Shortly after declaring a State of Emergency with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in light of the desire to avoid large in-person gatherings, Governor Lamont issued Executive Order 7B, which provides that the in-person open meeting requirements of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) were suspended so as to permit a public agency to 1) meet without in-person public access to such meetings, and 2) hold such meetings remotely by conference call, videoconference or “other technology”, provided that certain conditions were met (e.g., the public having the ability to view or listen to each meeting “in real time, by telephone, video, or other technology”).
Dispelling Some Myths in Responding to Covid-19 Incidents: Close Contacts, Quarantines, and Tests (and Ignoring the Noise). – October 6, 2020
As an attorney representing Connecticut educational institutions and employers in general, I have received numerous calls from clients with respect to how to properly respond to COVID-19 incidents. In light of these lingering issues, and some frankly non-compliant behaviors from many of our political leaders, it may be worthwhile looking globally at these many issues, specifically in the context of responding to situations where one has been in close contact with persons with COVID-19.
OCR Makes Clear That COVID-19 Does Not Alter School Districts’ Obligations Under the New Title IX Regulations – October 6, 2020
The new Title IX regulations addressing sexual harassment in elementary and secondary schools went into effect August 14, 2020. These regulations prescribe the exact way that schools must now address sexual harassment of which their employees are aware and how they must conduct investigations into formal complaints of sexual harassment.
Even More on The Wearing Of Masks In Connecticut’s Schools: Updated Pre-School Guidance (and Lawsuits) – September 30, 2020
We have written repeatedly in these pages about the evolving guidance from Connecticut’s State Department of Education (SDE) with respect to the wearing of masks (and face coverings) in the schools. One issue that had been remaining was mask wearing by pre-school students. During the summer, the State issued guidance that appeared to excuse pre-school students from the mask wearing requirement.
COVID-19 and In-Person Gatherings: What Can Schools Do (and How Many Can We Fit in the Room)? – September 24, 2020
After declaring a State of Emergency with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor has issued a series of evolving Executive Orders (specifically, Executive Orders 7, 7D, 7N, 7TT, and 7ZZ) addressing restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings for “social and recreational” purposes.
Responses to COVID-19 Incidents in Connecticut's Schools: What is on the Table (and What Factors to Consider)?– September 9, 2020
Now that Connecticut’s schools are reopening, the million-dollar question is what happens when there is the (unfortunate) inevitable brush with COVID-19. Schools must balance the competing need to safeguard the health and safety of students and staff with providing robust learning opportunities. Schools do not want to cancel classes at the drop of a hat, but they also do not want to be responsible for illnesses (or worse).
When Will It Ever End? (Yes, Even More Newer Guidance on the Wearing of Masks in Connecticut's Schools.) – September 3, 2020
On August 31, 2020, the State Department of Education (SDE) issued via “Addendum 11” revised “Interim Guidance” on the wearing of masks in Connecticut’s schools.
(Even More) New Guidance on the Wearing of Masks in Connecticut Schools – September 2, 2020
The CT State Department of Education’s latest “Interim Guidance” is very restrictive in terms of the requirement to wear a mask and appears to limit the scope of the medical exemption in the schools.
No Longer Taken at Face Value: Executive Order 7NNN and the New Requirement for Medical Documentation from Non-Mask Wearers (and What it Means to Connecticut's Schools) – August 17, 2020
Back on April 17, 2020, Governor Lamont issued Executive Order 7BB generally requiring persons to wear “face-coverings” (e.g., masks) in public. The Order created an exemption to the obligation to use a mask or cloth face covering for, among others, anyone for whom doing so would “be contrary to his or her health or safety because of a medical condition.”
Reopening Connecticut's Schools (Objectively But With Flexibility): The Latest State Guidance – August 3, 2020
On the date (July 24, 2020) that public schools were supposed to file their reopening plans with the State Department of Education (“SDE”), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) updated its guidance concerning the reopening of schools.
Reopening Connecticut Schools: The Latest CDC Guidance (and What's Next) – July 27, 2020
Connecticut’s schools have the unenviable task of having to plan for the “reopening” of schools while dealing with ever-shifting (and apparently end-result driven) federal and state guidance.
The Deadline for Updating Your Title IX Policies is Fast Approaching: Will Your District be Ready? – July 27, 2020
Hidden within the concerns surrounding reopening schools during a pandemic is the requirement that the new Title IX regulations go into effect on August 14, 2020.
ICED OUT: Harvard and MIT Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration's New Dictates for International Students – July 9, 2020
In a July 6, 2020 directive that would seem to be completely untethered to public health, higher education, and economic considerations, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement [“ICE”] announced that it was rescinding its March 13, 2020 COVID-19 exemption for international students.
School Reopening and Labor and Employment Matters – July 6, 2020
On June 29, 2020, the State of Connecticut issued “Connecticut’s Learning Plan to Learn and Grow Together,” setting forth a myriad of requirements that school districts must complete in order to open in the fall.
Nothing But Net: Title IX and Employment Discrimination in Piscitelli v. University of Saint Joseph – June 24, 2020
A federal judge in Connecticut has entered judgment in favor of the University of St. Joseph in an employment-discrimination lawsuit that was brought pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 [“Title IX”].
Federal District Court Rules That Special Education Students Who Have Not Received a High School Diploma Continue to be Eligible to Receive Special Education Until Age 22 - June 22, 2020
The Federal District Court of Connecticut, in A.R. v. Connecticut State Board of Education, recently ruled that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) students in Connecticut have the right to special education through their twenty-second birthday or upon high school graduation – whichever comes first.
To Sign or Not to Sign – The New Dilemma for Title IX Coordinators - June 11, 2020
The new Title IX Regulations that go into effect on August 14, 2020 allow for a formal complaint investigation only when there is a formal complaint signed by the student, the student’s parent/guardian (at the elementary or secondary education level) or the Title IX coordinator.
Summer School in Connecticut in 2020: An Answer from the State? - June 5, 2020
The Governor’s office issued the final version of its “Rules for Operating Summer School During COVID-19.” For districts intending to have summer school, what can they expect?
What Happens on September 9, 2020 When the Executive Orders All Expire? - June 2, 2020
The Governor’s authority to issue Executive Orders comes from Connecticut General Statutes Section 28-9(b)(1). Unless any of the Executive Orders are “sooner revoked”, the state of emergency and the Orders expire on September 9, 2020.
No Winning: Connecticut’s Transgender Athlete Policy Deemed a Violation of Title IX - May 29, 2020
The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has determined that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference [CIAC] policy on transgender athletes violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Part III in a Series: Is Your District Prepared to Implement the New Title IX Regulations at the Start of the 2020-2021 School Year? The Formal Complaint Process - May 29, 2020
The new Title IX regulations proscribe very specific things that must occur whenever a formal complaint of sexual harassment is filed, whether against another student or a staff member. These provisions may, in some cases, require the hiring of new staff to fill the required roles, and most definitely will require significant training for staff assigned to the roles required by the Regulations including the Title IX Coordinator, investigator and decision makers.
Part II in a Series: Is Your District Prepared to Implement the New Title IX Regulations at the Start of the 2020-2021 School Year? Initial Response to Allegations of Sexual Harassment - May 27, 2020
The U.S. Department of Education has placed much emphasis lately on its concerns over sexual harassment occurring on college campuses and how colleges are investigating complaints and disciplining students accused of harassment and assault. A major focus in the Regulations is to ensure that alleged victims and perpetrators are treated equitably during any complaint process.
Virtually Summer: Extended-School-Year Services in the Age of Coronavirus – May 26, 2020
On May 20, 2020, the state of Connecticut Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education issued guidance regarding the provision of extended-school-year [ESY] services to special education students during the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledging that ESY services may not look the same as they have in prior years.
Part I in a Series: Is Your District Prepared to Implement the New Title IX Regulations at the Start of the 2020-2021 School Year? - May 21, 2020
The U.S. Department of Education issued the first revision to its Title IX regulations in 45 years and make sweeping changes in the way that elementary and secondary schools must investigate and address claims of sexual harassment.
The Latest: Executive Order 700 and the Rescheduling of Certain Local Elections and Appointments – May 18, 2020
EO 7OO provides a measure of protection to voters and poll workers by delaying certain in-person voting, which will ostensibly permit safer proceedings.
It’s the Same, Only Really, Really Different: Reopening Connecticut’s Colleges, Universities, and Boarding Schools – May 8, 2020
On May 6, 2020, Connecticut’s Higher Education Subcommittee — which is an arm of the task force that has been charged with recommending appropriate procedures for “reopening” Connecticut in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – issued guidelines for the resumption of college and university campus-based activities.
The Commissioner of Education has Modified the Non-Tenured Teacher Non-Renewal Process – April 14, 2020
On April 13, 2020, the Commissioner of Education issued “guidance pertaining to the flexibilities for local or regional boards of education related to non-renewal notifications and tenure impacted as a result of COVID-19.”
U.S. Department of Education Clarifies That Video Recording Virtual Lessons and Making Them Available to Students Does Not Violate FERPA and Provides Other Advice on FERPA Compliance in the Age of Virtual Learning – April 2, 2020
Executive Order 7R: Its Impact and Obligations on Connecticut School Districts – April 2, 2020
On April 1, 2020, Governor Lamont issued Executive Order 7R which directs districts to maintain individuals’ employment “to the greatest extent practicable” and to negotiate agreements with their providers that will look to cover certain actual costs incurred by their bus contractors and certain service providers.
Must School Districts Pay for Bus Transportation and All Employee Salaries While Schools Are Closed? What the “CARES Act” May Mean to Connecticut School Districts – March 29, 2020
A brief summary of what the CARES Act means for public schools, including a possible mandate to continue to pay all employees and contractors, even if they may not be providing services.
Dispelling the Myth: Yes Virginia, You Can Use Interactive Videoconferencing with Students as Part of Distance Learning – March 27, 2020
Despite the protestations of some teachers and their unions, there is nothing illegal about directly teaching students through videoconferencing. This neither violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) nor state law regarding data privacy.
Happy Talk! Connecticut’s Bureau of Special Education Issues Guidance for the COVID-19 Era – March 27, 2020
On March 24, 2020, the Bureau of Special Education issued guidance on the provision of special education during the COVID-19 pandemic and provided districts with some wiggle room as they try to fit a school-based IEP into the virtual confines of distance learning.
Teach On! Remote Group Instruction, Student Privacy, and FERPA in the Age of the Coronavirus – March 24, 2020
A particularly pressing concern has been determining how to handle student privacy rights in the course of providing remote instruction.
“How About Never!?” – COVID-19, School Closures, and Planning and Placement Team Meetings – March 19, 2020
There has been some confusion as to whether school districts are currently permitted to unilaterally decline parent requests to PPT meetings or to otherwise indefinitely postpone them.
Governor Lamont’s Executive Order Regarding the Municipal and Regional School District Budget Deadlines (and Waiver of Certain Educational Mandates) – March 18, 2020
With “Executive Order 7C,” Governor Lamont has ordered that notwithstanding any contrary statutes, charters or local ordinances, all municipal budget deadlines occurring on or before May 15, 2020 that pertain to the preparation of a municipal budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year are extended by 30 days.
OCR Issues Guidance on Nondiscrimination in the Age of Distance Learning – March 18, 2020
The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a fact sheet entitled “Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students,” addressing various types of discrimination that must be avoided while providing education to students in these uncertain times.
Complying with FERPA During COVID-19 – March 17, 2020
A school district’s obligations under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act are not relaxed during these difficult times where school districts are trying to cope with COVID-19. However, schools should understand the “health or safety emergency” exception to FERPA’s general consent requirements.
How to Implement Distance Learning and Still Comply with Existing State and Federal Laws - March 17, 2020
As a return to regular school seems less likely in the near future, schools need to devise creative ways to provide high quality education to their students. Yesterday, the Connecticut Commissioner of Education issued two letters aimed at making this easier for schools to accomplish.
Governor Lamont’s Executive Order and the FOIA’s “Open Meetings” Requirements – March 16, 2020
The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused practical concerns regarding how public agencies can comply with Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and its posting and open meeting requirements when large gatherings have been prohibited.
Special Education in the Age of the Coronavirus – March 16, 2020
Connecticut’s mandated closing of school districts up to March 31, 2020 in response to COVID-19 has left school districts struggling with how they can best continue to provide legally mandated specialized instruction and related services to special education students.
Addressing Your Labor Matters While Closing Your District Due to COVID-19 - March 16, 2020
Connecticut school districts have been directed to be closed until at least March 31, 2020. The CIAC has cancelled winter sports playoffs and schools have cancelled extracurricular activities. So, what happens next?
What If Your District Shuts Down and Cannot Meet the 180 School Day Minimum for Instruction? - March 13, 2020
Governor Lamont issued an Executive Order waiving the 180 days as long as certain conditions are met.
Guidance to Address COVID-19 - March 10, 2020
What school districts in Connecticut should know.
Superintendents' Legal Issues Forum
Superintendents' Legal Issues Forum
The Superintendents’ Legal Issues Forum is a professional group organized to address the specific needs of Connecticut superintendents. Now more than ever, this platform will provide members with an opportunity to meet with peers, engage in enriching discussions and develop a network of well-informed colleagues.
Under the guidance of our School Law attorneys, the Forum provides its members with the latest legal advice on topics relevant to superintendents, their school districts and their administrations. Meeting five times each year, the Forum offers members the opportunity to interact with fellow superintendents, discuss important issues, receive concrete legal advice and learn the impact of recent court decisions and new legislation.
For more details on the 2020-2021 Superintendents' Legal Issues Forum, please click here.