Practice/Industry Group Overview
With over 85 years of experience in education law, our firm is a recognized leader in representing public and private educational institutions.
Attorneys in our Education practice area devote substantially all of their time to serving the legal needs of public and private elementary schools, secondary schools, institutions of higher education, and other education-related businesses and organizations. Other lawyers in our firm are involved in providing ancillary legal services in areas such as labor and employment, employee benefits, tax, real estate, construction, environmental and public finance.
General Counsel Services
We are readily available to discuss the day-to-day legal issues school administrators face. Because of the scope and extent of our education experience, we provide timely and comprehensive answers and strategies without spending extensive time on costly legal research. A brief telephone conversation can save a client thousands of dollars in damages and litigation fees. We provide guidance on issues involving employment, election laws, open meetings and records, state and federal education laws and regulations, purchasing and contracting, school policy development, and patron complaints.
Much of our practice is devoted to guiding educational institutions dealing with problem teachers, both probationary and tenured. Our attorneys not only provide legal advice about terminating incompetent teachers, but also help draft warning letters, notices to remedy, notices of nonrenewals, and other statutorily required notices. We often handle more than 50 teacher terminations a year, many of which involve due process hearings.
Our education attorneys have broad experience handling student rights issues, such as access to student records, locker searches, dress codes, Safe Schools Act issues, computer use and Internet access, and school control over student newspapers and other forms of student speech. We have helped design and manage the difficult policies of accommodating student religious activities at public schools, including religious clubs, distribution of religious materials, and students proselytizing on school grounds. Our attorneys regularly represent public and private schools in student suspension and expulsion proceedings.
We provide guidance to public school districts concerning substantive and procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. We have resolved disputes between school districts and parents of disabled students under both IDEA and Section 504. Our special education experience spans the entire spectrum from basic administrative proceedings to complex litigation including Office for Civil Rights investigations, due process hearings, state level review proceedings, and state and federal litigation culminating in settlement, trial, or resolution on appeal.
Representation of institutions of higher education is the fastest growing area of our Education practice. We provide guidance and support in construction claims, real estate and condemnation, bond financing, capital improvement, charitable giving, faculty and staff employment (including immigration), compliance with governmental regulations, litigation and litigation management, policy development, student issues, technology transfer, and taxation.
Negotiations With Employee Groups
Our Education practice includes negotiation of agreements with teacher and non-teacher groups. We have negotiated and designed administrative policies for represented groups of employees, defended and prosecuted unfair labor practice charges, and provided guidance in union avoidance.
A mainstay of our firm is litigation. More than 100 of our firm’s attorneys are engaged in representing corporate, governmental, individual, and insurance clients in federal and state courts. Our litigators have tried cases throughout the United States and have argued appeals in virtually every federal circuit court of appeals. Our education attorneys have represented public school districts and private schools in well over 200 lawsuits in areas such as discrimination claims, personal injury, sexual harassment suits by employees and students, open meetings law actions, education malpractice, contract claims, and Teacher Tenure Act actions.
Our education attorneys pride themselves on their client training activities - training designed to increase client awareness and minimize potential legal problems. We present client seminars annually on current developments in school law. Our training programs stress actual problems faced by school administrators and board members, and offer practical suggestions to reduce liability. Another preventive law service we provide free of charge to clients is the publication of quarterly newsletters on developments in education law. We send periodic newsletters and E-mail updates to clients advising them of new court decisions or statutes that may have an impact on their schools. Our commitment to continuous communication with our clients helps them know when they should call for legal advice.
Our education attorneys are often engaged in making presentations to school lawyers at national seminars and conferences sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools, the National Federation of State High Schools Association, the Missouri School Board Association’s Council of School Attorneys, and the Education Law Association.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Our firm has successfully arbitrated or mediated over 35 cases in the last three years.
Capital Improvement Plans
Our attorneys represented a school district in all phases of a $500 million capital improvements plan, including bond financing, condemnation, acquisition of property, asbestos abatement, contracts with various contractors and architects, and resolution of construction claims.
We also represented a private school in connection with a $30 million capital improvements program, including bond financing, real estate matters, and negotiating and drafting agreements with architects and contractors.
- Drafted employment agreements for superintendents, headmasters and other administrators
- Drafted and/or negotiated over 50 severance and release agreements over the last five years
- Drafted and/or reviewed over 100 construction contracts and arbitration agreements in the last 10 years
- Annually drafted and/or negotiated transportation contracts exceeding $30 million
- Drafted and/or reviewed over 100 goods or services contracts in the last five years
- Obtained a defense verdict in the trial of a former human resources employee’s federal court lawsuit alleging race discrimination against a public school district
- Obtained a defense verdict in the trial of a sexual harassment case brought in state court by a school secretary against a principal for whom she had worked over 10 years
- Obtained a defense verdict in the trial of a race discrimination lawsuit brought in federal court by a non-renewed probationary teacher against a school district that suspended the teacher
- Obtained a defense verdict in the trial of a race discrimination lawsuit brought in federal court by a school district’s only African-American coach after his contract was not renewed
- Obtained a defense verdict in the trial of a sexual harassment case brought before the state court by an executive secretary against the school district’s former acting superintendent for whom she had worked over 10 years
- Defended a college in a two-week trial in federal court in a case brought by 19 graduates who alleged breach of contract, fraud, and misrepresentation, resulting in a verdict of only $1.00 for each plaintiff
- Obtained a defense verdict in the trial of a lawsuit brought by a school district’s security officer who was terminated for discharging a firearm while off duty
- Successfully defended school board members in four lawsuits in which plaintiffs alleged violation of the open meetings law
- Obtained dismissal of a student’s wrongful death lawsuit against a school district, and obtained reimbursement of all legal fees and costs from the bus company
- Obtained summary judgment for a number of school districts which were sued by banks and finance companies seeking to collect on copy machine leases when Century Office Products, Inc. went bankrupt
- Obtained summary judgment on behalf of a school district in a lawsuit brought by a Korean-born naturalized citizen who alleged that his teaching contract was not renewed because of his national origin, race and sex
- Successfully defended judgments on appeal in both the Eighth and Tenth Circuits
- Obtained summary judgment on behalf of school districts in over 50 other lawsuits involving discrimination claims by former employees, students’ personal injury claims and sexual harassment actions by employees and students
- Investigated over 50 cases involving allegations of sexual harassment by school district employees and completed comprehensive investigatory reports
- Drafted position statements for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and obtained “no cause for discrimination” findings in over 100 cases
- Successfully petitioned the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to revoke teaching certificates of teachers in over 10 cases
- Successfully defended school districts in response to “demand letters” by plaintiffs resulting in no liability to our clients in over 100 cases
School Funding Issues
- Annually obtained the release of more than $2 million in impounded protested tax monies for public school clients
- Challenged a statute passed by the Missouri General Assembly in 1991 that required Missouri school districts to provide early childhood special education, but did not fully fund the new requirement. The Missouri Supreme Court held that the statute violated the Hancock Amendment by funding only 90 percent of the program
- Compelled the State of Missouri to increase state funding of special education programs
- Successfully defended two school districts against lawsuits alleging that they had failed to properly roll back property tax levies
- Successfully represented a school district in a class action suit brought by parents seeking systemic changes in the delivery of special education services throughout the district
- Successfully represented school districts in investigations by the Office for Civil Rights alleging discrimination in services provided to special education students
- Successfully defended school districts in due process hearings
- Successfully defended school districts in trials involving students’ rights in special education issues
Student Suspension/Expulsion Hearings
- Successfully handled over 25 student suspension and expulsion cases over the last three years
- Assisted school boards and their consultants in conducting more than a dozen nationwide searches for public school superintendents and private school headmasters
- Successfully handled over 150 teacher termination cases in the past five years, including all due process hearings and appeals of school board decisions