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Civil Rights: Student-Focused Track


The modules in this track focus on the civil rights of students.

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Module 1: Special Education Overview

Educating students with disabilities requires school district officials to have a keen understanding of state and federal disability law. Schools must identify and evaluate students suspecting of having a disability, and for those eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Chapter 115 of the Wisconsin Statutes, provide them with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) through an individualized educational program (IEP) that is reasonably calculated to enable the student to make progress appropriate in light of the student’s circumstances.

The laws require strict compliance with procedural due process including child find, referral, evaluation, the provision of special education and related services, discipline and more. This presentation will provide an overview of the special education process and explore frequent compliance issues that can trip up even the most experienced school officials.

Module 2: Section 504 and ADA Overview

Two civil rights laws, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibit discrimination based on disability. This prohibition includes an affirmative obligation for school districts to ensure that students with disabilities are able to participate in and benefit from a district’s programs and services in a manner that is as effective as nondisabled peers.

Similar to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, these federal laws include procedural compliance requirements that can be tricky for districts to understand, especially when considered in tandem with IDEA. This presentation will provide an overview of the laws and provide school officials with critical compliance requirements and tips on how to navigate the maze of modifications, accommodations and related services under Section 504 and the ADA.

Module 3: Race-Based Discrimination

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in public schools. Examples of discrimination covered by Title VI include racial harassment, school segregation and disparate treatment for discipline.

Under federal law, school districts must respond to racial discrimination and harassment that is sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the district’s education programs and activities (i.e., creates a hostile environment). This presentation will address the steps involved in responding, eradicating, preventing, and remedying discrimination and harassment and navigating the complexities created by the interplay of the civil rights law and the First Amendment.

Module 4: National Origin Discrimination

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in public schools. This includes discrimination based on the country or place where a person or his or her ancestors came from; a person’s limited English proficiency; or a person’s actual or perceived ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may exhibit such characteristics. Examples of discrimination covered by Title VI include school segregation, denial of language services to English learners, and denial of admission to undocumented students.

Under federal law, school districts must respond to national origin discrimination and harassment that is sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the district’s education programs and activities (i.e., creates a hostile environment). This presentation will address the steps involved in responding, eradicating, preventing and remedying discrimination and harassment and navigating the complexities created by the interplay of the civil rights law and the First Amendment.

In addition to the prohibition on harassment and segregation, Title VI imposes affirmative obligations on school districts to ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs and services. This presentation will also walk through the requirements related to English learner students including: identifying, providing an educationally sound language assistance program, monitoring progress, and determining proficiency.

Module 5: Religious Freedom

The Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Wis. Stat. 118.13 protect an individual’s right to exercise religion without discrimination or harassment in school. These rights may be affected by a district’s policies including dress code, attendance, student organizations or other codes of conduct. This presentation will discuss religious freedom in a variety of contexts at school and provide school officials useful guidance in navigating the interplay of these laws and provide best practices for careful planning and meaningful response.

Module 6: Title IX Overview

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and Wis. Stat. 118.13 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. In addition, many school district policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex including gender identity and transgender status.

This presentation will review the history and development of Title IX as it relates to sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and identify the priorities of the Biden administration which are likely to result in new guidance, proposed rulemaking, and increased enforcement actions. The presenters will provide an overview of the law and straightforward guidance on the most challenging legal compliance issues with respect to this area of state and federal law including student records, preferred names and pronouns, facility use, parent and student disputes, and participation in extracurricular activities.

(Note: In-depth training on Title IX is also available by the WASB.)

Module 7: Free Speech Rights

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants students the right to free speech in schools including spoken or written words and visual means of expression such as clothing. However, not every form of student expression constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment and courts have held that districts may prohibit or limit student speech under certain conditions.

School officials must be aware of when student conduct involves speech and when this speech can be limited, including when the speech may substantially disrupt or materially interfere with the district’s operations. This presentation will review the law and cases that have defined the scope and limitations of speech within the schools and will address best practices for responding to the most complex scenarios that involve free speech.

Module 8: Rights of Homeless Students

The McKinney-Vento Education For Homeless Children and Youth Act protects a homeless student’s rights to receive a free and appropriate education that enables them to meet the same state academic achievement standards to which all students are held. In addition, McKinney-Vento mandates that homeless students may not be separated from the mainstream school environment.

School officials must be able to identify homeless students and ensure such students are enrolled and afforded an equal education. This presentation will address the specific requirements of the law including the requirements surrounding a homeless liaison, school of origin, transportation, and other common scenarios under the law.

The Civil Rights training materials, including the comments of all webinar speakers who present the materials, do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon or used as legal advice. The materials will present information and commentary to facilitate a general understanding of the topics that are addressed but are not necessarily an exhaustive treatment of any legal or policy issues. If a school district requires legal advice regarding any topic, issue, situation or incident, the advice should be obtained from the school district’s designated legal counsel.

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