Did you know? During the 1918 Spanish Flu, which wiped out nearly 25% of the global population, teachers were hit particularly hard. When the school code was rewritten in 1949, they lobbied to ensure that teachers who are prevented from working because of a health emergency would still get paid. Thus, all teachers are still receiving payment. The question then becomes, how will they educate students during Covid-19?
We spoke with one of the nation’s top educational solicitors, Ira Weiss, with Weiss Burkhardt Kramer. He addressed common questions posed by school districts as a result of this crisis.
Q. How should school districts navigate the sometimes inconsistent information delivered by the Department of Education?
A. The bottom line is that most schools (including their operations, such as administrative technology departments) need to work with the superintendent and boards to be innovative and make their own decisions based on who they are as a district and what resources they have. Part of the problem is that the districts expected to receive more guidance from the state. This is an unprecedented situation. The state’s decision to waive the minimum days of instruction requirement and mandatory testing is essentially giving schools the freedom to make instruction and enrichment decisions based on their resources.
Q. In identifying at-home enrichment, how should districts navigate the resource gap within their student population?
A. Remember, it’s public schools’ mandated duty to educate, even in these unprecedented times. Most districts have already developed some type of enrichment program. The big issue is that not all schools are a one-to-one technology district. Legally, if you provide online instruction for the general student population, the law requires that you make provisions for all students, including special ed students.
Q. Are there potential legal implications for public schools who don’t provide technology or special ed resources for online learners?
A. I’m advising all districts to update EL learners and special ed learners individualized education programs. The reality is that legal processes and rules were not created for times like this. As a result, I envision parents of special needs children will fire future claims that their children are not receiving the education they are required to receive. Because of this possibility, districts can best protect themselves by overcommunciating to these parents and reaching out to them one-to-one, offering every effort to provide an IEP.
Q. Do you predict that kids will physically go back to school?
A. It’s certainly possible that kids will be out of school into the summer. This is all new territory that will — if anything — shine a glaring light on the vastly different resources available from district to district. Because of this, it’s an opportunity to remind stakeholders and elected officials that the disparities in public schools as a result of how education is funded in Pennsylvania needs to change.
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