On the Call: Methodology

Just when you think you have earned the scout badge in IEP writing, a parent asks for the methodology which can feel like pouring water on the perfect campfire you just built! In this episode, Erin and Jeremy discuss how methodology can be selected and the requirements for including it in the IEP under IDEA. The discussion includes a case from Maine where a District learned a hard lesson when it failed to include methodology in the IEP and adjust it based on a lack of progress. They highlight the importance of reviewing data and actively listening when requests come in so you and the team successfully take home all the badges.  

You can also listen here or wherever you get your podcasts. Look for new episodes on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.

AI Generators: Appropriate and Responsible Use of Technology

AI Generators: Appropriate and Responsible Use of Technology

Educators are just beginning to scratch the surface on the utility of incorporating artificial intelligence (“AI”) in their work lives. AI is here to stay but educators must exercise caution in its use in order to satisfy legal and professional obligations.

 As stated by Scott Pelley on the April 16, 2023, edition of 60 Minutes, “We may look on our time as the moment civilization was transformed as it was by fire, agriculture, and electricity.” While a seemingly hyperbolic statement, those who have explored using AI will attest to the exciting possibilities and potential efficiencies.

From a legal standpoint, among other things, privacy concerns must be kept in mind. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) mandates the protection of personally identifiable information that is maintained in education records and includes direct identifiers, such as a student’s name or identification number, indirect identifiers, such as a student’s date of birth, or other information which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity. When working with AI, educators must not upload personally identifiable information.

From a professional responsibility standpoint, the unmonitored use of AI could jeopardize an educator’s license. The Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators requires the “appropriate and responsible use of technology.” The ninth principle mandates as follows: “Educators shall always use technology, electronic communications, and social media in a responsible and professional manner and appropriately safeguard the unauthorized use or access to electronic devices and data entrusted to them.”

One should keep this ninth principle in mind when utilizing AI. People are learning a difficult lesson that AI “hallucinates.” In other words, it makes things up. High-profile instances have occurred wherein attorneys have blindly copied AI generated text into their briefs, only to find that AI hallucinated the fictitious case law it produced. An efficient shortcut has resulted in damaged reputations and sanctions.
Individuals with a license, such as educators, must monitor the AI output that goes into their work product. Failing to do so could result in legal liability and could potentially amount to conduct unbecoming an educator.

Feel free to contact Ennis Britton if you have any questions about the legalities and professional obligations in utilizing AI. Be sure to catch our presentation AI Generators: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly at the COSSBA Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas on February 24, 2024 and BASA Ohio on March 20, 2024.

*Image was AI-generated using RF123.

























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Special Education Update: Next at Bat: What’s Coming Up in 2024

Special Education Update: Next at Bat: What’s Coming Up in 2024

While most New Year’s resolutions are all but forgotten by now, several federal agencies have promised new rules or updates to rules to take effect sometime in 2024. Here’s a quick look at New Year’s resolutions – the federal addition, and their possible impact on special education.

Title IX – the long-awaited and much anticipated final Title IX rules are now scheduled to be published in 2024, giving the Administration ample time to review the over 240,000 comments on the proposed changes. Having had a sneak peek at the proposed rules, districts can expect that IEP and 504 teams will have a greater role in Title IX investigations and grievance resolution. The proposed rules specifically provide that a student with a disability involved in a Title IX proceeding will be best served by the Title IX Coordinator consulting with the student’s IEP team to 504 team throughout the implementation of the grievance procedures. This statement suggests that the role of the team will not be relegated to the beginning of the process or in developing supportive measures, but that the expectation is that the student’s IEP or 504 team will be involved and consulted throughout the entire process.

Section 504 – Proposed regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were promised in November 2023. While there have been no identifiable hints on what the new regulations will require, practitioners are hopeful for either clarification of procedural differences between the IDEA and Section 504 or clearer alignment between the two. The implications of these regulatory changes for special education are self-evident, as IDEA protections fall under the umbrella of Section 504. At this time, no new release dates have been offered.

FERPA – Likewise, the deadline for the proposed updates to FERPA’s implementing regulations has come and gone. Nonetheless, a new target is in sight, as the Department of Education identified a proposed release date of May, 2024. However, on January 12, 2024, the Department extended the time for comments to March 12, 2024. While this announcement did not include a new deadline for the release of the proposed regulations, this is a welcomed opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the practical side of implementing FERPA. Stakeholders are encouraged to submit comments electronically on or before March 12, 2024, at www.regulations.gov.

With so much at stake, districts must capitalize on every opportunity to become informed on the laws, rules, and decisions that shape our obligations toward students with disabilities. Ennis Britton is taking an active role in these discussions on a national level with three presentations at the upcoming LRP National Institute and School Attorney Conference in Savannah, Georgia this May. Please join Jeremy Neff for an in-depth look at “Successfully Mapping the Exit from IDEA Services” and reflections on “COVID Lessons Learned for Future Disruptions”, and Pamela Leist as she explains “Navigating Confidentiality Under IDEA,504 and FERPA”

Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Appellate Decision Overturning Industrial Commission

Ohio Supreme Court Upholds Appellate Decision Overturning Industrial Commission

State ex rel. Quest Diagnostics, Inc. v. Indus. Comm., Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-2213

In this appeal, the employer won at the Staff Level Hearing Officer level and was overturned by the Workers’ Compensation Review Commission, a rare occurrence. The employer appealed to Court and was successful before both the 10th District Court of Appeals and The Ohio Supreme Court.

Stone, a phlebotomist (draws samples of blood), began her employment with the employer in 1991. In 2018, Stone notified her supervisor that she would be moving to California with her husband, who was taking a new position there. Stone expressed her desire to transfer her employment within the company and, according to her affidavit, was told that she would be permitted to transfer.

Stone submitted multiple transfer requests with the employer in California, which were signed and dated by her supervisor.

Three days later, Stone was injured at work when she fell from a stepladder. Her workers’ compensation claim was allowed for various shoulder injuries. She was released to work with temporary restrictions. For the next few days, Stone’s responsibilities consisted of greeting patients as they entered the office.

Stone informed her supervisor that she was moving to California. Stone had not received any response to her transfer requests. Stone and her supervisor called the employer’s recruiting office, which informed them that Stone could not transfer her employment because she was not certified as a phlebotomist in California.

This new information did not change Stone’s plans to relocate, and Stone’s supervisor asked for a resignation letter. Stone sent her supervisor an email saying, “I am putting in my resignation with Quest Diagnostics due to moving to California this Saturday,” and she moved shortly thereafter. In an affidavit, Stone refers to the resignation letter as a “transfer document” because she intended to become certified and continue to work for the employer.

Stone became certified as a phlebotomy technician in California the following spring. She was not reemployed by the employer. That summer, she applied for temporary total disability (TTD) benefits. She was denied at the District and Staff hearing officer levels. The hearing officers found that she had abandoned the job by resigning with no indication that there was further work for her when she did so.

Stone appealed to the Review Commission for reconsideration. It determined that in denying compensation, the SHO had misapplied the law of voluntary abandonment. The Commission concluded that Stone was entitled to TTD compensation because she did not intend to abandon the workforce and did not voluntarily remove herself from her former position of employment.

The Supreme Court noted that the “question is whether [the] circumstances demonstrate a voluntary abandonment of the workforce—permanent or temporary—such that the injured worker’s wage loss is not the result of the work injury. In other words, do the circumstances indicate that the injured worker would be working—somewhere—but for the injury?” Hence, an injury-induced departure from the workforce (involuntary abandonment) and a departure based on the claimant’s intentional conduct (voluntary abandonment) are mutually exclusive. The former is compensable; the latter is not.

Had Stone not been injured, she would have experienced the same wage loss upon relocating to California without the proper certification. Had Stone remained employed by Quest in Ohio, she would not have experienced any wage loss. Accordingly, Stone’s industrial injury was not the “but for” cause of her lost earnings. Albeit understandable, Stone’s reasons for abandoning the workforce and experiencing lost wages lack the necessary causal relationship to her industrial injury.

What this means for your District
We must always carefully analyze the circumstances of an employee’s departure in the context of a workers’ compensation claim to determine the true cause of the employee’s lost wages. If the loss is due to something other than the injury itself, we may have a defense against liability for TTD payments. Eligibility for TTD compensation has always depended on whether the separation from employment was injury-induced.

Distinguishing Discussions from Meetings and Informal Consensus from Formal Decisions

Distinguishing Discussions from Meetings and Informal Consensus from Formal Decisions

On January 16, 2024, the Eleventh District Court of Appeals decided the appeal of a frequent litigant and once again weighed in on the Ohio Open Meetings Act. In State of Ohio ex rel. Ames v. Portage Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 2024-Ohio-146, the court affirmed the granting of summary judgment in favor of the Portage County Board of Commissioners (“Board”) and dismissed the case. In the case, Ames alleged that the Board committed numerous violations of R.C. 121.22, the Ohio Open Meetings Act (“OMA”).

Among other things, the court made it clear that not every conversation constitutes a meeting subject to the OMA. In his Complaint, Ames alleged that a majority of the Board, two members, discussed the employment of the county’s director of budget and finance prior to the meeting. The two commissioners admitted to having an impromptu, brief discussion prior to the meeting.

The court highlighted that the OMA defined “meeting” as “any prearranged discussion of the public business of the public body by a majority of its members.” R.C. 121.22(B)(2). In affirming the granting of the motion for summary judgment, the court stressed that the meeting was not “prearranged.” The court held that the OMA does not prohibit impromptu discussions between a majority of board members.

Additionally, the court provided guidance on permitted procedures for executive session. Ames alleged that the Board violated the OMA by deciding to discharge the director of budget and finance during executive session. To support his allegation, Ames relied upon a commissioner’s statement, immediately after executive session, that the Board was dismissing the director. Ames concluded that the statement showed that the Board reached an impermissible collective decision during executive session.

Rejecting this contention and affirming the granting of the motion for summary judgment, the court of appeals noted that the OMA does not preclude the Board from reaching an informal consensus during executive session. So long as formal action is taken in an open meeting of the public body, no violation of the OMA occurs.

The case underscores two points. First, caution must be exercised to comply with the OMA. Activist litigants may put your processes to the test. Secondly, if caution is exercised and the procedures are followed, public entities can successfully defend against such claims.