Real Talk Podcast: Understanding Your School’s Liability When It Comes To Protecting Your Child

April 27, 2022
real talk with susan and kristina podcast

In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Dr. Edward F. Dragan, the founder and lead expert witness of School Liability Expert Group.  They discuss the coverage of his role as a lead expert witness in educational, school, and administrative liability.  The conversation includes the best method to help prevent Title XI issues, the difference between bullying and regular student conflict, and the hard truth about individualized education programs.

Links Mentioned In the Show:

School Liability Expert Group:


Show Notes:

  • How one phone call became the catalyst to Dr. Dragan’s School Liability Expert Group (02:00)
  • What it means to be an expert witness covering education, administration and supervision (04:44) 
  • Why one annual training is not enough to prevent Title IX issues in schools (07:25)
  • How to distinguish bullying and regular student conflict (12:00)
  • How Dr. Dragan and his wife gracefully dealt with a first-hand experience of student conflict (13:20)
  • What school districts are not telling you about individualized education programs and what parents need to do (16:05) 




Susan Stone: Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. We’re full-time moms and attorneys bringing our student defense legal practice to life with real candid conversations. Today’s guest is Dr. Edward Dragan, founder and lead expert witness of School Liability Expert Group. That’s a mouthful. Dr. Dragan consults and works as an expert in cases involving student injuries. Welcome. 

Dr. Dragan: Thank you. I appreciate the time that you’re giving me, Susan and Kristina. Thank you very much. 

Kristina Supler: Thank you for joining us as a guest today. We’re so pleased to have you. Dr. Dragan, can you tell us about the School Liability Expert Group?

Kristina Supler: What exactly does this business do? 

Dr. Dragan: Sure. School Liability Expert Group started in, uh, 1993, actually. And I was working before that in the State Department of Education in New Jersey. And I was also the director of the department of special services in a local school district in New Jersey.

Dr. Dragan: And I looked at what I was doing and I, I decided that I couldn’t. Put together all of my background and expertise as a school administrator or a superintendent. And I had just received my doctoral degree in education administration and supervision. So I took a little time off and I developed my firm and got started by providing consultation directly to boards of education on issues involving the structure of their departments of special education.

Dr. Dragan: I did that at first. And then I was sitting at my desk one day and an attorney calls me and he said, “Hey, Dr. Dragon, would you be interested in providing expert witness services for a case I’m working on?” 

Dr. Dragan: And I really didn’t know actually what an expert witness was at that point. And I said, well, tell me more about it.

Dr. Dragan: I’d like to hear what you have to say happened to be a special education case. And this was one in New Jersey that went before the administrative law, judge. I researched the case. I reviewed it and I went to testify. Then I thought to myself, Hmm, I really like this. This is kind of interesting because it’s a combination of my educational background, my background in teaching and administration. 

Dr. Dragan: So I thought, wow, this is something I really want to develop. And I went back to school and I got a law degree from a University of New Hampshire, and that was a specialty law degree in education administration. So that’s really where it started. I had a small desk in a very small house in Lambertville New Jersey.

Susan Stone: Beautiful area. Very charming. 

Dr. Dragan: Love it. Here. 

Susan Stone: Love Lambert bill. It’s been a long time. 

Kristina Supler: I have to add I’m I’m sensing quite a bit of synergy between Dr. Dragan and Susan, all backgrounds. 

Susan Stone: This is crazy our parallels. Because my practice, I started out as just a general litigator. And then I have always had a love of special education work.

Susan Stone: Started doing that a couple of days a week while I was an associate at a firm and then met Kristina because a lot of my students were getting in trouble in a criminal area and Christine has got a criminal background. And then we branched out into title nine and sexual assault and sexual harassment, and our practice continues to evolve.

Susan Stone: So you are in good company because it seems like we have a lot of parallels. I didn’t know about that law degree with that educational concentration. I’m going to look that up. But let’s start with our first question of the day. And you’ve really covered a lot of what you do serving as an expert witness.

Susan Stone: Can you tell us about the different areas that you serve as an expert witness? 

Dr. Dragan: Sure. Overall the, the main area is education, administration and supervision. So all of the sub categories come under that main umbrella heading. So under education, administration and supervision we deal with preschool issues where a, in many cases that we’ve had, unfortunately where three year olds were sexually abused by their caretakers or sexually abused by volunteers who were in the classroom with three and four year olds. So it’s it spans from preschool and daycare all the way through college and university. And the college and university cases that we deal with have to do also with Title IX issues.

Dr. Dragan: I mean, we, we’ve got several cases of alleged rape on college campuses. So what we do in those cases is we, we look at the policies and the procedures of organizations and institutions from preschool through college and university. Look at the policies and procedures first. We assess the uh, the standard of care in the field and then review documents and and other information that is sent to us from our client attorneys.

Dr. Dragan: T to determine whether or not the school or agency or institution met the professional standard of care or not. So that, that’s basically what we focus on. 

Kristina Supler: That’s really interesting that you brought up Title IX because Susan and I regularly serve as student advisors for complainants and respondents and title IX cases across the country.

Kristina Supler: We, we actually do a lot of work with college students, of course, but high school students as well, because Title IX has such broad application now. And you mentioned working with schools on policies, and I believe you also do training for school administrators on extra issues like sexual abuse and harassment. Can you just tell us a little bit about what, what is proper training look like for school administrators to prevent sexual abuse and particularly abusive students with disabilities our most vulnerable students, 

Dr. Dragan: right?

Dr. Dragan: Right. Well, one of the things that I have found out is that once a year at the beginning of the year training is never enough. And many of the schools that we deal with say to us when we ask about their training. Yeah, we, we got our staff together and the beginning of the school year. We spent an hour going through our policies and we told the staff, well, you’re not supposed to have any kind of interaction that could be determined as sexual behavior between yourself and students. And so that’s not enough. That’s, that’s clearly not enough because in those situations, in those cases that we deal with schools did that and there were still issues. 

Susan Stone: So what’s the answer? 

Dr. Dragan: Well, I’m not sure if we can prevent absolutely interactions that may be appropriate inappropriate rather between students and, and staff.

Dr. Dragan: One, one of the things that, that I know for sure is that students and, and, uh, staff keep these things a secret. And they’re, they’re not going to be going out and telling other staff members or or other students that they’re in a sexual relationship. That’s inappropriate. So it is kept a secret. And however, many of the cases that we have worked on involved, a, a student who bragged to a fellow student, Hey, I’m having sex with the science teacher.

Dr. Dragan: And it was that fellow student who told someone else and reported it. And then it was investigated and found that the school wasn’t supervising that science teacher, appropriately; student was taken out of class and taken to the science room and abused. So yeah, I don’t think we can absolutely prevent, but schools can Can do a lot more to appropriately train on a regular basis to inform 

Kristina Supler: More frequent training. It sounds like that’s key 

Dr. Dragan: Frequent training and let staff and students know what to look for. What are the signs of? 

Susan Stone: We have another parallel because we actually also handled representing students against professors and defending professors accused because we see both situations. We see where students, especially in college level, the boundaries are violated and it results in sexual harassment and or discrimination.

Susan Stone: And we see a rise in those professors and faculty getting falsely accused. And I would add a third category that gray area with does it rise to discrimination or harassment? Maybe not. Was there unprofessional behavior possibly, and those grays are really difficult to wrestle with, but Christina, can you I want to poke at all, some post pandemic bullying case.

Susan Stone: Um, 

Kristina Supler: yeah, I, you know, Dr. Dragon, Susan and I post pandemic, we have seen such a significant rise in cyber bullying. And we, we regularly defend students, accused of bullying. And I noticed, uh, on your, on your website, you had written a blog about how to distinguish between bullying versus student conflict in general. Because after all we know that that not every argument between students rises to the level of bullying and bullying is such a, a phrase that’s used all over today in so many different contexts.

Kristina Supler: And I think it’s sometimes hard for parents to know what’s the difference. So what would you say or what are some, some key points for parents to keep in mind and how to tell the difference and conduct 

Susan Stone: Dr. Dragon? I want to challenge. ’cause I know with our parents, they, they like it when we give it to them neat. And in a box. So if you could provide a few short sentences to say, give them the barometer: bullying or just conflict or mean behavior. 

Dr. Dragan: Yeah. Okay. Conflict or mean behavior typically is something that may occur one time between two students. However, if, if that behavior continues on an extended basis, then it can rise to the level of bullying.

Dr. Dragan: So bullying hurts a student on a regular basis. It is something that predominantly is done by one or two students, but it’s continual on a regular basis. So, that’s how I would distinguish the two. Conflict might. Ah, I want to sit at that table, but no, I don’t want you to sit here at the, at the cafeteria table.

Dr. Dragan: So that’s, that may be conflict. Might never happen again. 

Susan Stone: What about excluding a child I’m talking from a birthday party or a bar or bat mitzvah? 

Dr. Dragan: Oh that, yeah. That’s a horrible thing. And 

Kristina Supler: Every parents had to deal with the crying child and saying, oh no people like you. 

Dr. Dragan: So I have a personal experience with that.

Dr. Dragan: Do share. Yes. 

Susan Stone: To all our listeners, we’re going to get personal with Dr. Dragon. 

Dr. Dragan: So, my wife and I adopted three biracial children in a all white community in New Jersey. Uh, I won’t go into the politics, but you could probably guess the politics once I described this. My daughter was in first grade. There was a birthday party of one of the children in the first grade class. Everybody received an invitation except my daughter. Oh my gosh. Yeah. And she was so hurtful. She was the only dark skin trials and in the class and she came home and she said Jody is having a birthday, but I wasn’t invited. I really want to go to her birthday.

Dr. Dragan: And we realized right away what it was. So my wife actually to resolve the issue and to try to teach the parent something positive called the parent right away and said, Hey you know, Tina would really love to have Jody come to visit us and spend some time at our house. The birthday party was going to be in a week from then.

Dr. Dragan: So, Jody’s mom was hesitant. But she was put on the spot because my wife invited Jodie to come to the house. So parent brought Jodie over. And after that, Jodie had a good time with my daughter Tina at the house, and then she was invited to the party.

Dr. Dragan: So one of the things that we learned from that, and I hope that the parent learned is that there’s so much more to learn about people. And so she, she learned a lesson from that as well. And now she has three of her own children and is a terrific mom. 

Kristina Supler: Oh, that’s great. That’s great. I’d like to delve a little deeper on the issue.

Kristina Supler: Your work regarding students with disabilities. Uh, Susan and I do a lot at the beginning. Susan mentioned her special education practice, and we still do a lot of work advocating for students with disabilities who are receiving various types of special education services. Can you tell us, I mean, cause we often are called by parents who are just distraught because their child hasn’t been serviced. The child perhaps has suffered injuries or even experienced restraint and seclusion at school. So have you done work in this type of area? What can you share with us? 

Dr. Dragan: My firm has done a lot of work in that area.

Dr. Dragan: And I in particular have done a lot because of my background as a teacher, a special education and director of special ed and all that. The, the main thing that parents need to understand is that the individualized education program, the IEP for their child is the contract between the school and the parents, excuse me, that we’ll stand up in any kind of an administrative hearing. A lot of times I find that school districts are not forthcoming with parents.

Dr. Dragan: They don’t let the parents know that the individuals with disability education act is a, a dual advocacy act. They don’t tell the parents that the school district is supposed to inform the parents that if they don’t agree with what the school is proposing to put into the IEP, that the parents can contest that.

Susan Stone: Well, we always say nothing’s better than an IEE more of a private assessment at the public expense where we can challenge those services. 

Dr. Dragan: Absolutely. And that’s again, uh, something that I advised parents that if, if you don’t agree with the assessment and evaluation of the school personnel, you really need to go outside in order to get an evaluation.

Susan Stone: We agree. We could talk to you forever, Dr. Dragan. There are so many different aspects of your business but it’s been a pleasure for our listeners out there. We are at the end of our show and we do appreciate you coming on.

Susan Stone: So Christina, why don’t you do our famous wrap up? 

Kristina Supler: Thank you again for joining us, Dr. Dragon, it was such a pleasure and thank you to our listeners. We appreciate you listening to Real Talk with Susan and Kristina.

Kristina Supler: If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our show so you never miss an episode and leave us a review so that other people can find the content that we share here. You can also follow us on Instagram. Just search our handle at Stone Supler and for more resources, visit us on. Student

Kristina Supler: Thank you so much for being a part of our Real Talk community. And we’ll see you next time. 

Dr. Dragan: Thank you, Susan and Kristina.