Our Law Firm is Different by Design
Illinois K-12 educational institutions face an ever-changing legal landscape. Our core belief is that our clients deserve access to the highest quality and highest value legal services. To achieve this core belief, our Illinois Education Practice is built on three foundations: PERSONAL CONTACT. QUALITY SERVICES. EFFICIENT RESULTS.
PERSONAL CONTACT. We understand that our Illinois public education clients need attorneys that are approachable, consultative, and trustworthy. These three words embody Tueth Keeney’s personal contact principle foundation. We listen carefully to clients. We seek to understand their unique needs, and work in collaboration with them, as true partners in decision-making. In the end, our clients know they have legal advice they can trust.
QUALITY SERVICES. Clients want attorneys that are knowledgeable, experience and professional. These three words embody Tueth Keeney’s quality services principle foundation. Tueth Keeney attorneys routinely provide valuable legal counsel to Illinois school districts and administrators in virtually all substantive areas of school law. In addition, Tueth Keeney’s trial experience is also virtually unmatched by any education law firm in Central and Southern Illinois with its litigation team having a record of success in defending Illinois school districts in state and federal court.
EFFICIENT RESULTS. In the current fiscal environment, Illinois educational entities need to stretch every dollar. They need a law firm that is innovative, tailored and cost-effective. These three words embody Tueth Keeney’s efficient results principle foundation. We strive to provide innovative solutions to complex problems, tailored to the client’s specific needs, and with the goal of reducing the bottom-line cost to our clients.
General Counsel Services to Boards and Administration
Our attorneys pride themselves on being available when our clients need us, whether to attend a board meeting or respond to an administrator’s phone call, email, or text. One of the characteristics of the Firm’s education attorneys is their ability to provide clients with up-to-date legal advice in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Because of our focus on public K-12 education and desire to keep abreast of federal and state laws affecting Illinois schools, our education attorneys can often provide advice without spending extensive time on costly legal research. This service is part of the Firm’s preventative law approach, designed to help clients avoid litigation. Occasionally, a brief telephone conversation will save an education client literally thousands of dollars in future loses, damages, or litigation fees.
Board of Education Policy, Duties & Responsibilities
One of the most important duties of a Board of Education is setting policy. Tueth Keeney’s experience and extensive knowledge of K-12 public schools, enables us to provide quality guidance on policy establishment, as well as needed updates. Firm shareholder Merry Rhoades serves on the Illinois Association of School Board’s PRESS advisory committee.
School Boards are also tasked with compliance with the Open Meetings Act (OMA). Tueth Keeney attorneys keep abreast of legislative changes to the Open Meetings Act (OMA), Public Access Counselor (PAC) decisions, and court interpretations of the OMA’s provisions. By keeping up-to-date on this Act, Tueth Keeney attorneys can provide timely and meaningful advice to its clients in a cost-efficient manner.
In addition to the OMA, we also provide counsel and guidance to Illinois school districts regarding the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), board member conflicts of interest, bidding requirements, the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, the Illinois State Gift Ban Act and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, just to name a few.
Finally, our Firm has assisted its clients in election matters ranging from placing a public question on the ballot, procedures for election of members of the board of education, filling a school board vacancy. As well as successfully representing school districts on objections to proposed ballot measures.
Board Member Training & Staff In-Service
Our attorneys pride themselves on client training activities – training designed to satisfy legal requirements, but more importantly, to empower Board members with the knowledge and understanding of issues they will be asked to face during their time on the Board. Our Illinois Education Practice attorneys are approved by the Illinois State Board of Education to provide the mandatory school board member training in accordance with the School Code, and are active in providing this training at districts and regional offices of education throughout the central and southern parts of the state.
Firm attorneys are certified by the Illinois State Board of Education to provide the mandated professional development leadership training to newly elected or appointed board of education members. We recently provided these trainings for Regional Offices of Education 40 and 45. In addition, attorneys in our Illinois Education Practice group are often asked to present on a number of legal topics at various trainings and in-services throughout the state, each year. These presentations cover topics such as school safety, collective bargaining, special education, student disciple, and a variety of other matters. Further, these presentations are provided to varied audiences, including teachers, administrators, boards of education, and even fellow legal professionals. Our firm is committed to providing real-world, practical guidance and is active in ensuring school leaders have the training and the information they need to provide the best educational environment they can.
Our Illinois Education Practice group attorneys regularly present to various education groups. Many are mentioned in the “In the News” section of our firm website, www.tuethkeeney.com. In addition, we are regular contributors to the Illinois Council of School Attorneys’ FAQs Regarding Conflict of Interest and Incompatible Offices. This FAQ can be located at www.iasb.com/Law/COI_FAQ.pdf.
Employment & Personnel Issues
Employee personnel matters are often at the forefront of issues facing Illinois public school administrators and Boards of Education. We have substantial experience assisting school districts with a wide array of employment matters, ranging from routine hiring of educational support personnel, to the contested dismissal of tenured teachers, and everything in between.
Our Firm’s attorneys regularly counsel Illinois public school districts and administrators on the ins and outs of employee investigation, discipline, and dismissal, as well as the routine matters involving wage and hour, overtime, FMLA regulations, and a wide variety of employment issues for both certified and non-certified employees of the District. Our attorneys assist clients in the development and implementation of personnel policies and practices that contribute to a sound human resource program throughout the District.
Additionally, our attorneys are available to assist school districts with the legal requirements affecting the employment relationship, from applications and interviews, through review of background check or drug testing results, to drafting employment-related contracts, to non-renewals of probationary teachers, or reductions in force (RIF) of teachers and ESP’s, even the dismissal for cause of support personnel, teachers, or administrators. Tueth Keeney attorneys are widely recognized for their creative yet tough approaches toward these important issues.
Labor Relations & Collective Bargaining
Effective collective bargaining is an integral part of our practice. Tueth Keeney attorneys have assisted in the successful negotiations of well over one-hundred collective bargaining agreements for Illinois school districts, including negotiations with certified teachers, with non-certified support personnel, and even with wall-to-wall bargaining units. In recent years we have negotiated client districts through changes to PERA, SB7, the 3% and 6% TRS retirement rules, the recent Janus fair share fees decision, and the move to Evidence Based Funding (EBF).
Our attorneys have experience in serving as lead spokesperson for the District bargaining team, negotiating directly on behalf of the public school Board and administration. We represent our school clients’ interests assertively and effectively, having achieved a number of long-term agreements, negotiated concessions on crucial matters, and continually pressing for the best interest of students. Even so, our approach is generally typified by a non-confrontational style, and our relationship with the IEA, the IFT, and other public sector unions remains positive.
In many other cases, Tueth Keeney attorneys have assisted District bargaining teams in their negotiations by working behind the scenes, helping to prepare proposals and counter-proposals in advance, and offering sound advice and guidance to assist District bargaining team members. We stand ready to assist Districts in negotiations at every phase, including mediation and, if necessary, the public posting and impasse process, or even in the event of an employee strike.
When disputes arise over the meaning or interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, our attorneys have successfully defended school districts in grievance arbitrations before the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and American Arbitration Association (AAA).
Our Firm’s traditional labor experience includes protecting the employer’s interests at virtually every stage. Tueth Keeney has assisted non-union employers to maintain union-free work environments through campaigns, card-checks, and elections. We have assisted employers in revising the scope of existing bargaining units through unit clarification proceedings, and successfully defended charges of unfair labor practice before the Educational Labor Relations Board. We are comfortable and confident in representing districts before the Labor Boards.
Student Rights & Discipline Matters
Balancing the Constitutional rights of students to attend public schools with the ever-evolving challenge of keeping schools safe is a test for school administrators and Boards of Education. Tueth Keeney attorneys can assist school districts as they balance the need to keep schools safe and focused on maintaining an environment conducive to a worthwhile education, with the need to recognize and respect the rights of the students they serve. By helping districts develop, implement, and monitor Board of Education policies and student handbooks and policies, Tueth Keeney attorneys can help ensure your district stays current and well positioned to handle any student issue that may arise. And, when a situation arises which requires the district to take disciplinary action, we can assist you in the preparation and handling of a student disciplinary hearing that will comply with all legal requirements.
Protecting the confidentiality of student related information, particularly special education information, is another important legal obligation imposed on public schools. Today, schools face more pressure than ever to keep student data protected and to secure personally identifiable student information. The attorneys at Tueth Keeney are versed in the legal intricacies of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Illinois School Student Records Act (ISSRA), and can guide school administrators through the intricate and complex obligations these Acts impose on schools. Further, the Firm prides itself in staying current on the ever-changing legal landscape and will be able to help guide your district through new changes to ensure you remain in compliance with new legal obligations as they come.
Special Education & Student Disabilities
Tueth Keeney prides itself on keeping abreast of recent developments in special education, whether it is a legislative change to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), the Illinois School Code or their respective implementing regulations, or recent case law decisions. Firm attorneys also actively participate in the development of special education related statutes and regulations through the Special Education Concerns Committee of the Illinois Council of School Attorneys.
Resolving disputes between school districts and parents of disabled students under both IDEA and Section 504 proves challenging for the school administrator. Avoiding a special education due process hearing is important to each public school district. To assist districts in avoiding these costly and time consuming proceedings, Tueth Keeney attorneys routinely provide valuable guidance on writing the defensible Individual Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan so that each eligible student receives the required “free appropriate public education” or FAPE. When the dispute over the special education student’s goals and objectives, special education and related services and placement cannot be resolved through informal means, such as a resolution session or mediation, Firm attorneys advocacy on behalf of public school districts spans the entire spectrum from the basic administrative proceeding to complex litigation, including Office of Civil Rights’ investigations, due process hearings, and state and federal litigation culminating in settlement, trial, or resolution on appeal.
The legal aspects of disciplining a special education student are complex. School administrators regularly consult with Tueth Keeney attorneys to better understand the student’s rights under the IDEA and Section 504, the school district’s authority to impose discipline, and to ensure that the District’s interests are protected while safeguarding the rights of the students.
Firm attorneys are recognized for their knowledge and experience in special education matters by being presenters on the topic of special education for groups such as the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Council of School Attorneys, the Illinois Principals Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the National Council of School Attorneys.
Real Estate & Construction Issues
Our attorneys have experience with real estate sales and purchases, title issues, leases, financing, construction, and property management. Our goal is to bring specialists together at the beginning of a project to advise the client on how to avoid problems, while maintaining the ability to deal aggressively with possible violations, and the related regulatory enforcement actions that arise in the course of any development project or day-to-day business operation.
In the construction area, we provide services including contract preparation, negotiation and administration. We provide construction counseling and claim avoidance through risk shifting, efficient claim analysis and creative dispute resolution techniques. We advise our clients on project administration, contract interpretation, project scheduling, claims analysis and preparation, contract termination, insurance issues, and surety bond issues.
We also have extensive experience in preparing, analyzing, defending, and prosecuting construction claims, including change orders, defective plans and specifications, delay and termination. Our vast experience with construction matters includes prosecuting construction defect claims, including mold contamination claims. In this area, we have retained and worked with technical consultants in architecture, project scheduling, engineering and other disciplines.
School Finance & Business Issues
Tueth Keeney attorneys recognize the financial and fiscal restraints placed on public education institutions. We have worked with Illinois public school districts to obtain needed funds to meet the day-to-day operating expenses of their schools and have collaborated with various bond counsels to help assist public schools in meeting their financial obligations. Whether it is constructing a new building, purchasing new property, or negotiating deals to bring renewable energy to your schools, the attorneys of Tueth Keeney are experienced and prepared to meet your District’s needs.
The firm’s experience in school finance also encompasses a broad spectrum of issues outside of day-to-day financial transactions. Tueth Keeney attorneys have prevailed in matters before the Illinois Department of Revenue on property tax exemptions matters and before the Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board on matters regarding property assessments. Our attorneys served as counsel in the first court challenge to the Illinois 1% School Facilities Tax Act and continue to be on the front lines of understanding the implications of Evidence Based Funding. Tueth Keeney is poised to handle whatever financial and business situation that may arise in your district and have the broad experience necessary meet your school finance legal needs.
In today’s difficult economy, all governmental entities are looking for creative financing opportunities. Often times, cities and villages turn to Tax Increment Financing or TIF to provide needed city or village improvements. When a city or village creates a TIF, the school district generally loses revenue. Tueth Keeney attorneys are well versed in the ins and outs of TIFs. Because of our experience, we work with school districts to minimize a school district’s financial loss when a TIF is instituted through either negotiating with the city or village to be made whole for any losses or challenging the TIF in court.
Tueth Keeney attorneys are also knowledgeable in other business-related legal issues, such as the formation of a related not-for-profit organization to assist in defraying operating costs. Our experience in preparing by-laws or intergovernmental agreements that control the relationship between the Districts that comprise a special education district is unmatched by any other downstate Illinois school law firm.
Our commitment to ongoing communication with our clients, and to providing preventative in-service and training on best practices to help avoid legal issues before they are created, helps Districts know when they should call for legal advice. Advance training and in-service, along with on-going communication and advice, often results in a substantial savings in legal fees by preventing problems and reducing litigation.
School Litigation & Insurance Defense
Litigation is the process of resolving disputes through the court system or through an administrative tribunal. The attorneys in our litigation practice group specialize in assisting school districts and institutions of higher education in a wide array of litigation matters. We are trusted by our clients to deliver not only proven trial skills, but also an understanding of the unique issues that school districts and colleges face during lawsuits, including accountability to the public and community at large, confidentiality issues, media coverage, and records requests.
Specifically, we have a record of success in defending Illinois school districts in state and federal court. Our attorneys have obtained favorable outcomes for our clients in matters ranging from special education, constitutional rights, student discipline, construction disputes, elections, annexation and detachment and general tort liability. Our attorneys have also successfully defended clients in employment-related litigation in federal and state courts in actions involving Title VII, the ADA, the ADEA, the FMLA, FLSA and various state anti-discrimination statutes. We also routinely represent clients before administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the United States Office for Civil Rights, the United States Department of Labor, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, The Illinois Department of Human Rights, and other state administrative agencies.
We are proud to receive regular appointments to represent Illinois and Missouri schools from leading insurers of educational institutions, including United Educators Risk Retention Group, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., Gallagher-Bassett Services, Prairie State Insurance Cooperative, Brokers Risk, and Liberty Mutual, among others.