OSBA offers school districts and ESCs in Ohio a wide range of services, access to up-to-date information and research on school issues, and the opportunity to participate actively in the development of educational policy at the state and federal levels. But board members may not be aware of one of the most valuable resources available through OSBA: the Legal Assistance Fund (LAF).
LAF was established in 1976 to support school districts defending legal challenges with the potential to affect public schools across the state. LAF’s governing trustees are the OSBA president, president-elect and executive director.
LAF's trustees can consider supporting any school district involved in a legal dispute. When contemplating support for a district in a particular case, LAF’s trustees determine whether: (1) the case involves a significant legal issue; and (2) the issue is of statewide significance. LAF cases can pertain to the classification, organization, regulation, maintenance, operation, financing or management of a school district. LAF’s bylaws prohibit it from participating in disputes among school districts or individual school board members. LAF also will not provide support in any case if participating would be contrary to a current legislative position of the OSBA Delegate Assembly.
LAF provides financial support to districts by assisting with costs of litigation, providing amicus curiae briefs and conducting legal research. An “amicus curiae,” or “friend of the court,” brief, filed on behalf of a school district, explains to the court why the school district should win its case or how it will be affected by the case, and how the outcome will affect other school districts in the state. In some situations, the LAF trustees will invite other educational stakeholders to join the amicus brief to demonstrate broad support for the matter that is the subject of the brief.
One recent LAF case was State v. Polk, involving the search of a student’s book bag by district employees after the bag was left on a bus. In that case, LAF engaged an attorney to write an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The brief supported the district’s actions and explained the importance of giving districts the ability to adopt reasonable policies designed to provide a safe learning environment.
The court agreed with the position taken in the LAF amicus brief. It concluded that schools have a compelling interest in protecting students from harm and that is it reasonable for school personnel to conduct a search of a student’s book bag to determine the bag’s ownership and whether there is anything dangerous in the bag.
In order to receive support in a particular legal dispute, a board should complete a request for assistance, which is available here. The board must also pass a formal resolution requesting assistance.
If your district is, or expects to be, involved in litigation that fits these parameters, don’t forget LAF. The trust is here to support districts. If you have any questions, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services.