Recent amendments to the Public School Code indicate a particular focus on school safety and security (See SLB 233, “Legislature Makes Common Sense Clarifications to Sunshine Law in Respect to School Safety”), however, there are a number of other important updates of which schools should be aware. This includes clarifications to lunch shaming and furlough provisions that were added to the School Code only last year. 2018 amendments of note for schools include the following:
With the 2017 amendments, “purely economic reasons” was added to the list of possible grounds for suspension of professional employees and revisions were made to the procedures applicable to the order of furloughs of professional employees.
The 2018 amendment reinstates the prior requirement that a school entity must realign its professional staff so as to ensure that more senior employees are provided with the opportunity to fill any positions within the school entity for which they are certified and which are being filled by less senior employees.
Some of the most-talked about amendments in 2017 were aimed at combating “lunch shaming” and incorporated a requirement that any communication regarding money owed by a student had to be directed to the parent or guardian and could not be directed to the student.
The 2018 amendment distinguishes students in grades K-8 from students in grades 9-12. For students in grade K-8, schools must still direct communication regarding money owed by a student for school meals only to the parent or guardian. However, for students in grades 9-12, such communications may be directed to the student, if done individually to the student by appropriate school personnel and discreetly.
The 2018 amendment also clarifies that it is not considered “public identification or stigmatizing” of a student for a school to restrict privileges and activities of a student who owes money for a school meal, if those same restrictions apply to students who owe money for other school-related purposes.
Third Party Services
A new section entitled Third Party Services, 24 P.S. §5-528, has been added and provides guidelines that must be followed when a school employer seeks to enter into third-party contracts for “non-instructional services”. “Non-instructional” services are defined as services provided by a school employee under a collective bargaining agreement and excluding instructional services provided by professional employee, substitute or temporary professional employee. Among other requirements, the guidelines mandate solicitation of applications and the holding of public hearings before a school may enter into third party service contracts.
Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, any school whose lead testing shows levels in excess of established environmental standards, must immediately implement a plan to ensure that no child or adult is exposed to the contaminated water and must provide alternative sources of drinking water. Elevated levels must also be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and posted on PDE’s website. If a school does not test lead levels, lead issues in school facilities must be discussed at a public meeting.
Keystone Graduation Requirements
The use of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement or as a benchmark for the need for participation in a project-based assessment is delayed another year, until the 2020-2021 school year.
Bottom Line for Schools
School law is a particularly dynamic area of the law and schools must be vigilant to ensure that their policies and procedures are in line with the most recent recitations of these always-changing laws. Consult with your local solicitor or an education attorneys at KingSpry to ensure that your school remains in compliance.
This School Law Bullet is a publication of the KingSpry Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund is our editor. It is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.