Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Records Rights In California Community Colleges

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Do you or a family member attend one of the many California community colleges?  Have you ever wondered what data the college is gathering on you? Or, have you had "issues" and want to see what is in your records?  Or,maybe you just wish to see what your records state prior to applying to transfer? You are in luck, as thanks to our legislature, obtaining your records from California community colleges is fast, relatively speaking.


Federal law (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, aka FERPA) provides students the right to review their records within 45 days of a request.  This applies to many colleges, but in California, state law extends students' records rights beyond federal law.  California Education Code §76230 provides students the right to inspect and review their records within 15 working days of a request. This is roughly a 24-27 day difference (or more depending on the college's "working days") and means records review 3-4 weeks faster!  Copies of records may also be requested, but a college may charge per page copying fees.


In my work, 15 working days seems like forever, but a 45 day wait is an eternity, particularly when a student is about to be terminated from a program or has teacher issues.  Heck, some classes could be completed fully in 45 days (in various programs and/or if accelerated), so this law is very helpful.


Here is the exact language of the section:


76230.  Any currently enrolled or former student has a right to access to any and all student records relating to him maintained by community colleges. The editing or withholding of any such records,except as provided for in this chapter, is prohibited.
   Each community college district shall adopt procedures for the granting of requests by students to inspect and review records during regular school hours, provided that access shall be granted no later than 15 working days following the date of the request. Procedures shall include notification of the location of all official student records if not centrally located and the providing of qualified personnel to interpret records where appropriate.

So, if and when you need your records, use the above section to ensure your community college provides records timely.  Not all staff members of every community college are familiar with every law, so it never hurts to remind them of the legal time limit; politely, of course.

Best,

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Email: help@edlaw4students.com
[please like my office on Facebook, subscribe via twitter and email, and check out my videos on Youtube!]

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Do You Want To Be In Our Group? Eat This: Hazing And School Discipline

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

Do you remember entering high school and the wild rumors that preceded it? Of groups of high schoolers who would submit all freshman to hazing: humiliating them and torturing them if they were caught alone?  I do.  I was in fear probably through the last half of my eighth grade year, and of course the first week in high school.  Luckily, the rumored "hazing" never happened, but what if it did? Would I have told?  Not likely.  What if I joined some team and was put through strange rituals involving eating disgusting items, having clothing items removed, sitting for long periods tied to a chair or locked in a closet.  What then?  Nothing unless the school found out and then all hell would break loose.

Education Code §48900(q) provides California schools with the authority to suspend or expel students who haze other students.  If a student "engaged in, or attempted to engage in, hazing," discipline may proceed.  

"Hazing" is defined as:

[A] method of initiation or preinitation into a pupil organization or body, whether or not the organization or body is officially recognized by an educational institution, which is likely to cause serious bodily injury or personal degradation or disgrace resulting in physical or mental harm to a former, current, or prospective pupil.

Specifically excluded as hazing, is a student having to participate in "athletic events or school- sanctioned events."  

What is interesting in the definition is hazing can occur in a school or non-school group, meaning there are a broad range of activities covered.  For example, a clique of students who requires members of their group to do degrading things to "prove themselves" and join the group would fall into the hazing category. 

Who hasn't heard of this going on?  Didn't we all grow up daring kids to do things and testing their bravery?  They could be considered hazed.

The problem with hazing offenses, however, is the secrecy of them and the lack of reporting until things get way out of hand.  Initiation rituals for a football team or other school group do occur, but who tells?  Not many kids.  In fact, students are likely scared to death to tell as they may be ostracized for life (high school = life).  When your whole existence is high school, you think your parents know nothing (yes this occurs in high school), and you think you know it all, why tell? It may bring trouble on you and the "popular" kids.  Your life will be over.  Instead, kids sit and take it; take the abuse, taunts, and cruel treatment to "belong." 

Sometimes hazing makes headlines, when a student kills themselves after humiliation, or after a kid is injured and sent to the hospital as a result of hazing. Sometimes this type of conduct gets recategorized from hazing to bullying, sexual battery or assault.  I have seen inappropriate locker room activities end in expulsion, not under "hazing," but rather as sexual offenses.    

Parents need to be aware this occurs and know not only that their kid can be disciplined, suspended or even expelled for "making another boy eat dirt," or "insisting that Joey drink 15 cans of beer," but that hazing could be occurring to their child right under their noses.  It is critical that parents stay alert to this so their child does not end up in the hospital or expelled, as a result of a hazing prank gone bad.

Best, 

Michelle Ball
Education Law Attorney

LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Email: help@edlaw4students.com

Website: http://www.edlaw4students.com/
[please like my office on Facebook, subscribe via twitter and email, and check out my videos on Youtube!]

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Special Education: What To Consider When Deciding Whether To Take The Plunge

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

When parents are faced with issues at school involving their child's education, such as a lack of school progress or repeated behavioral problems in the classroom, the school may suggest a special education evaluation.  Is this something that should be pursued?  What are the good and bad things to consider in deciding if you should allow your child to be evaluated for special education?

With anything in life, there are costs (and benefits).  There are costs for taking a day off, costs for driving one way versus another, and costs for all decisions we make, big or small.  Our decisions add up over time, and choosing to pursue special education for a child is a big decision with many ramifications that may affect that child long into adulthood.  

It would be difficult to list all costs and benefits of special education in a single document, but here are just some to consider when deciding whether to open the door:

Costs of Special Education?

-  Students must be labelled with a qualifying handicapping condition to receive services.  Some people just don't want their kid to be labelled with an attention or learning disorder, behavioral condition, or otherwise.
-  Students must submit to various assessments to qualify, including from a school psychologist.
-  Students may be placed in separate classrooms for all or part of their day.
-  Special education does not necessarily bring a child up to and/or keep a child at grade level, so eventual return to a regular class may be very difficult depending on the placement (e.g. outside or inside the general education classroom).
- Skills other than academics may be the focus in certain special education classrooms.
-  Receipt of a high school diploma may not be possible depending on the level at which the student advances and whether they can meet graduation requirements.
-  Labelling kids with "disabilities" may lead to psychotropic drugs being prescribed to them by professionals (e.g. attention medication, anxiety medication, etc.) and/or suggested by school staff.  The choice to medicate for school issues is a BIG decision with long-lasting impacts/side effects.
-  Special education labels may not go away.  A "Learning Disability" label, for example, may stick to that child for life.
-  Students may be placed away from their local/home school, at the site where the special education services are located.
-  Stigma of being in "special education."
-  Risk of putting kids in special education who don't actually need it, but for whom the traditional public school just may be a bad fit and/or who just had cruddy teaching leading to a large deficit.  This is a real possibility and parents may consider other roads than special education, such as home school, intensive tutoring, or otherwise.  I have seen students targeted for special education intensively educated and brought to grade level outside of special education, albeit at the parents' cost.
-  Less lecture-type instruction, such as in a typical group classroom.
-  Students with many different issues and/or functioning levels may be lumped into one classroom and may actually receive less instruction due to the structure of the class.
-  Special education may not be all it is cracked up to be in the end; like public education as a whole, there are issues.
-  A "team" takes over as far as placement, services and what your child will do.  Parents still have a say, but it often becomes a war against the team if the parent disagrees.
-  Getting out of special education can be difficult and may even get a parent forced into a hearing.

Benefits of Special Education?

-  Students may receive a more individualized educational experience and education can be adjusted to the student's level of ability (but watch out for dummying-down of work).
-  Some students may not be able to learn in any other environment and can advance better in a structured and/or special education setting.
-  Special education opens the door to the school district funding many supports, such as one-on-one aides, one-on-one instruction, related services (speech, occupational therapy, behavior support, adaptive physical education, etc.), and even a non-public school placement, depending on the situation.
-  Services may be provided through the age of 21 (there are some qualifications to this, e.g. graduation ends special education rights).
-  Many accommodations may be made in the classroom to help students succeed.
-  College accommodations should be easier to obtain if there is a special education past.
-  Testing accommodations may be made with a special education student, giving them e.g. longer time on standardized tests.
-  Transportation may be provided to any school where a student may be placed.
-  Extra services/specialized classrooms, etc. are free for the parent.
-  Smaller class size opportunities.

There are many more costs and benefits, and each family has to decide for themselves.  Sometimes the decision is obvious and unavoidable (e.g. severely handicapped student).  Other times, parents may be on the fence.  If they pursue special education, what type of special education do they fight for?  Will this harm their child more than help them?  If they pursue special education, will they push for a mainstream environment with supports or a structured classroom?  It is a tough burden to carry.  

To special educate or not special educate is not a small decision and parents should not take the evaluation and labelling of their children lightly.  It may be a lifelong decision which has positive or potentially terrible impacts to the child involved.

Best,
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Email: help@edlaw4students.com

Michelle Ball
[please like my office on Facebook, subscribe via twitter and email, and check out my videos on Youtube!]

Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.