In 2016, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act 16-147, which ushered in a series of changes regarding public school student discipline and expulsions. Among its many notable provisions, the new law created changes to a Board of Education’s duty to offer an alternative educational opportunity to expelled students.
At present, Connecticut law provides that school districts must offer expelled students an alternative educational program in certain circumstances – namely, if the student is under the age of sixteen, or for some students between the ages of sixteen and eighteen if certain conditions are met. (See Connecticut General Statute sec. 10-233d, subd. (d).) Despite this mandate, the existing statute does not define what constitutes an alternative educational opportunity. In the absence of clear guidance, school officials have often looked to Connecticut regulations governing homebound instruction in order to develop an appropriate alternative educational opportunity.
Public Act 16-147 will amend General Statute 10-233d, and consequently, will change prior practices by offering clearer guidance to schools regarding the provision of an alternative educational opportunity to expelled students. Under the new law, which will go into effect on August 15, 2017, students under the age of sixteen and, in most circumstances, students between the ages of sixteen and eighteen who are expelled for the first time must be offered an alternative educational opportunity.
Alternative Educational Opportunity Re-defined
The new law indicates that an alternative educational opportunity must be “equivalent to alternative education, as defined by [Connecticut General Statute] section 10-74j, with an individualized learning plan.”
General Statute section 10-74j provides that an alternative education is a school or program maintained and operated by a local or regional board of education, which must also comply with the Connecticut General Statutes 10-15 and 10-16, as well as federal and state laws governing public schools. General Statutes 10-15 and 10-16 require that schools must provide a minimum of 180 school days per year and a minimum of 900 hours of school work for full-day kindergarten students and grades one through twelve. In practice, this may require schools to offer alternative educational opportunities constituting a full-school year of five-hour school days for eligible expelled students. In addition, the new law will require that an alternative educational opportunity must include the provision of an individualized learning plan. Unfortunately, the term “individualized learning plan” is not defined.
Implications for the Future
In light of the above-described changes, school officials will have increased responsibilities when providing expelled students with alternative educational opportunities. These changes will likely require Boards of Education to significantly increase the amount of resources, in terms of both staff time and financial allotments, needed to provide compliant alternative educational programs.
Nonetheless, substantial uncertainly remains regarding the exact duties the new law will create. At present, interested stakeholders are awaiting updated guidelines from the State Board of Education, which should shed light on critical questions such as “what constitutes an individualized learning plan?” While awaiting additional guidance, however, school officials should prepare for the substantial changes to come. Education Law Attorneys at Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. will monitor the status of this statute and provide analysis of any new guidance when it is available.
The education team at Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. offers representation and guidance to school district clients across the State of Connecticut. For inquiries regarding Public Act 16-147 and more, visit http://www.bmdlaw.com, or email us at [email protected]