MASB’s Legal Department is Ready to Help

DashBoard, Sept. 13, 2017

Changes to the public education landscape are occurring at an extremely fast pace. Constant changes in federal law, state law, court precedent, regulations and so forth can be overwhelming. Moreover, even though an individual board member’s access to information has never been greater, the sheer volume of that information can make it nearly impossible to have an actual, real-world understanding of the various implications and impacts these changes might bring with them.

Running a school district today requires at least some familiarity with the Revised School Code, the Teacher Tenure Act, the State School Aid Act, the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, the Freedom of Information Act and many others, not to mention state and federal Department of Education rules, regulations, policies and guidelines. So where can you turn with a question?

As an MASB member, you have a Legal Team that is ready, willing and able to provide guidance on these issues. We can provide specific information on an individual basis at any time and we are no more than a phone call or an email away. Likewise, we encourage district superintendents to reach out; indeed most of the calls we receive are from district superintendents or their secretaries. These questions range from student and staff discipline issues to matters involving board governance, the role of the superintendent, community relations, free speech and countless others.

The Legal Department also offers many excellent publications that can help guide district leadership concerning Open Meetings Act matters, recall situations, FOIA requests and more. We also offer Board Member Certification (CBA) classes that center around legal topics, as well as conferences and workshops that serve to keep members up-to-date on general legal issues that are important to all board of education members.

MASB encourages its members to always consider contacting its Legal Services Department with legal questions that relate to serving on a board of education. For example, a school board member who is considering applying for a position in the school district where he or she serves on the board of education could call MASB and ask: “Does being a board member prohibit me from working in the district?” MASB’s response would include an answer with information about Michigan’s Incompatible Public Offices Act and how it prohibits board of education members from being employed by their school districts.

Please understand, however, that MASB’s responses can never take the form of “legal opinions” or “legal advice.” As licensed attorneys, the Code of Professional Responsibility for Michigan attorneys prevents the MASB’s attorneys from assisting nonlawyers, such as board members or superintendents, in practicing law without a license. For example, MASB could respond over the phone that, yes, there is a Tenure Commission decision that contains specific standards for terminating a tenured teacher. However, we could not advise the caller about whether it would be a good idea for the district to terminate a particular teacher for specific conduct, or, whether the district would likely prevail if it initiated teacher termination proceedings based upon a specific incident. Answering such questions would cross the line from giving legal information to providing legal advice. Questions that require legal advice rather than information must be reserved for your district’s retained legal counsel.

So, if you have a legal question, do not hesitate to call MASB’s Legal Department. At a minimum, we can explain the law that applies to a given situation and enhance your understanding of the issues. Any one of our three on-staff attorneys would be happy to assist you.

Brad Banasik
Joel Gerring
 Kacie Kefgen

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