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    September 08, 2014

    September Wisconsin Lawyer: It’s All About the Kids

    September 2014 Wisconsin Lawyer magazineSept. 8, 2014 – From foster care, minor guardianships, and parental medical decisions, to school bullying, students’ constitutional rights, and immigration – the September Wisconsin Lawyer, now available online, is all about legal issues affecting children.

    Readers get a varied, pertinent, and timely mix of articles in this special issue on children and the law, as attorney-contributors share their unique insights and knowledge on various topics involving the law and its impact on children.

    “Chances are you have a child, know a child, work with a child, or were a child yourself,” write attorneys Michelle Leiker and Gretchen Viney, editorial board members who helped develop this issue's content. “But you may not know just how vulnerable children are when facing legal issues or when thrust into the legal system.”

    As the new school season starts, four authors focus on children and the school system with features on bullying, students’ rights, discipline, and special needs. Other authors hit child law topics with timely relevance in both Wisconsin and beyond, including the the impact of immigration laws on children, and what happens when children age-out of the foster care system. 

    Making Medical Decisions for Minors

    In “Making Medical Decisions for Minors,” Madison attorney Tyler Wilkinson discusses two recent Wisconsin Supreme Court cases that highlight the difficulties and legal implications of making medical decisions for children.

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    Parents or legal guardians are vested with the power to make medical decisions for their minor children or wards, but this power is not absolute. Medical decision-making for minors can pose knotty legal and ethical dilemmas for parents, health care providers, and lawyers. Tyler Wilkinson of Axley Brynelson LLP highlights considerations for attorneys.

    Wilkinson ponders the situation of a child who is diagnosed with cancer. The doctor recommends a chemotherapy option that requires a blood transfusion, but the patient and patient's parents are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion that forbids blood transfusions. Can the parents withhold consent to the blood transfusion? Are there consequences if the parents withhold consent? What about the child’s consent?

    “The answers to these questions lie in the intersection of law, medical science, and ethics that is ethical decision-making for minors,” writes Wilkinson.

    School Bullying

    Social media has changed the forms of school bullying. And bullying is an age-old problem that likely will never disappear. In “Bullying: Fighting Back,” Madison attorney William Brown explains new legal ways to combat the changing face of bullying in Wisconsin schools.

    Brown notes that 24 percent of high school students report being bullied at school, and 17 percent report being “cyber bullied.” Wisconsin has responded to this problem through legislative measures. But as Brown notes, these new laws may be too weak.

    “For many students, recent legislation has not done enough,” Brown writes. “Attorneys are employing existing law in claims against schools for failing to prevent bullying, prompting school districts to reassess bullying and discipline policies.”

    Students’ Rights

    Students have constitutional protections, including the freedom of speech and religious liberty under the First Amendment, the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment, and due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    As Madison attorney Steven Porter notes in “Examining Students’ Rights,” those right are not absolute; those rights conform to what is appropriate for children in school.

    “This article looks at the evolution of the constitutional rights of school children as the U.S. Supreme Court has found them to be guaranteed by the First Amendment’s free speech clause and the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches,” writes Porter, who notes significant cases involving students’ rights.

    Special Needs Students

    In “The ABCs of Special Needs Students,” attorney Faith Kohler explains the laws that relate to special needs students, including the Disabilities Education Act, how individualized education plans are formed, and why parents should fully participate.

    Understanding a district’s obligations, she says, will help ensure that students receive the appropriate education services. In speaking with other attorneys, Kohler notes that “lawyers should not act like litigators the minute they walk through the school door.”

    “Participating in a discussion with the child’s school enables a collaborative approach to identifying a child’s needs and a school district’s resources,” writes Kohler, a federal agent with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Milwaukee.

    Discipline: The School-to-Prison Pipeline

    Wisconsin school districts have broad power to discipline students, including the imposition of suspensions and expulsions. But recent data indicates that students of certain racial and ethnic groups are disproportionately subject to school discipline.

    In “Student Discipline and the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Madison attorney Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick describes the power of schools to discipline students and how the overuse of school discipline fuels what is now known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

    However, Spitzer-Resnick also notes some new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice aimed at prohibiting disparate treatment in student disciplinary cases, noting prohibited practices by school districts.

    The landmark guidance, Spitzer-Resnick says, “is an important step in eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline." However, the author notes that these policies must now be implemented by Wisconsin school districts.

    Immigration and Children

    In “Where Immigration and Children’s Law Meet,” Madison lawyer Emily Dudek Taylor focuses on how immigration laws impact a child’s path to citizenship, noting that attorneys may not think to check citizenship status when dealing with families.

    This article describes the U.S. immigration system generally, and identifies key agencies and important terms and concepts for lawyers navigating this area. The article notes that adoption, on its own, does not confer U.S. citizenship status.

    “If the child was not born in the United States, an immigration attorney should be consulted as early in the case as possible,” Taylor writes.

    September Wisconsin Lawyer

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