feat. Ira Weiss | Top legal mind who represents dozens of school districts, Ira Weiss, discusses the importance of having a robust school district communications plan, especially right now.

Episode 3: Ira Weiss - Weiss Burkhardt Kramer

by On Crisis Podcast

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Welcome to on crisis. I’m your host, Joanna Donovan. And I have dealt with a lot of crisis for the past 15 years or so as press secretary for a big city mayor and in running my company, Primo consultants. And I think we all need to know more about how to handle crisis management in the age of fake news, political discord, lightning, fast news cycles and social media shaming. It’s essential that your business has a plan in place to handle crisis communications. We’re going to have some really cool people on our show talking about behind the scenes stories in city government, in corporations, employee scandals. Ultimately, we’re going to bring on people that will share stories with you to help you inform your own strategies. I promise

Speaker 2 (01:11):


Speaker 1 (01:15):

I’m so excited to have Ira Weiss join us on, on crisis. Ira Weiss is one of the top legal minds in the United States, especially as it relates to school districts and how to navigate the many crises that they face. Namely right now with digital learning as a result of COVID-19. Many parents, including myself, are trying to navigate how to adapt to these changing times. We’re not at all used to having to play the role of in-home office worker, full-time school teacher, chef, all these things all at once. It’s a lot for parents. It’s a lot for school districts and we haven’t even talked about the kids who don’t have parents around to help them, or don’t have access to technology. I’m here to talk on crisis is IRA Weiss with Weiss Burkhart, right? Weiss, Burkhart Kramer. Thanks for coming on.

Speaker 2 (02:14):

Thank you, Joanna. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 1 (02:17):

So, I mean, you’ve been doing this for several decades, right? Consulting with mostly school districts.

Speaker 2 (02:27):

I’ve been doing it for 47 years. And for school districts that long I also have been involved with other local governments the focus of our practice now, and mine has been school districts,

Speaker 1 (02:46):

Right? Talk to us. I mean, I have so many questions, but have, how would you describe the state of crisis that many school districts are in right now? Maybe let’s start with a more urban school district that you represent such as the Pittsburgh public schools. And then we’ll go to rural areas and suburban areas now, and your firm represents approximately how many school districts in the state.

Speaker 3 (03:15):

I would say that we represent approximately 15 school districts including large ones like Pittsburgh public schools down to various small ones in very rural areas. So we have a whole range of districts districts that have considerable wealth districts that don’t. So we have a pre I think you had the widest possible range and office,

Speaker 1 (03:43):

Right? Right. Which, which matters because your insight is remarkable. So, so talk to us about the, the crisis that school boards and school districts are facing when it comes to how to do this remote learning, right. In a way that’s not going to hurt disadvantaged populations.

Speaker 3 (04:06):

It’s a very difficult challenge. I mean, you know, the pro the, the biggest obligation, the biggest responsibility of any school district is to educate the children and the children don’t come all. I want size variety. So they have a range of needs. There are challenges with respect to special needs students, a wide range of federal protections under the individual with disabilities education act. They overlay that with the myriad of health regulations that are issued almost weekly and more often by department of health school administrators at school districts are faced with really a lot of conflicting problems to do remote education properly. Students need to have the equipment to do it computer as occupants. Families need to have computer access, which in urban areas have major challenge. You know, things that many people take for granted or are not commonplace in a lot of areas. And in rural areas too, this is not just an urban problem. And we have some rural districts that have significant computer access issues. On top of that, you have the human problem of teachers having to teach from home around shore at home. So they’re trying to teach students either completely virtually some districts have some students live. So they’re doing, what’s called synchronous is structure, which means teaching children in a classroom and also online.

Speaker 3 (06:17):

And on top of all that you have a constantly changing back hall, external environment. Then you have these infection rates shooting through the roof now yeah, there’s constant 24, seven news cycle of all these very troubling statistics about infection and all that. And finally you have some real conflicts within communities that are reflective of our national water environment, where many family don’t believe all these rules are necessary. A family don’t believe their children shouldn’t be required to wear protective masks and so forth. And that extends down to board members. So it’s, and school officials, particularly superintendents have legal obligations that they’re answerable for to the department of education. So it’s a very difficult environment right now, and it’s changing every day.

Speaker 1 (07:30):

And that’s the problem because you have so many different constituencies that a school district is trying to please all at one time and so many different needs, as you said, there’s there, there’s, there’s disparate populations in many, in many districts. I mean, I think of the Pittsburgh public schools, for example, you have, you have children in squirrel Hill that may have stay at home moms, nannies and computer access, and you go three miles away to Homewood and it could look exactly opposite. The, the thing that strikes me as the largest crisis is, is students with special needs and the legal obligation that the district has to provide education for these students. And many of them, I would, I would assume, need that one-on-one interaction to learn. Am I correct?

Speaker 3 (08:29):

Yes. It is a huge challenge because first of all special needs children of that category run the gamut from students who have the capacity to learn remotely that have perhaps emotional issues all the way to medically students that have multiple challenges, both physical and intellectual. And a lot of students in that latter category cannot learn on their own. Their parents cannot provide the support that they need to do it. Many of them require constant medical attention of a variety of ways. And the challenge is that educate those children in person you have to have the staff is willing to do it in a COVID environment. You know, many of the challenges, public education, well, really all education because this cuts across public private parochial, everyone. The big, the biggest challenge we have is not what happened in school, but what happens outside of school and in many districts have dozens of employees who are quarantined or who have barriers.

Speaker 3 (10:14):

Ladies of Alice’s is under this, these different variety of laws that cover that. And in many districts, that is the biggest challenge to having any person instruction. This cannot get the staff. So relating back to the special needs, students typically need a qualified teacher, many that need a a paraprofessional, which used to be called teachers days or paraprofessionals may the need ed education is full of acronyms, PCAs, personal care AIDS made them have nurses. And when is it literally impossible to socially distance people when you’re educating a child like that, or a group of maybe five or six children.

Speaker 1 (11:08):

And then the other thing that strikes me too, is I see it with my own, do my own children. I have two school-aged children, as you know, IRA is the emotional tool. It takes on them to completely have a disrupted routine, do not have that routine of you get up, you go to school, you know, your schedule, you know, who you’re going to be around that predictability literally yesterday. I mean, my kids are like, do we have school tomorrow? Like, do we, and, and every day is so take it as you comes that we, we like look the night before, Oh yeah, there’s virtual school tomorrow. Are we going back next week in person? We don’t know yet. We might having to, having to adapt so quickly is something that I can imagine a child with special needs isn’t disabled to do. Or do you suspect any legal challenges from parents to commonwealths, to school districts relative to their children, not getting the services that they, they need?

Speaker 3 (12:15):

Well Bob and really dates back to March of this year when the governor ordered schools to shut down lots of instruction. And for the most part, special needs, children did not have live instruction in that period. Many of those deficiencies were addressed through what was called co compensatory education, where students get additional instructional time and sometimes additional instructional equipment to make up for the time has to work. Compensatory sort of education generally does not take the place of what is called a free and a free, appropriate public education. It’s called FAPE. That’s the magic word in special education matters. School districts have an obligation to provide that. And that program is developed individually with each student as a call, what’s called an IEP or individualized education program device. It’s made up by teachers, counselors, a whole range of people that work in a group with parents.

Speaker 3 (13:41):

So I think we are seeing some claims arising out of the spring. We’re going to see some coins now. Was there have been claims filed nationally. I work with the group of school attorneys for the council of Gracie schools, which is a group of large, mostly urban school districts in the United States that are experiencing a lot of claims filed in New York. It was supposed to be a national class action, but it was thrown out for procedural reasons, but we were expecting a significant number of claims because I’m just used to can’t deliver this education remotely. And to your point about routines me special needs students require a lot of structure and that structure has changed even the most minor way possible. They have they have an adverse reaction to that. So that is a very difficult problem. And for the most part, urban districts like Pittsburgh have greater challenges. Now in regards, they have a higher percentage of students that are identified as special needs and Pittsburgh case because of the range of programs that offers may parents will move to the city to avail themselves of their children, to those opportunities,

Speaker 1 (15:30):

Right? What, what should school districts be doing proactively right now to a void, these kinds of, of lawsuits? Is there anything they can be doing because there’s, it’s complicated, right?

Speaker 3 (15:50):

It’s complicated. They need to be working. First of all, they have to approach it with the attitude that we have to try, make a good faith effort to try provide these children instruction. You just can’t say we can’t do it. You have to try if it turns out that you can’t staff it, or the health risks are too high. Then I think those are factors that will assist the district in any legal challenge. But I think they have to work with their special education lawyers. I’m not saying that I’m a lawyer, but this is a very complicated area. And especially education legal community is very well networked. You know, they all talk to each other in your office. We have five words to principally special education work. And I know from talking to them that they are very aware of what’s going on around the country and unlike more garden variety, legal issues have come up special education. Law enforcement is federally driven, but it’s driven to the States, but what goes on nationally and has a big impact at each state. So we just can’t say we’re doing it this way. And because everybody in Pennsylvania is doing it

Speaker 1 (17:33):

Like exactly what the governor says shut down. So we’re just gonna, we’re going to shut down. Right? So, I mean, that’s the thing, I mean, are they who, if the governor says too many cases, no one-on-one instruction, then isn’t that enough cover for school districts to stop?

Speaker 3 (17:53):

Well, well, we, we all think it is. I mean, it’s an interesting evolution of what’s happened in Pennsylvania. We all recall in March what the governor did with shutting down schools, having severe restrictions on other businesses, creating the red, yellow, green system and all that wanted a lot of resistance to that lot of school districts and school boards complained that they want them to have the decision-making ability to do that. Well, now they do. I mean, the governor had not wordy to shut down. The governor has issued guidelines to say that basically, if you have a certain, if you have substantial level of infection, you should have remote learning.

Speaker 1 (18:48):

And what is that? Is that level per County? Is it like within the County you’re in, or is it within the actual school

Speaker 3 (18:53):

Level for County level per County, but also then there’s guidelines in how you handle infections within your district. You have, you have depends on the staff at your school. If you have so many positives, you should go into remote districts.

Speaker 1 (19:16):

And that makes sense, but let me pause you there, because this is what, this is what irks me. There’s about 1.7 million people, almost too many people in Allegheny County, right? So why should my kid’s school closed down because 20 miles away, there’s a spike. You know what I’m saying?

Speaker 3 (19:35):

Well, that’s why these are guidelines. And, you know, we’ve made it clear to our clients that you have to judge your case, your situation on what your facts are. We have a district that is in, for instruction that has been they’re in a rural area. There’s not much going on. Their district have to be flexible. And, and, and sometimes they have to switch programs. Midweek, we go from full instruction to what’s called a hybrid, which means students go so many days a week, scary, effectively because out a number of students in a building by half. I usually, I know situations one day a week is completely remote instruction. So they can clean the buildings. And the days that the students are not in school, they’re having remote instruction synchronously. But the complexity of this is obvious because as we pointed out at the beginning of our discussion here to have effective remote instruction, you have to have a technology. You have to have internet access available. You have to have a teaching staff that is able to teach that way. And candidly is very various from district to district.

Speaker 1 (21:09):

And let’s talk about the culture in which we live. And I think that’s, what’s missing in this conversation is most of our kids are spoiled, right? There’s a lot of helicopter parents out there, right? I mean, the days of the Powell are gone, you know, if you there’s, so kids have so much leeway right now, right. To sit and look, every parenting style is different. I don’t want to draw a blanket assumption, but what I’ve noticed is most kids in general, if I, I would have to guess if I looked at, from now to when I was a kid, right. 30 years ago, or so they, kids, kids just, they need, they’re used to more structure. They’re not as independent. You know, we don’t let our kids play outside anymore. Right? How are we going to expect them to sit at a computer and, and do it without a parent or an adult looking over their shoulder?

Speaker 1 (22:05):

I don’t think our kids are prepared for remote learning in general. Now I can tell you that when my kids did it in the spring March, when it started, it was really tough on me too, to balance it. And they had a tough time with it. The school they go to, they go to a private school. You know, they, I think they worked out the kinks of sort of what worked well for kids, what didn’t, and now the virtual learning is synchronous. So it’s their lives, zoom. And then you take a break and do your work. You go back live, and it’s very small classrooms and it’s working, that’s working, but guess what? We’re privileged. And we’re paying thousands of dollars a year to send our kids to a private school. And, and so I think our, our, I think the American culture isn’t really ready for this remote learning, I mean, in general.

Speaker 1 (22:54):

And I think that I think schools need to figure it out, like figure out how to make these kids come in. Because what I saw with my kid’s school in the city is they figured it out. I mean, I saw, you know, they, they turned it, they turned the gym into three different classrooms, you know? They, I’m sure you see the apps where you have to fill in the app, you know, apps and, you know, temperature screenings and all those things. But they made it work. The only reason why we shut down and went virtual was because of the spike in Allegheny County that spiked into current school. Now they were making it work, but there are many other schools all around them that were like, eh, we’re going to do virtual. Now one other point is the union versus public versus private. Right. And you know, one of the things I, I would assume you’re looking at IRA, whoops, your firm is, could there be a greater chasm now in students, fleeing parents fling their kids from public schools to private schools because private schools just guess what they innovated. They figured it out because if they didn’t, I’d told the money. Right.

Speaker 3 (24:13):

Well, first of all,

Speaker 1 (24:16):

There’s a lot to unpack there. You can start,

Speaker 3 (24:21):

First of all, in general private schools one of their selling points they have is they have smaller classes. They have greater flexibility. Why do they have greater flexibility? Well, I mean, the fact of life in this state in public education is that you have a heavily unionized atmosphere. I’m not criticizing that. But the, the consequence of that is that you have labor agreements that are very specific, that lay out very specific rules, about how long you teach, how much planning time you have, how much meal time you have when you start, when you stopped how you move from job to job, which in many districts that leads to a very inflexible system. And the challenge in your system we’re in now, this remote hybrid in person and back in the public sector is districts have to be flexible. They have to be nimble to do this.

Speaker 3 (25:41):

Now, many districts, many districts, including many, we represent, have forward thinking union representation that have worked with districts to come up with solutions. Some districts have not. I can tell you again, as we alluded to in the beginning of this, but any of the challenges we have in, in our districts relate to adult behavior. I mean, we have employees, teachers who are traveling, who are engaged in activities that they should not be engaged in such as group meals and things like that. And guess what, there’s a spike in factions in that building. And you know, you’re, you raised an issue about children today. I mean, we’ve had many, many news reports of, you know, parents arranging large events for kids, a homecoming dance for the 150 kids. Well guess what? There’s a problem there. Yeah. I mean, so it’s true. You know, we’ve heard all the news reports again, schools are the safest place shoulder could be.

Speaker 3 (27:02):

That’s true. Generally speaking, you don’t get sick from other than the kids in school, except for what happens outside of school. Yeah. The other point about education in private education is as you point out, you generally have parents that are able to pay more attention to what their kids are doing. And they have the, you know, financial one side of, of, you know, we’re spending the equivalent of a year’s tuition in many colleges. We want our money for us. But again, the other part of that is it does, for the most part, those teachers are not unionized. They don’t have collective bargaining agreements and those schools can be more flexible.

Speaker 1 (27:53):

Yeah. Let me, let me tell you a quick story. And this is the rumor train, but I comes from a good source. You know, me, I have good sources that in, in the school that my kids go to, it was said from the president on down, there were some teachers that were saying, I’m not going to show up. I’m not going to show up to work. I don’t want to do it. You know, the older teachers. And yeah, if you’re, if you’re compromised, I’m going to compromise. I can tell they understand the fear, but the, the president of the school said, we’re going to educate in person. And if you don’t want to show up, then you can look for a new job. You can do that. And you know, you can’t, you can’t do that. And that’s public schools and that’s, that’s something that’s something, you know, the other thing I think that is, is interesting to me.

Speaker 1 (28:46):

You know, this podcast is on crisis and we’re talking about broad, you know, it all sectors, broad, broad crisis that exist. This is obviously a big one, but the key principle of crisis communications is that when there’s a crisis, it’s your time to shine. It’s your time to, to show your constituents that, you know what you’re doing, that you’re going to roll up your sleeves, you’re going to get people through it. And then at the end of the crisis, you reputation ideally should be better off. Right? any, any, any insights you have on districts who did a really good job communicating with parents and, and, you know, I know you work with school boards too, but anything that strikes you there,

Speaker 3 (29:35):

Well, you, you know, more than most the absolute critical importance of communication and having a communication plan and districts, I think that have been successful in making changes in our programs and getting public support for what they’re doing, have done a good job of communicating with parents and the community in general, not only parents, I mean, the majority of residents in any school district don’t have kids in school. That’s just a fact of life targets a much higher percentage. And some of that suburb is lower. But again, you do have many people within a district that don’t have children in school. So you have to communicate what you’re doing to all of these folks, through the whole range of tools that we have today

Speaker 1 (30:33):

To complain. I didn’t think of the other people, right?

Speaker 3 (30:35):

So districts that have been successful that able to do that. Dave, they have a well organized communication plan. They parents understand what they’re doing and they navigate the conflicts that districts have because you have parents on the one hand that want to have their children in school for many different reasons, some personal, many educational. And you have parents that believes that health situation, you have remote instruction. I mean, one thing we’ve seen, which I, and many other people predicted while there’s been a sharp increase in enrollment, in cyber charter schools. I mean, many of them have actually are full. They can’t accommodate any more students.

Speaker 1 (31:29):

Tell me about that. Why they’re better at doing it than public schools. They have more experience

Speaker 3 (31:34):

Five years to do it. They don’t operate their systems, what it say, even more plainly, they have very low overhead operation. They have it, they give students computers, they have the curriculum. They have varying writers with their teachers. Those that have live instruction. And as I say, they about 25 years to do it. And frankly, the funding formula in Pennsylvania for charter schools, which is the subject of another discussion sometime is very profitable for them. You know, the cost of delivering education in a soccer school is, is a fraction of what they’re paying.

Speaker 1 (32:22):

And they’re getting, they’re getting a, an amount that’s almost equivalent to public schools per student

Speaker 3 (32:29):

From public public school districts in which they’re located from I’m sorry, from where the students are enrolled and they pay according to their own costs. So it’s an upside down system. Again, that’s, that’s a long stance solvers have had since the mid nineties to figure this out and they have figured it out. And it was all you need to do is listen to any advertisements running one hour period, or you’ll hear at least four or five ads for another school. Most of the so-called brick and mortar charters. You know, they have high enrollments, but they’re, they have the same challenge is that school district could have with in-person instruction. Now, many of them are not unionized and they have a little more flexibility such as what you referenced before. But my, my fear is that we’ll have a whole generation of students here who under the best of circumstances are losing time. And especially the younger ages Tonya’s flossed at that age. It’s hard to make out. I mean, I don’t read everything that one can, but it’s pretty clear that if you can’t do the basics by third grade, they’re going to have a very tough time from there on in, right.

Speaker 1 (34:09):

You know, even the outcomes, just if, if you’re reading below level at third grade, just your risk of being incarcerated shoots up drastically. It’s, it’s, it’s very scary. I feel, I feel like we’re missing the belt. I mean, if I look, I’m not a politician and I, I’m not, I don’t have access to every piece of data. I’m not paid to sit there and just, just consult and make decisions for, you know, people for tax payers. But I think we’re missing. I think, I don’t think they’re going to look back on this time and we’re going to have a lot of regrets. And one of those regrets is going to be how the most vulnerable population was impacted because it’s our job as a society to protect the most vulnerable populations, which this is why this is so confusing, because we think by isolating people, we’re going to protect the most vulnerable populations.

Speaker 1 (35:06):

The seniors, the people that you know, who are at high risk of dying, if they get COVID 19. And yet we have an whole other subset of a vulnerable people, poor, you know, the poor use that don’t have access to education, special needs, children, children with mental health, mental, mental health diseases that can, I mean, can you imagine the isolation abuse in the home for some, for some kids getting out of the house is the only so-called respite that they have. And I can’t even, it’s, it’s tough, but I, you know, we’re not going to solve it on this podcast, but we can at least talk about it. If I wanna go to two other areas here before our time is up for, and I’m going to have you back on to talk a lot about a lot more, if you, if you would like to if you were to be advising governor Wolf right now let’s say you have a magic wand in your hand, and we can predict in the next that, that we can predict that COVID is going to spike throughout the instructional year of 2020. Right. and that the vaccine’s not going to be as readily available or, you know, that’s not going to solve our problems. Is this just quite yet? What, what would you advise, you know, school districts, if you were governor, what, what would you, what would you do differently?

Speaker 1 (36:42):


Speaker 3 (36:44):

Well, it’s a hard question to answer, because what has occurred here is a reflection of what has occurred nationally and what should be discussion about education and health has become a political issue and getting into a political discussion here, but it’s all you need to do is watch the news, read the newspapers, see what’s going on. And you see that a lot of sediment in these districts are driven by these external political forces. I mean, I, I think that for, for example, I think one of the problems that you see in this time is that we, our school was somewhat on one of the educators, national caters. One of the university people made a comment last week that if any, say, as its schools closed, they shouldn’t have their bars open. I mean, real we have a little contrast in, in, I think, priorities here. I mean some of the first cyst debates in this whole process of come, for example, over school sports,

Speaker 1 (38:18):

I’m going to go there. So I’m so glad. I’m so glad you’re there. Keep going.

Speaker 3 (38:24):

I mean, I think, I think having school athletics are important. I think it’s a it’s a way for, for cities to have positive activities, it’s a way for many students to further their education. But I, for one cannot wrap my head around high is too dangerous to go to school, want the dangerous to have hot contact sports. The basketball is played obviously in the worse gather the department of health have issued rule last week. Think about how many people you can have at certain values. It’s, it’s, it’s a percentage of capacity basically. But some of the fiercest debates we have or what to do with sports, and it’s only at the school level, it’s, it’s a national level. I just have a problem with those priorities. I mean, one of the, one of my lawyer has had occasion to drive through the South side of Pittsburgh last Tuesday.

Speaker 3 (39:36):

He told me that you could not tell the main street, if there was anything wrong in this country, it looked like it normally looks on a summer night. So it, it tells you that there are a lot of people saying the 35 and younger range that either don’t believe it anything wrong or believe if I get it, I get it ignoring the fact that it isn’t just that simple point in getting into that is not to have sociological discussion, but all of that bears on a lot of the debates we see at school board levels. You have all the constituencies, you have single parents, you have working parents, you have athletic groups, and this is a situation where you cannot make everyone happy and you just have to really try to do what’s best. So back to your question about governor Wolf, I think he has given districts the leeway to make decisions. He’s told him these are the guidelines. This is what you should be doing. Yeah. The unanswered question in the feature is what legal liability will flow out of people getting sick in different places. The immunity bill that the legislature passed last week, the governor has vetoed, which would have provided immunity for COVID related claims. That is why we’ve advised boards to follow the guidelines or the orders that have been issued like masks and things like that. We’ve advised them. They have to enforce that turned that

Speaker 1 (41:34):

I haven’t followed up.

Speaker 3 (41:38):

Well, I mean, though was largely along party lines. The spokespersons that spoke out against Savio were business groups. I think that

Speaker 1 (41:55):

He wants people to not to have the fear of lawsuits. If they don’t follow the rules. When you hear that fear, there’s going to be more people not wearing masks and not following the rules.

Speaker 3 (42:05):

I think he believed that the COVID muni that was written into the bill would give license to people, not following the rules. And I’m sure there was also a political side to it as there isn’t everything in Harrisburg.

Speaker 1 (42:22):

Totally. So in the back, back to the, to the athletics, because it’s interesting. So I hear, could talk about constituencies and Reno and problems. And, you know, we, you see in school boards, you know, this, sometimes it’s the squeaky wheel that’s going to get the grease. So the parent that’s really advocating on behalf of their child. Let’s say, let’s say my child. Who’s my daughter’s very touched when I play basketball one day, let’s say it’s her senior year. And she’s being recruited by D one schools. And let’s say, I can’t afford to pay for her college. And the basketball season’s canceled yet. My name and yet my neighboring district, they didn’t cancel it. The school board said, let’s keep it open. That’s happening. I know in the South Hills of Mount Lebanon, number St Clare’s keeping it there up in Mount Lebanon, I think is going to vote next week to not do winter sports. So I hear that’s a, I get your point where, you know, if schools are closed, why should I be open? Right. But do you, do you, you know, do you bury the baby? You know, do you give her the bath water of the baby? Like, what do you, what do you do?

Speaker 3 (43:36):

Look, it’s sealed cliche at any complicated problem or the simple answer. And it’s usually wrong. I mean I understand that challenge with parents. I mean, it’s very hard to accept the fact that you’re living in a district that did not have any words and, you know, a mile and a half away a district just like yours is having them. The problem is that when the governor made that decision for everyone in March, there were a lot of complaints because he shut everything down. There were no scores, there were remote instruction. And I think he and his advisors decided they weren’t going to do that this time. They’re going to leave it out to the locals. And I think except for districts that have had infections, you know, where they had to curtail the program, I think many of them are still having supports.

Speaker 3 (44:38):

I mean, we just finished the high school football season. There are many districts that are having indoor sports rustling, which is pretty high. I contact obviously basketball, swimming, or volleyball, things like that. I mean as I said before, it is a situation where, you know, for every three people that are happy with your decision, they’ll be seven an honor, mean, I think you just have to try to do what’s best districts that are having in-person instruction to some degree are trying to provide some degree of I mean, the word is, is overused now, but some degree of normalcy to these children and their parents. But again, a lot of these external factors that I talked about before, such as what adults do away from work and what parents allow their kids to do away from work or away from school really makes this difficult.

Speaker 1 (45:48):

Yes. And, and as you pointed out before any complicated problem has S that has a simple answer, has a simple answer. It’s usually wrong because either whatever we do there is going to be an impact. You open things up, impact you close things down, you know, impact mental health, drug abuse, all that there’s, there’s no, there’s no easy solution, but, you know, I, I just think school districts right now have, have such a hard job and the importance of having a crisis communications plan is it’s, it’s at their doorstep. It’s at the doorstep. I, you know, and, and if you, if, if your district that’s competing, especially with, with parochial schools or neighboring school districts, you know, you better get your stuff together because now’s the time to prove that you’re good and you can shine. And then, but the other thing too, is like the school boards that have, you know, that are also making determinations, right? Just like the athletic situation.

Speaker 3 (46:59):

Again, I think you hit on it again, it is very important for districts that have a plan in place to deal with this. It’s the old bad joke. You can’t build a plane in flight at the same time and you have to,

Speaker 1 (47:20):

You’re so good. I love her. One-Liners I’m writing that one down too.

Speaker 3 (47:23):

You have to have a plan. This happens. This is we do. If that happens just to what we do, you have to have spokespersons authorized through the district. You can’t have, you know, any number of people talking to reporters is a challenge in this social media age. I mean, this we’re long beyond the point where it’s just to media people that are involved in this discussion, you know, better than I do. Everyone now has a voice. Right.

Speaker 1 (48:01):

But I think there are at least, and that’s, that’s why it’s really important for school districts to, to, if they think, should we communicate this or not always communicated to over-communicate if there’s any kind of hole and in information, it’s going to be filled by somebody on social media, by, and usually by the, the parent that has too much time on his or her hands and, you know, might not always be accurate.

Speaker 3 (48:33):

That’s exactly right.

Speaker 1 (48:35):

Yeah. Well, I know that you have to go I have until one 30, it’s one 31. But I want to thank you for coming on. I think, you know, I think we should stay in touch and really follow the, the, you know, what’s going to be happening in 2021. The vaccination situation is going to be a whole other topic.

Speaker 3 (48:54):

Well, is in night, I predict that you’re going to have a sizeable number of families that are not to do this. It’s like you have families now that don’t have their children vaccinated, what we’ve been doing for, for decades. And that that’s the next political fight in the OD. And would love to do this again.

Speaker 1 (49:21):

Thanks, IRA. Keep up the good work, take care.

Speaker 2 (49:38):




As cyber-charter school enrollment hits an all-time high, public school districts competing against private schools and nearby districts for students [and their tax dollars] face the toughest challenge in controlling their respective futures: keeping children educated at all costs while also appeasing parents.

Ira Weiss, partner with Weiss Burkhardt Kramer, is one of the nation’s foremost legal minds in dealing with school district-related legal issues. Right now, his firm is representing over a dozen school districts.

We discuss the importance of having a robust school district communications plan, especially right now — “You can’t build a plane and fly it at the same time,” says Weiss — and how school administrators should focus on serving special needs populations, or else face future lawsuits.



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