Perkins Coie’s School Law practice reflects the size and diversity of educational institutions. We typically serve as general counsel to school districts and other educational organizations, and we often undertake focused assignments for these clients in such areas as municipal bond, project permitting, construction, land use and employment matters.
We also represent educational organizations in state and federal courts, arbitrations, mediations, administrative agencies, public hearings and legislative committees. Our services include:
- Labor and Employment Law
- Public Records and Open Public Meetings Acts Compliance
- Constitutional Law
- Special Education Law
- Student Discipline
- Policy Development
- Construction and Procurement Law
- Municipal Finance
- Real Estate and Land Use
- State Funding and Legislation Drafting
- Environmental Law
- Dispute Resolution and Litigation
Perkins Coie’s clients include public school districts, independent schools, educational service districts and public and private universities. The diversity of legal issues our clients face is affected by their political and social settings. Educational institutions attract the attention and involvement of many constituent and interest groups: parents, teachers, unions, legislators, the media, special interest groups, administrative agencies and the public at large. Often, the legal issues we address have important public policy dimensions.
Labor and Employment Law
- Labor Relations: We advise clients on collective bargaining, contract administration and grievance arbitration issues. On occasion, we negotiate at the bargaining table and serve as counsel in mediation and fact-finding hearings to resolve bargaining impasses. We also represent clients in administrative proceedings, such as unfair labor practice and representation cases. Our labor relations work also includes strike preparation and management, including obtaining injunctive relief against a strike or picket line misconduct.
- Personnel: Personnel issues comprise a significant part of our practice, with emphasis on such sensitive areas as teacher and classified employee discharge and nonrenewal. Termination cases involve a variety of causes, from performance deficiencies to economic factors and criminal misconduct. A teacher’s discharge frequently marks the beginning of an extended journey through a statutory hearing process or arbitration where employees are accorded significant procedural and substantive protections. Economic layoffs may entail court challenges to the underlying financial justification and to the choice of employees who were terminated.
- Discrimination: We have extensive experience in the areas of Title IX compliance, affirmative action planning and related issues, as well as in student and employee discrimination issues. This work includes counseling, litigation and participation in investigations and hearings before state and federal administrative agencies.
Constitutional issues arise in a school law context on such topics as religion, due process, equal protection, search and seizure and free speech. We counsel school districts on matters such as implementing policies that govern instructional programming so as to maintain the separation of church and state while allowing freedom of religious expression; equal access for student groups; drawing the line between permissible employee speech and speech that warrants discipline; and complying with due process requirements in disciplinary matters. We provide counseling, policy development and litigation services on these and many other constitutional issues.
State and federal laws governing the education of disabled students frequently place school districts in hearings to defend their special education programs. We represent school districts in due process hearings, federal and state court appeals of hearing decisions and federal investigations of the appropriateness of a school district’s educational program for a particular child or an entire school. This highly regulated area of the law is continually evolving and often has an impact on school district decisions in other areas such as discipline, curriculum and transportation.
We regularly advise clients on legal requirements associated with student discipline, including state statutes and regulations, federal and state special education requirements, and related first amendment, fourth amendment, and due process requirements. We also assist clients with policy, procedure, and student handbook reviews and provide training for school administrators, hearing officers, and board members. We frequently consult on non-routine student discipline decisions, hearings, and appeals, we provide legal representation when needed for the most challenging cases, and we represent our clients when student discipline decisions are challenged in the courts.
Construction And Procurement
We represent educational institutions in all aspects of construction and procurement law. Construction projects are typically the largest and most visible expenditures that educational institutions make. Our services are based upon a philosophy of preventive law. Early involvement reduces the likelihood of problems efficiently and economically. We are leaders in alternative dispute resolution, including partnering and mediation. Our services include the following:
- Providing advice on strategies for construction programs
- Drafting and negotiating contracts with architects, consultants and construction managers
- Preparing bidding instructions, construction contracts and other “front-end” documents
- Advising and drafting transactional documents for alternative public works such as the GC/CM and design-build procurement methods
- Assisting school districts in dealing with the administration of state funding of school construction projects
- Providing advice as problems arise during the design, bidding, construction and warranty phases
- Representing educational institutions if disputes arise that require mediation, litigation or arbitration
We serve as bond counsel to clients raising funds for major projects. We prepare all documents relating to election proceedings for Maintenance & Operations levies, capital levies and the issuance of bonds. We also draft legislation to benefit clients, prepare lease-purchase contracts and consult with letter-of-credit banks and underwriters.
In addition to our bond work, we advise clients on the use of tax-anticipation notes, a form of financing used to cover anticipated short-term deficits caused by a timing imbalance between expenditures and revenues. The notes replace more traditional, more expensive methods used to cover a revenue shortfall.
Real Estate And Land Use
We advise clients in the traditional areas of real estate law—assisting in the acquisition, development and disposition of real property, examining title, negotiating and documenting transactions, and evaluating site conditions for wetlands, sensitive areas and contamination. We also assist clients with state-specific real estate and land use issues.
We advise clients interested in utilizing SEPA to obtain appropriate mitigation measures from residential developments. We also advise clients on achieving compliance with SEPA when acting as the lead agency in doing the environmental examination necessary to site and permit new schools.
We have been working with the Washington State Growth Management Act since its passage in 1990 to assist clients in establishing authority and the process to receive impact fees to help provide housing and transportation for new students; to prepare the necessary studies, policies and procedures to comply with the Growth Management Act; and to prepare capital facilities plans.
State Funding And Legislation Drafting
We monitor state funding for education, procurement and construction, and we draft and review legislation. Our funding-related activities are an outgrowth of the major role we played in early school funding litigation, when we represented 24 school districts in a successful suit against Washington State for increased education funding. We also drafted a comprehensive reform of the continuing contract laws governing the relationship between school districts and their teachers and other certificated employees. Our legislative work on construction and procurement issues is derived not only from the breadth of our practice and experience but also from our participation on behalf of the Washington State School Construction Alliance in precedent-setting decisions of the Washington Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal.
A multiplying array of laws designed to protect the environment has a significant impact on schools. Management and cleanup of hazardous waste, asbestos, PCBs and underground storage tanks are a few of the problems most districts confront. We provide advice on the full range of environmental subjects:
- Regulatory compliance and audits
- Enforcement proceedings
- Real estate transactions
Dispute Resolution And Litigation
Litigation should be a last resort that is required only when concerted efforts to resolve disputes have been unsuccessful. We take pride in our long-term relationships with our clients—relationships built on our proven ability to keep them out of trouble. But when disputes cannot be resolved, we have broad experience in state and federal trial and appellate courts, as well as alternative dispute resolution. We have successfully pursued and defended a range of claims, including employee matters, construction and procurement disputes, real estate and special education litigation.