With students returning to the school building, the legal checklist for educators may be a long one. The required trainings alone would likely be enough to overwhelm some. While the day-to-day demands of your job may feel like the highest priority, there can be damaging consequences for putting off legal tasks that seem less urgent. In this blog, we cover some of the trending items that may not be on your back-to-school legal checklist but should.
Addressing Policies (Especially Changes) with Staff and Students: The bedrock of effective administration is consistency – and in order to be consistent – staff and students must understand the expectations within the school building. Of course, be sure that your staff is aware of and understands the policies and procedures. Be especially diligent that you highlight any changes to school policies. Some common changes to policy have been made in light of the pandemic. Be sure those changes are clearly communicated to staff. Emphasize the frequent disputes that you have encountered in the past and how those could have been prevented. We often help school leaders navigate allegations of discrimination and harassment. A particularly hot topic has been dress codes and First Amendment rights. You can skirt (pun intended!) many disagreements over dress code by making the standard clear to students (and to the staff who are the usual enforcers).
Adjunct Teachers: Educator shortages is the one of the most challenging issues facing the education industry. 2022 legislation provides new flexibility with the new legal concept of adjunct teachers. Starting this school year, schools are able to hire adjunct teachers, without a teaching license, to fill a vacant teaching position, to offer a new program or class, or to supplement an existing program that is being offered. While adjunct teachers are not required to have a teaching license, they are required to have a teaching permit. To qualify for this flexibility, individuals must have at least four years of experience in the content area and must pass an expanded criminal history check and an expanded child protection index check.
School Safety: We trust this topic continues to be front of mind. It is critical to communicate with your staff the policies and procedures for emergency situations. Be sure to discuss with your staff and your students on what to look for and when to communicate a concern regarding safety and ensure that everyone in your building has a plan for reacting to an emergency. Further, do not forget to stress the importance to your staff that they use specified entrances and exits and do not keep any of the doors propped open. Along those same lines, there is a new requirement this school year that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) is used when engaging with law enforcement units for use of school resource officers (SROs). If you are unsure whether your school is utilizing an MOU with the SROs, raise the issue with your colleagues.
What is the legal lesson from this blog? To sum up, your plate will probably stay full today, tomorrow, the next day, etc. But it is critically important that you check off your tasks from your back-to-school checklist, including the trending items that we addressed in this article.
This blog post was originally published in KGR’s monthly article for the Indiana Association of School Principals’ client newsletter. Navigating state and federal regulations can be challenging. For more information, contact the KGR Education Law and Public Policy team.