“When people ask me about the program, I always say that if you are willing to put the work in, you will not only get a solid foundation in School Law, but you’ll also complete the program with the ability to implement what you’ve learned directly into real-world practice. You’ll gain the depth of skills and knowledge to be able to solve the difficult challenges you face every day.” — James Zavodjancik, PhD, School Law Online Graduate Certificate, Graduate Fall 2021
James Zavodjancik may not always have an immediate solution to the challenges he faces on the job. But with the real-world knowledge he gained from completing the UConn School Law Online Graduate Certificate program, he knows just where to find answers so he can make the best decisions for his students, parents, teachers, and the community-at-large.
James Zavodjancik had earned his Doctor of Education - Educational Leadership – in 2012. Six years later, he completed the Educational Leadership – 093 Certification Program through the University of Connecticut (UConn). Yet during his years of schooling, he realized that he had only gained a cursory understanding of the law as it relates to school environments.
“At the time, I was working as a Principal at Booth Hill Elementary School in Shelton, CT,” he says. “Most certificate programs for school administrators typically offer just one course in educational law. I have always been interested in the field—I had even considered going to law school, so when I did a Google search and found the UConn School Law Online Graduate Certificate program, it seemed like the perfect fit. And it sure was. It delved into many topics I was dealing with daily as a principal, from understanding how technology should be effectively used to disciplining students. I wanted more in-depth knowledge of my rights as principal and of the rights of students and parents in the community. And that’s exactly what I got.”
Online – the only way to go for James
There was another big plus to the UConn School Law program that motivated James to apply: all four three-credit courses were online. As he explains, “I had taken online courses here and there, so the idea appealed to me. I also knew it would be logistically difficult for me to get to a campus at a specific time, especially with my demanding job. I also loved the fact that I could work at my own pace and time, whether that was weekends, nights, or first thing in the morning.” James says he also greatly appreciated the flexibility of the program, which allowed him to take just one course per semester at a time. It was a good thing James chose to take the online route. His first course started in the spring term of 2020, which began in January. When the pandemic hit, he never missed a beat—he just continued along with his coursework as if the entire world hadn’t turned upside down!
Although the program was entirely online, James says he was able to make strong connections with many of the other students he met over the two years. “Most of my classmates started the previous September, so in a way, I felt like I was joining in the middle of the program. But I did not feel behind at all. In fact, I found out that new people jumped in and started courses at various times throughout the program. Because we all provided photos of ourselves, we had a face to a name. There were terrific discussions during which we were constantly bouncing ideas off each other. And there were never more than 10 or 12 students in my classes, so we all received a great deal of individual attention from our professors.”
James also especially appreciated that his classmates had diverse backgrounds. Some were teachers, others specialized in curriculum leadership and special ed, and still others held various administration roles. “I loved that there were so many different experiences and backgrounds represented. It was fascinating to hear how other people dealt with issues and challenges in their schools.”
Learning directly from the top experts
Three of the four courses were taught by Dr. Preston Green, and the fourth, EPSY 5119 - Policy, Law, and Ethics in Special Education, was led by Jessica Monahan. Says James: “Without a doubt, the instructors were experts in the field—I was definitely being given information by the top people in the industry. It’s one thing to be an educator or a lawyer. But to have a solid understanding of both is rare. Because of the professors’ experience and knowledge, the courses really came to life for me.”
The knowledge to solve real-world challenges
During the middle of the program, James applied for and was hired to be the Executive Director
for Instruction, Curriculum, and Assessment for Fairfield Public Schools in Fairfield, CT, where he leads the elementary program and curriculum departments K-12. Needless to say, issues arise all the time. Employment laws, collective bargaining, family and medical leave, arbitration, student discipline—he faces a wide range of challenges on a daily basis that require a deep understanding of the issue at hand and the ability to solve real-world problems.
“I don’t always have the solution at my fingertips. But thanks to the School Law Online Graduate Certificate program, I now know where to search for the answers,” says James. “When people ask me about the program, I always say that if you are willing to put the work in, you will not only get a solid foundation in School Law, but you’ll also complete the program with the ability to implement what you’ve learned directly into practice. You’ll gain the depth of skills and knowledge to be able to solve the difficult challenges you face every day.”
In conclusion he says, “UConn is a well-recognized, highly regarded university. When I applied for the program, I never questioned the quality because it is part of UConn. I did not need to look anywhere else. I had already done the Executive Leadership Program through UConn, and that single program really advanced my career. The UConn name truly means something, especially here in the state.”
“Recently, we had a discipline incident that involved numerous stakeholders and required specific steps. Thanks to having gone through the School Law program, I already knew the terms involved and possibilities for process. I didn’t have to try to get up to speed on the spot, which allowed me to immediately focus on how to best support the student, the student’s caregivers, and staff.” — Melissa Hickey, Assistant Principal at Hall High School, West Hartford, CT, Spring 2020
Melissa Hickey made a smooth transition from teacher to school administrator, thanks in part to the knowledge she gained while taking the University of Connecticut School Law Online Graduate Certificate Program.
A Foundation of Confidence
Melissa Hickey’s love of all things legal blossomed in 2018, when she took one course in educational law while earning her second Master’s in order to obtain her Certificate for Intermediate Administration and Supervision (Endorsement #092). “It was one of my favorite courses in the program. I found it so interesting to learn about student and teacher rights, and I loved researching different policies in our district and state,” says Melissa.
A strong connection to UConn
In fact, Melissa was contemplating various programs at UConn to extend her learning when one of her colleagues mentioned the University of Connecticut (UConn) School Law Online Graduate Certificate Program. “I jumped at the opportunity to check it out, especially since my husband and several friends had gone to UConn and found the educational experience beyond valuable,” says Melissa. “I thought it would be greatly beneficial for me to have a solid foundation in school law, especially since I was planning to become a school administrator. I knew I would face all kinds of situations that would require knowledge of educational law. I wanted to be able to best serve students, their parents, our school, and the community-at-large.”
Fit like a glove
Melissa, who is currently an Interim Assistant Principal of Hall High School in West Hartford, CT—and will become Assistant Principal this summer—started the program in the fall of 2019 while on maternity leave with her second child. “The program provided the intellectual stimulation I needed while I was home with a new baby,” she notes.
As Melissa quickly discovered, she felt like the program was designed with her needs in mind. “The courses were rigorous, but very well structured and organized, and I was able to do the work on my own time within the deadlines. I never felt overwhelmed, and I also felt a real sense of collaborative learning and personal connection to the other students. You could tell that everyone was so invested in the program. I attribute that in part to Dr. Preston Green and Dr. Jessica Monahan, who were incredibly engaging and knowledgeable.”
Timely and relevant
Promoting a sense of connection between students is one of the biggest benefits of the HuskyCT/Blackboard—UConn’s online platform. As Melissa explains, “The program was based on cooperative learning. For example, many of the class discussions were centered on actual cases, which were always timely and relevant to current issues. Dr. Green, who taught three of the four courses, would provide a case without specific names or locations, then ask us how we thought the courts would decide. We had to post our responses to the discussion board, and then reply to at least two other students, which invited in-depth conversations. Dr. Green always told us the actual case outcome so we could see if it matched our way of thinking, and he provided opportunities to extend learning.”
Up to speed
In conclusion, Melissa says that by the end of the program, she felt a tremendous sense of confidence in her skills and knowledge. “Recently, we had a discipline incident that involved numerous stakeholders and required specific steps. Thanks to having gone through the School Law program, I already knew the terms involved and possibilities for process. I didn’t have to try to get up to speed on the spot, which allowed me to immediately focus on how to best support the student, the student’s caregivers, and staff.”
Melissa says she would and has recommended the program to anyone working in a school setting, including teachers, instructional specialists, and supervisors. “This is an outstanding program—and absolutely helpful if you’re making the transition to school administration. Every day is a puzzle. You never know what’s going to happen. As you can imagine, knowing the legal ins and outs in advance of issues coming up is incredibly valuable.”
“If you are in education, you cannot match what you’ll learn from UConn’s School Law program. It’s very relevant and based on laws and concepts that are current today. The professors are real experts in the field of School Law. Should I decide to pursue a job as a school principal, I have no doubt that having the certificate on my resume will help me stand out in the crowd.” — Kevin Durkin, Assistant Principal for Henry Abbott Technical High School, Danbury, CT, Spring 2018
Keeping Up with the Times
Kevin Durkin knew he needed more formalized training in School Law. When he discovered the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) School Law Online Graduate Certificate Program, he was intrigued. But could he deal with the online aspect of the program, especially since he had only taken courses in the traditional classroom setting? Would the program focus on the realities he faces every day as an assistant principal? How would earning the certificate impact his future?
Kevin Durkin was looking for more formal education in the area of School Law – and that’s precisely what he gained after completing the School Law Online Graduate Certificate program. As he explains, he had been working in the Stamford, CT, public schools as the Assistant Director of Alternative Programs (K-12) since July 2010. In this role, he provided programs and services for approximately 200 students each year, many of whom had truancy and discipline problems, incarcerations, and other issues that kept them from attending a typical public school system.
When he was hired in 2014 as the Assistant Principal for Henry Abbott Technical High School in Danbury, CT, he realized that his knowledge of School Law as it applies to the public school system setting was lacking. “I chose the UConn program partially become I needed continuing education credits for licensing requirements, but primarily because I need more formalized training in School Law. School administrators deal with legal issues all the time, yet often we are so focused on our students’ education, we don’t always have the time to get up to speed on School Law as much as we should.”
The perfect fit
After doing a Google search, Kevin found the UConn’ School Law program’s website and was immediately intrigued. He spoke with Program Director Preston Green, J.D., Ed.D., and felt that it was the perfect fit for him. He started his coursework in the summer of 2017, taking one course that summer, two in the fall and one in the spring, completing the program in May 2018. “With having a family and full-time job, it was a bit intense to keep up with all the requirements of the two courses I took last fall. But thanks to UConn’s terrific HuskyCT/Blackboard online platform, I found the coursework to be manageable the entire time I was enrolled. I would usually do my homework once the kids went to bed.”
strong>But could he deal with the online platform?
As Kevin recalls, going into the program he was concerned about taking courses online because he had never taken an online class before. “I was very anxious; the first course was starting just at the end of our vacation. I was panicking; I thought I had made a bad decision and that it was going to ruin our family time. But then, while we were on vacation, my wife would take the girls to the beach while I took a couple of hours each morning to familiarize myself with the platform. I found that it was very easy to use; the instructors’ syllabuses and requirements were well laid out, and the time lines were clear. When I got home, I was prepared to jump right in.”
Relevant to today’s issues
So was the program worth Kevin’s time and effort? Absolutely yes, he says! As he notes, the coursework was very relevant to what he deals with as a school administrator in such areas as Special Education laws, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, student rights, and search and seizure to name just a few examples. “I thought all of the courses were valuable; there were parts of each that were relevant and helpful with what I was dealing with at the current time. For example, would a student be committing a crime when sharing certain types of images through electronic devices? The courses didn’t necessarily flow from one into the next; they each offered their own robust content focused on different concepts. They provided an outstanding background, along with timely case materials that helped me more quickly learn the concepts.”
Diverse backgrounds and perspectives
To Kevin’s surprise, the discussions with his classmates and professors were quite lively. The students would be asked a question to which they had to post comments. “Everyone in the class was a professional in some capacity in the field of education and were there to learn. There was a lot of very interesting information shared. I was also amazed at the variety of students in the courses. There were people with all kinds of backgrounds, from guidance counselors to psychologists to teachers and administrators like me. We each saw things through our own lens and had many opportunities to share our unique perspectives.”
Working more effectively and collaboratively
Kevin also credits the program with giving him the knowledge and resources he needs to be better prepared to have difficult conversations with parents. “In general, parents today are well versed in Special Education. They are quick to Google laws and policies that pertain to it, which can actually escalate problems even to the point that attorneys get involved. When a disciplinary action has to be taken, I am now much better equipped to defend my position and justify the school district’s position based on state laws. I remember one case recently in which a student was assaulted. The perpetrator was arrested, but unfortunately, the situation quickly escalated and the attorney for the defendant alleged that the school officer mishandled the situation. I can’t speak at the same level as an attorney who specializes in School Law. But thanks to the program, I was able to speak to some of the Special Education laws that the attorney alleged we were violating. And I was able to work collaboratively with the school district’s legal counsel. I could understand the circumstances far more quickly and work more effectively for a resolution.”
In conclusion, Kevin says: “If you are in education, you cannot match what you’ll learn from UConn’s School Law program. It’s very relevant and based on laws and concepts that are current today. The professors are real experts in the field. Should I decide to pursue a job as a school principal, I have no doubt that having the certificate on my resume will help me stand out in the crowd.”
“We worked together as a group, but at our own pace. The Husky CT/Blackboard online platform is beneficial to people like me who work full time, and don’t have extra time to commute to a class.” — Kelly Melzer, Speech and Language Pathologist, Greenbrier Elementary School, Northbrook, IL, Spring 2018
Perfect Commute, Perfect Pace
As a speech and language pathologist, Kelly Melzer knew she needed some additional training in school law. But unfortunately, the only program that met her needs was a three-hour roundtrip commute – too far for this full-time speech and language pathologist. Fortunately, she discovered the perfect solution, right online. The content was fantastic, the pace, perfect.
Times have changed, to say the least. Today, anyone working in a public school system is faced with a myriad of new legal issues, from copyright infringements of using YouTube videos in the classroom to potential violations of search and seizure laws. Just ask Kelly Melzer, a speech and language pathologist for the Greenbrier Elementary School in Northbrook, IL.
While earning her undergraduate degree at Elmhurst College, she took an education course that covered some aspects of special education law. For her Master’s of Science degree at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, IA, Kelly took a couple of courses that touched on some legal and ethical topics, but did not go into depth. “As a service provider working in Special Education, we deal with so many different legal issues. The few courses I had taken were too general; they covered a lot of topics, but only on the surface. I knew I needed more information on the kinds of legal issues that arise in today’s school setting.”
No time for commuting
There was just one problem: The only program Kelly could find that might meet her needs was a three-hour roundtrip drive. So she did an internet search and found two different University of Connecticut programs that stood out. As Kelly says, “I decided on School Law. I knew of Dr. Preston Green – he’s an amazing force in the world of educational law. When I learned more about the content of the program – that it covered school and educational issues as a whole, not just administrative or employment law – I was sold. It incorporated everything I was looking for altogether in one year-long graduate-level program.”
It took a bit for Kelly to become accustomed to the online platform, but once she did, she absolutely loved it. “It forces you to focus on scheduling your time to figure out how to get all of the work done, which I really appreciated.”
The program was discussion based, which appealed to Kelly. As she explains, she and her “classmates” were given assignments each week, including papers and essays, as well as prompts in question form to which the other students had to post responses. “The prompts were focused on present-day issues, so they were relevant to today’s culture and world,” notes Kelly.
Surprisingly, the discussions were quite lively, which Kelly attributes in part to the diversity of the students taking the courses. “There were students who had just graduated from college, combined with school administrators and teachers who had been in the field for 25 years. There were occupational therapists, psychologists, even chemists. Everyone brought up such different points and had their own perspectives, many of which I had never considered before. Dr. Green would encourage us to talk about how our experiences differed from one another.”
Kelly also says that she appreciated the pace of the program. Assignments were posted on Monday, discussions were due on Thursdays, and essays on Sunday. “We worked together as a group, but at our own pace,” she notes. Best of all, “The Husky CT/Blackboard online platform is beneficial to people like me who work full time, and don’t have extra time to commute to a class.”
Now unofficially part of the school’s IT team
Thanks to the new skills Kelly acquired in the program, she has brought attention to the need for an updated computer policy plan, which hadn’t been revised since 2008. “The school is rolling out a new program in which each student will be given a laptop to use at school, with the ultimate goal of bringing it home. That creates a whole new set of issues,” notes Kelly, who was able to offer references and her own new skills to assist the IT team in creating the new policy.
In summary she says, “You may think you are doing everything right. But, for example, I didn’t even know about copyright laws and how they apply to videos you find online. What’s more, instead of just doing something because I had been told to do it, I now understand the ‘why’ behind a specific policy. If I ever decide to go into school administration, I have a knowledge base that I think sets me apart and will give me a real edge over the competition. Educational law is a huge and growing field, and so many people in the field don’t have the required expertise to get ahead. This was not an easy breezy program, but trust me, you will leave with a firm foundation in school law, along with a very strong set of skills and knowledge to work with going forward. Plus I felt that I got the best education possible; after all, Dr. Green is on the forefront of many of the issues we discussed, and he was our professor. It doesn’t get better than that!”
“For me, taking one course a semester was very doable. I didn’t necessarily take the courses to earn the certificate, but I did appreciate receiving the certificate after completing all four courses. But ultimately, it was engaging with the content and the critical learning that I took away from the program that mattered most to me.” - Amy Cole, PhD, Fall 2019
Taking the 12-credit School Law Online Graduate Certificate
expanded her learning about school law and was very doable
for Dr. Amy Cole, despite moving from Vermont to Hawaii in
the middle of the program.
Public or Private, Learning Is Learning
Amy Cole’s interest in the law and policy stems back to her undergraduate studies at Boston University during her studies in International Relations. After earning her Master’s in Education from the University of New Hampshire, she worked for nine years as a classroom teacher before moving into educational leadership. As a district administrator, over the years she took courses and workshops in education law. “Staying current on school law is critical for educators, particularly school and district leaders,” she notes.
Fast-forward to 2018. Despite having already earned her PhD in Education from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Amy decided it was time to gain a broader, more flexible skill set in the area of educational law. “I didn’t want to just take another workshop or single course, but was looking for something to really expand my learning in the area of school law.” She discovered the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) School Law Online Graduate Certificate program and began by taking one course.
Preconceived notions quashed
“I will admit that I had preconceived notions about online learning,” says Amy. “I went in with an assumption that in an online platform, the students wouldn’t be able to develop relationships with each other or the instructor.” So rather than jumping in head first, Amy decided to take the first course, EDLR 6001 - Legal Issues in Student and Parent Rights, as a Non-Degree student to see how she liked it. “I enjoyed that course tremendously. Dr. Preston Green is a terrific instructor. He did an outstanding job with the HuskyCT/Blackboard platform, which made the course much more interactive and engaging than I thought it would be.”
When Amy started the program, she was working in Vermont as the Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at the Essex Westford School District. Midway through the program she took a new job in Hawaii as the Director of Studies at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, a private K-12 school on Big Island, and moved to Kailua Kona. Her job is very rewarding and can be very demanding. So as she proceeded through the certificate program, she particularly appreciated its structure, especially because the weekly modules laid out coursework in a predictable way. “The predictable nature of the program allowed me to fit coursework around my schedule, but in no way was the program a breeze. Dr. Green had very high expectations of us, but was also very supportive. The work was quite involved and required that we not just know the content, but also use our critical thinking skills.”
Amy found the case analyses to be thought-provoking and informative. She also found the threaded discussions to be helpful. As she notes, students were asked to post answers to specific questions. The instructors would then read through the answers individually and write a summary back. “Basically the summaries back were ‘Here’s what I’ve heard from you.’ They were very helpful, and I found that the instructor was extremely responsive, providing feedback in a timely manner,” she notes.
After Amy took the first course, Donna Campbell, UConn’s Enrollment Services Specialist, asked her if she’d like to take the remaining three courses and earn the certificate. “I didn’t really need a certificate for job career reasons, but I learned so much in the first course with Dr. Green that I wanted to continue. Donna was great! Anytime I had questions, she was super helpful and supportive.”
Having come from a long background in public school education and then switching over to working in a private school, Amy was concerned that the program would not be relevant for someone like her in an administrative position within a private school system. “Yes, a lot of the content is extremely relevant for people in public school systems, for example laws around accepting federal funds. But for the most part, what I learned I am able to apply to my daily work. For example, we learned a lot about the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Understanding the legal aspects of student and family confidentiality is important, regardless of whether you work in a public or private school setting. We also learned a great deal about the changing role of technology in schools and the legal implications of these changes on student and family privacy.”
Amy also found the content of the program to be up to date. For instance, during one of the courses, EDLR 6001 - Legal Issues in Student and Parent Rights, the students analyzed cases to see how different courts weigh in on freedom of speech questions in the educational arena. “There is a sticky line when free speech is not mainstream. Let’s say a student wears a t-shirt with speech that is offensive to others, such as a swastika or a Confederate flag. Does this meet the test of freedom of speech or does the disruption that it causes warrant administrative action?”
Another area of interest for Amy was the topic of technology and cyber bullying. “This opened up all kinds of discussion. For example, if students are posting something offensive while at home that could impact other students, what rights do teachers and administrators have in response? What is our role? Throughout the courses we explored how to address these types of sensitive and complex topics.”
Ever-changing legal issues
Amy also discovered that many of the practices she grew up with now have legal challenges. “I remember when teachers were able to post work with student grades on their classroom walls. Today, we should be considering student confidentiality with these types of practices. Is this still legal? And regardless, is it good practice? What is the teacher’s intent for doing this? The courses focused on contemporary legal practices, which helped me understand that school law is ever-changing. There were lots of thought-provoking discussions.”
So did Amy feel that the program was too intense for people working full time? “For me, taking one course a semester was very doable. I didn’t necessarily take the courses to earn the certificate, but I did appreciate receiving the certificate after completing all four courses. But ultimately, it was engaging with the content and the critical learning that I took away from the program that mattered most to me.”