School Zone

The Texas Young Lawyers Association launches a new project aimed at addressing educators’ and parents’ pressing legal concerns.

By Eric Quitugua

The Cover of TYLA School Zone

A myriad of issues facing school systems play out on news cycles with seeming regularity, whether it’s harassment through Snapchat, sexual assault, or fighting at school, among others. But the nuances behind legalities aren’t always immediately clear, leading to questions of the rights of teachers, school administrators, parents, and students alike.

The Texas Young Lawyers Association aims to provide resources to answer these pressing questions with the launch of Teach Safe. Learn Safe. Be Safe., a website designed to give educators, parents, and students an overview of laws that apply to school systems. Funded by a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, the site, which goes live in April, features video interviews on bullying, fighting, and sexual misconduct; legal FAQs; and links to pertinent TYLA projects.

“Parents want to know, If my child gets in trouble or my child gets in a fight with another kid, what are my rights? What does the school have to tell me? What can they not tell me?” said TYLA President Baili Rhodes, who kick-started the project. “And teachers want to know, What am I allowed to tell? And what do I have to tell and what can I not tell? We’re creating a resource that we think will be helpful in answering those questions.”

The project spotlights interviews with those who have personally experienced many of the issues, said Sara Giddings, a TYLA director and co-chair of the Law Focused Education Committee, which developed Teach Safe. One features Maurine Molak, the founder of David’s Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending cyberbullying. Molak’s 16-year-old son’s suicide in 2016 sparked the passage last year of David’s Law, which requires all public schools in Texas to create anti-bullying policies (including protection after school hours) and to notify parents when their children are being victimized or are the aggressors themselves. Her interview reminds parents that they need to be aware of what students are posting on social media and be vigilant about holding them accountable.

“It provides a human face to sometimes very bone-dry legal rules,” Giddings said of the video interviews. “Here’s a practical application of what this rule is.”

The Teach Safe website is broken down into sections—administrators, teachers, parents, social media, and special education—and addresses additional common concerns from educators and parents, such as what teachers can post on social media, what parents can do if their children need special attention, how educators can accommodate students who have dyslexia, and whether teachers can legally require students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. These are just a few of the many questions answered by Teach Safe.

The genesis of the project came from conversations with family and TYLA members, Rhodes said. Her husband’s family—largely composed of teachers and school administrators—brought up concerns last year about issues they’re dealing with and questions that need to be asked. Meanwhile, TYLA board members’ trepidations about social media and school violence also informed content.

“While no one wants to think it can happen to them, both educators and parents have had to face the very real problem of mass violence in the school setting,” Rhodes said. “Our website will provide tips for adults who may face those scenarios and strategies for talking to students about prevention and safety.”

Teach Safe is meant to be a living, breathing website, said Donald Delgado, a TYLA director and co-chair of the Law Focused Education Committee. As laws affecting education change, so will the site’s content. The website’s social media section will also be continuously updated with new TYLA projects.

Delgado called Teach Safe especially vital because kids spend much of the year in school, oftentimes the setting where they learn “right and wrong” and what is and is not acceptable behavior.

“It’s important because school touches so many people’s lives,” he said. “It’s important to have a place, a hub, a website that answers the common questions that people have.”

For more information, go to TBJ

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