Education law is a field that covers all legal matters related to education. Its scope includes the rights of students, teachers, and schools. The field involves public education systems and private schools across the country, from kindergarten through high school and beyond.
Historically, advocates have worked toward expanding access to high-quality education for all children. They have pushed to provide greater access to higher education. However, this practice area has expanded to include several different issues.
Terms to Know
Understanding the following terms and phrases is a crucial first step to exploring the world of education law.
- Advocacy: The act or process of supporting a cause or proposal
- Civil rights: The rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality
- Department of Education: The U.S. Department of Education is a governmental body that sets federal education policy and guidelines
- Due process: Fair treatment through the normal judicial system, especially a citizen's entitlement
- Family law: An area of law that deals with family matters and domestic relations
- Freedom of religion: A right guaranteed under the First Amendment that allows people to practice their religion or exercise their beliefs without government intervention
- Education attorney: A lawyer who specializes in education law
- School board: A state or local board organized for the government and management of schools in a state or municipality
- School district: A public and quasi-municipal corporation organized by legislative authority
- Title IX: A federal law, passed as part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, that prohibits sex-based discrimination
Special Education and Students with Disabilities
Special education law is a significant part of education law. It focuses on ensuring the rights of students with special needs are protected. It also helps ensure such students receive appropriate educational services. A special education attorney often works cases on behalf of students and their families to advocate for their rights.
Students with disabilities have the right to be tested to determine which accommodations they may need. Specifically, the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees access to an education that prepares them for employment and independent living. IDEA also involves the parents in the child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team. It gives parents ways to air grievances and offer suggestions.
Families with questions or concerns about this specialized area of the law may want to consult with a special education lawyer for legal aid.
Student discipline is another critical area of education law. It focuses on how schools can punish students for breaking rules. It also aims to protect students' due process rights in disciplinary proceedings. For example, a school cannot simply expel a student without first giving them a chance to tell their side of the story.
Teachers and school administrators need to be able to discipline students to maintain order in the classroom and on campus. Besides after-school detention, the main types of discipline are suspension and expulsion. These are quite serious and can have a lasting impact on a child's education and future prospects. Parents who feel their child has been unfairly disciplined may consider suing the district.
Bullying and Harassment
Education law also covers issues like bullying and harassment in schools. Students have the right to a safe learning environment. Bullying and sexual harassment in public schools, unfortunately, are nothing new. But to make matters worse, mobile phones and social media sites have proved to be powerful weapons for school bullies.
While virtually all schools prohibit bullying and harassment, some states have passed laws protecting students.
Schools must take steps to prevent bullying and harassment and deal with any incidents that occur. The process might involve an education law attorney and the general counsel for the school. Schools may be liable for damages caused by the bullying or harassment of other students and teachers.
Student Records and Privacy
Another essential aspect of education law is the privacy of student records. Schools have a legal obligation to protect the confidentiality of their pupils' records. Education privacy laws aim to ensure that personal information doesn't fall into the wrong hands. State laws about records privacy can help to maintain trust among students, parents, and schools.
Education law plays a vital role in education reform. Laws can serve to change how schools operate and to improve the quality of education services that students receive.
One important law is Title IX, a 1972 amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money. Title IX covers most colleges and universities. Any college or university that receives federal funds is required to have a Title IX coordinator to assist with any issues that occur on campus.
Education attorneys, often with years of experience, work with school governance bodies and nonprofit organizations to help bring about these changes.
Related Practice Areas
Many areas of law intersect with education law. For instance, civil rights issues can come up in education law cases. When a student's right to free speech is being violated, for example, it may be a violation of civil rights.
Attorneys specialize in different areas of law within the legal profession. If you have an issue that involves a different area of law, you should find a legal professional with expertise in that field.
Getting Legal Help
You might need legal help in an area related to education law amid a dispute over a student's special needs. Perhaps you have concerns about disciplinary action taken against you or your child. You may be interested in a larger education reform effort. Regardless, getting the right legal advice is crucial.
An education law attorney can offer legal expertise. They can provide the necessary legal services to resolve the issue. Education attorneys may practice law in various settings. Some work at a law school or in a legal firm as a partner in a limited liability partnership (LLP). Some work in the legal department of an educational institution.
If you're facing any of these legal issues or have questions about your rights, find an education lawyer near you to get valuable insight into your case.