Legal Responsibilities of Teachers

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

State governments are mainly responsible for legislation involving how schools operate, but there is also federal legislation that helps protect students' rights. In this lesson, we will discuss the legal responsibilities of classroom teachers.

Guidelines

Primarily, the teacher's role is to be mindful of the educational interests of her students. There are laws enacted that provide guidelines for teachers and schools. Let's look at some different pieces of legislation and their impact on classroom practices.

Special Services

There is a great deal of federal legislation surrounding the civil rights of special populations. For students with disabilities or substantially debilitating impairments, the following legislation has been provided for their protection.

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act secures the right for children with impairments to receive modifications and accommodations even if they do not qualify for special education services. Teachers need to be aware that they are legally required to follow the 504 Plan for each individual child as it is written annually.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides equal access to a free and appropriate public education for all disabled students. Teachers need to know that IDEA requires an annual Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Teachers must attend IEP meetings and follow the plan as written.
  • Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disabilities for all public entities, including access to educational facilities. Teachers should be aware that ADA requires schools to make reasonable accommodations for all patrons with disabilities, including students, parents, and staff. Also, all students should be given equal access to all activities both during and outside of school hours, including athletics and fine arts.

Other Special Populations

In addition to people with disabilities, there are other special populations at schools that are entitled to protection by law.

  • The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act provides services for students who do not have a consistent home. This includes children who are living with family/friends, students who live in temporary housing, such as motels and campgrounds, children living in shelters, and children who live in cars, parks, or public spaces. The teacher's role in this case is to help the homeless liaison identify students in need of services.
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits gender discrimination including sexual harassment, inequality in athletic opportunity, inequality in STEM courses, and discrimination based on pregnancy.
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. It prohibits racial harassment, segregation, and denial of language services to English learners.
  • Mandated Child Abuse Reporting is required in all U.S. states. All reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect must be reported by teachers to an appropriate agency, such as Child Protective Services (CPS) or the police. Some institutions have internal policies for handling child abuse reporting, but in many states, making a report to a supervisor is not sufficient. It is important to understand the laws for the state in which the abuse occurs to determine the appropriate response. The reporter is only responsible for reporting facts that led to their suspicions; they are not required to provide proof. Some states allow anonymous reporting, and all states have statutes in place to protect the confidentiality of child abuse records.

Rights of All Students

Other legislation that protects the legal rights of all students are listed below.

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