Legal Issues

MASB’s Legal Counsel periodically provides summaries of key legal cases affecting school districts. Click on the links below to read summaries and full articles of current relevant legal issues.

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Be Aware of These Board Appointment and Election Nuances

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 (481 reads)

As the filing deadline for board candidacy approaches (July 26, 2016) members should be aware of a few particular details within the election/appointment process. To Begin, as of July 19, 2016, any board appointment that might occur as the result of a vacancy (other than for a term that was normally set to expire this year) will be an appointment through November 2018.

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Contract Expiration: What it Could Mean for Your District

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 (302 reads)

We are now about five weeks away from June 30, a common expiration date for teacher contracts across the state. Here are some things that happen if the calendar turns over to July before the board and the union agree on a new contract:

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Bad Board Members: Obstructionists, Antagonists and the Just Plain Rude

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 (831 reads)

If you serve on a school board long enough chances are, at some point, you’re going to have to deal with a fellow board member whose attitude and temperament go beyond merely “disagreeable” and into the realm of “antagonistic.” Increasingly, MASB has been fielding calls from exasperated members, inquiring as to “what can be done” about discourteous, obstructionist and sometimes just plain hostile board members. The answer? Not much, but also, more than you might think.

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Time to Think About Elections

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 (284 reads)

Election season is closer than you think and it’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming campaign season. Whether you are an individual up for re-election or a board that may need to recruit candidates, everyone should have a basic understanding of the process and the timetable.

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SBE Draft Statement and Guidance on LGBTQ Matters: What You Should Know

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 (273 reads)

There has been a significant amount of confusion regarding the State Board of Education Draft Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Students. Let’s clear some of that up:

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Statutory Changes are Coming Fast and Furious—Are You Keeping Up?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 (250 reads)

If you’ve been keeping a close eye on your News From the Capitol briefings then you know that the Legislature is introducing, considering and passing a significant amount of education-related law every month. Moreover, many of these changes can be classified as anything but “minor.” In addition to right-to-work and the new prohibited subjects of bargaining, more recent legislative action has brought about significant changes to the teacher/administrator evaluation process, as well as very detailed reporting rules regarding districts headed toward financial distress.

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Do’s and Don’ts for Ballot Proposals

Wednesday, February 10, 2016 (249 reads)

As a result of the recent court order that enjoins the state from enforcing Public Act 269 Subsection 57(3), school districts may now inform community members of the facts surrounding an upcoming ballot proposal at any time prior to the election. The Michigan Campaign Finance Act still prohibits the use of public funds to advocate for or against ballot proposals, so school districts must still use care when disseminating information to ensure that it is factual and doesn’t attempt to influence the outcome of the proposal.

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Manage Organizational Meetings—Some Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 (311 reads)

In January, most school boards will conduct their annual organizational meeting. The general purpose of the meeting is to organize the board by electing officers and appointing committee members for the upcoming year, and to approve items that must be considered on an annual basis. Here are some common questions we get about organizational meetings:

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More on the Transgender Front

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 (240 reads)

In the Dec. 2 DashBoard, we wrote about the evolving situation concerning a transgender student in Illinois and how the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had determined that prohibiting that student (a biological male who identifies as female) from full access to the female locker room was a Title IX civil rights violation. Since that OCR finding, which occurred on Nov. 2, 2015, a settlement between the district (Palatine-Schaumburg) and OCR was reached

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Walking on a Tightrope in Snow Boots: Celebrating the Holiday Season Constitutionally

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 (236 reads)

How Christmas is celebrated, or not celebrated, seems to be seasonal fodder for cable news almost every year. That recurring, sometimes heated, national dialogue is often reflected in what happens in our local communities, particularly in schools. At the same time, students and teachers are excited about the upcoming holidays (and the concurrent break), and that excitement and anticipation flows into the school building. Administrators, then, sometimes feel like they are walking a tightrope trying to ensure that the holiday decorations, concerts, parties and other celebrations do not violate the First Amendment.

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Guidance as Transgender Issues Continue to Evolve Nationally

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 (216 reads)

Issues regarding civil rights, Title IX and transgender students continue to pick up steam, both in Michigan and around the country. On Nov. 2, 2015, an Illinois school district was found to be in violation of Title IX by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for prohibiting a transgender student access to the girls’ locker room.

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A Deer Season Debacle

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 (261 reads)

A Michigan high school senior, Hunter Hugh, spends much of the Thanksgiving break hunting with friends, Eagle-Eyed Ella and Forgetful Fred. On Sunday evening, when the group is ready to head home, they climb into Hugh’s truck, with Fred taking the backseat in the crew cab. Hugh drops Ella off first, then drives to Fred’s house where Fred unloads most his hunting equipment from Hugh’s truck bed and says goodbye. Unbeknownst to Hugh, Fred forgets to take his hunting knife with him from the backseat when unloading his hunting gear. Hugh drives home and unloads his hunting equipment from the truck bed before going to sleep.

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Legal Trust Fund Helps Alleviate Costs to Districts for Legal Services

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 (213 reads)

The MASB Legal Trust Fund was established in 1975 to assist Michigan school boards involved in litigation having statewide significance. The Legal Trust Fund grants assistance both in the way of financial support and amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs to help school districts at all levels of litigation, from the State Tenure Commission up to the Supreme Court. With help of the Legal Trust Fund, boards of education can pursue cases they might otherwise have to settle because of the high costs of litigation. More importantly, every school board benefits when definitive answers are provided by the courts on complex legal questions affecting education in our state.

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Is It Time for an OMA Refresher?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 (337 reads)

Nothing seems to confuse school boards or confound superintendents quite like the Open Meetings Act. Recently, MASB’s Legal department has been fielding more and more calls regarding OMA compliance, especially from community members who are often attempting to report what they believe to be an OMA violation by their local school board (community members often hold the mistaken belief that MASB is an enforcement agency).

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Policies Banning Firearms on School Property Upheld by Circuit Court

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 (227 reads)

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Board successfully defended its policies that prohibit individuals from possessing a firearm on school property. The policies, which were adopted earlier this year, were challenged by Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. (“Plaintiffs”), who sought a court order to prevent AAPS from enforcing the policies against individuals who possess a Concealed Pistol License and openly carry a firearm on school property. Essentially, the Plaintiffs claimed that the policies were unenforceable and infringed upon a lawful activity, because Michigan law does not make it a crime to openly carry a firearm on school property if an individual possesses a CPL.

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MASB Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Ann Arbor Public Schools Open Carry Matter

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 (221 reads)

Legal Counsel for the Michigan Association of School Boards has filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief in the pending litigation against Ann Arbor Public Schools regarding its decision to ban all firearms on school premises. The plaintiffs in the matter, Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. and Ulysses Wong, argue that Ann Arbor’s decision to institute such a policy is contrary to Michigan law, which they contend allows for the open carry of a firearm on school grounds by any individual who also holds a valid Concealed Pistol License.

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Website Requirements Schools Should Know

Thursday, September 10, 2015 (7703 reads)

Most, if not all, school districts in Michigan maintain websites to communicate with their parents, students and communities. Districts are free to post a variety of materials on their websites, but they are also required by state statute to post a great deal of information. A list of major requirements that districts should be aware of as they maintain their websites can be found below in order of most to least common.

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Be Aware of Changes to the Firearms Chapter of Michigan’s Penal Code

Wednesday, August 5, 2015 (209 reads)

The Michigan Penal Code was recently amended and these changes will have an impact on school weapons policies. In addition to adding a definition for the term “brandish,” which had not been previously defined in statute, the Legislature has also redefined the term “firearm,” as well as created a classification of weapons known as “pneumatic guns,” which are now considered “weapons” for purposes of the weapon-free school zone laws.

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Public Act 476 of 2014: New Requirements for Transparency Reporting

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 (255 reads)

Public Act 476 of 2014 amended Section 18(2) of the State School Aid Act to require school districts to make information regarding procuring supplies, materials and equipment, and reimbursement of expenses available to the public on their websites. The links to this new information must be posted within 15 days after a school board adopts its annual operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

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Know Your Role

Wednesday, June 3, 2015 (307 reads)

The MASB Legal Team is fielding more and more questions from board members concerning the issue of district complaints that are informally brought to their attention by parents, teachers or other community members. Perhaps a community member has approached them to discuss how the superintendent allegedly mishandled a discipline situation, or a teacher has initiated a conversation regarding what they believe to be misconduct by a principal.

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Response Timelines for the New FOIA

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 (218 reads)

Over the last few weeks, we have highlighted some changes to FOIA that will be coming in July thanks to Public Act 563 of 2014. This week, we will update and recap some of the timeline requirements school districts ought to keep in mind when responding to FOIA requests.

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New FOIA Procedures and Guidelines

Thursday, May 14, 2015 (225 reads)

In last week’s DashBoard, we highlighted the changes to FOIA fees that will be coming in July thanks to Public Act 563 of 2014. This week, we will describe another significant FOIA change—in order for a school district to be eligible to charge fees for public records, it must set new procedures and guidelines for FOIA compliance and communicate those procedures and guidelines in certain ways.

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Changes to Fees Under Michigan’s New FOIA Statute

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 (203 reads)

Last year, Michigan’s Legislature passed a set of updates to our state’s Freedom of Information Act (House Bill 4001). These updates become effective on July 1, 2015, and school districts will need to make some changes to their current practices in order to be in compliance with the new requirements.

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Can We Go Into Closed Session?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 (298 reads)

As we head into spring and more districts begin to look at employee evaluations, requests for bids and the like, the Legal Team here at MASB is fielding a number of questions regarding when it is proper to go into closed session to discuss certain matters.

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Lesson From Court of Appeals: Retain Those ‘Contemporaneously Signed Attendance Records’

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 (208 reads)

Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued its latest decision in the Galien Township School District’s pupil accounting case, ruling in favor of the Michigan Department of Education and upholding State Superintendent Michael Flanagan’s decision to reclaim about $750,000 in state aid payments from the district.

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Student Sexual Assault—Do Your Educators Know How to Respond?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 (218 reads)

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. With recent national headlines involving student sexual assault, awareness of the problem may not be the most valuable part of the designation. Instead, this month’s efforts may be a great opportunity to help caring adults get up to speed about what to do about sexual violence.

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Establishing a Transgender Policy

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (223 reads)

At present there are no federal laws with respect to discrimination protections for transgender students. Likewise, Michigan has no laws that specifically deal with this student classification. However, this past December, the Department of Education provided additional guidance with respect to single-sex classes including transgender students.

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National School Law Experts: Adopt Good Policies and Procedures, Follow Them Every Time

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 (239 reads)

That was the theme from the Council of School Attorneys Conference in Nashville last week in virtually every presentation and discussion. School attorneys from all across the country, including Joel [Gerring] and I, updated one another on a variety of hot legal topics that many local school districts are facing already or will likely face soon.

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New Kindergarten Start Dates for 2015-2016 School Year

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 (203 reads)

As districts begin their kindergarten round-up activities, they will have new kindergarten start date rules to keep in mind, including changes made by the legislature in December (MCL 380.1147).

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Significant FOIA Changes are Coming

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 (213 reads)

Recent changes to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act will go into effect on July 1 of this year. The MASB Legal Team recommends that districts start becoming familiar with these changes now, as some of them are quite significant:

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Policies Must Include Cyberbullying by October 2015

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 (205 reads)

Changes to the state’s school bullying statute will take effect April 1 requiring that schools’ policies and procedures include cyberbullying as a form of bullying. The revised statute gives districts until October 2015 to make the required changes to their policies.

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Preparing for 2015 ISD Elections

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 (224 reads)

Intermediate school district boards of education that hold elections under Section 614 of the Revised School Code were not affected by Public Act 233 of 2011, which moved popular school elections to even years in November. Section 614 elections for ISD school boards are still held biennially on the first Monday in June at a meeting of representatives from constituent boards of education. In 2015, the elections will be held on June 1.

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Highlights of the Michigan School EpiPen Law

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 (9471 reads)

Why did the Legislature Pass This Law?

Legislators were concerned that children could have a serious allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, while at school and may not have access to an EpiPen  to slow the reaction in time for medical treatment. A serious reaction could be caused by a variety of allergens, including exposure to certain foods, latex or bee stings. Symptoms of such a reaction can include itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, fainting and even death. Serious allergies can develop over time, so children and parents may not even be aware that they are prone to such a reaction.

The Legislature hopes that by ensuring there are EpiPens available at the school, adults and children who have severe allergic reactions will have rapid access to potentially life-saving EpiPens.

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Updated School Safety Requirements

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 (7090 reads)

On July 1, 2014, new school safety requirements took effect in Michigan (MCL 29.19). The revised requirements include a cardiac emergency response plan for each school, more safety drills and public reporting on the drills. 

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U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Successorship Doctrine in Transportation Privatization Case

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (6530 reads)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled in favor of the Michigan Education Association (MEA) in a case where it sought the right to bargain on behalf of its members who had been absorbed by a private sector employer after the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) outsourced its transportation services.

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A Closer Look at the Annual Organizational Meeting

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (7261 reads)

To help school officials prepare for their upcoming organizational meetings, the following questions and answers provide information and guidance on legal issues that are frequently presented to MASB and concern the annual organizational meeting.

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Board Vacancies

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (7682 reads)

What legal requirements must be followed when filling a board vacancy?

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Locker Room Surveillance Camera Violates Students' Constitutional Privacy Rights

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (7393 reads)

Court concludes that locker room videotaping resulted in an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

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School Districts Obligated to Enroll Charter School Students After Pupil Count

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (6365 reads)

In Opinion' No. 7154, the Attorney General concludes that a public school district is obligated under the Revised School Code to enroll a student who elects to leave a public school academy after the fall pupil membership count date.

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Court Upholds Enrollment Requirement for Athletic Eligibility

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (7564 reads)

Michigan statutes do not require public schools to admit home schooled students to their athletic programs.

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Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 (6995 reads)

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools must certify by March 15 that they have no policies that would prevent or deny participation in constitutionally protected prayer.

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