By: Brittany Flaherty Theis
A PDF version of Planning for the Future: Introduction below can be found here or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
We know that in time school districts throughout the nation will move from the rapid (yet deliberate) triage decision-making necessitated by COVID-19 to future-oriented planning. This guidance document is intended to help school boards and administrators work through the types of questions they should be asking as they prepare for re-opening school buildings – whether that occurs this school year or, more likely, next school year. The list is not intended to be exhaustive. We encourage you to follow Whitt Law LLC as we address these topics in our Planning for the Future Series. You can sign up to receive the News & Knowledge Blog – Planning for the Future Series here: www.whittlaw.com/news/
Student and Staff Well-Being
Sanitation and Physical Health
Building Sanitation Practices
- What cleaning and sanitation activities will be needed prior to in-person attendance?
- What cleaning and sanitation activities, supplies, and resources will be needed after students and staff return to in-person attendance?
- Will personal protective equipment be provided or required for any staff, students, or visitors?
*** These same, or similar questions, need to be asked in relation to transportation, off-site service providers, and on-site service providers. ***
Limitation on Access
- Does the school district desire to screen students or staff prior to entrance into school buildings? If so, what questions and biometric measures will be used? Will the school district limit access to the school buildings by volunteers, parents, visitors, or event spectators? What procedures will be implemented to prevent discriminatory application of any such screenings?
- Will the school district post information regarding the symptoms of COVID-19? If so, where?
- How, and to what extent, will staff be educated on the symptoms of COVID-19 and the school district’s response plan? (See Response Plans below.)
- How, and to what extent, will parents, students, and staff be informed of the school district’s actions to protect its students, staff, and their families?
- Will the school district enhance its educational materials on behaviors in which students and staff can engage to prevent the spread of germs?
Mental Health Resources
Consider the demand that might be placed on your school district’s mental health resources.
- What psychological hurdles might students and staff face upon returning to in-person schooling?
- Will more psychological supports be needed?
- To what extent does the school district anticipate those supports coming in the context of formal 504 plans?
- Bullying: School districts should give specific consideration to their bullying procedures and policies.
Scheduling and Logistics
- Does the school district want to implement alternative school day schedules to increase social distancing such as alternating remote and in-person instruction or other schedule revisions?
- If so, what alternatives will be used and can the community comply with that schedule? (Please note that these decisions will also be guided by requirements in the School Code and ISBE regulations, which might evolve.)
In addition to the sanitation questions above,
- Will bus schedule revisions or additional routes be needed if social distancing guidelines are still in place upon re-opening?
- Will school day revisions or staffing changes be needed if there is an increase in parent drop-off/pickups?
- What procedures will teachers, school nurses, and other staff be expected to follow in the event they suspect a student, coworker, or visitor is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19?
- If any student or staff has a family member or other person living in their home who experiences symptoms or is diagnosed with COVID-19, will that student or staff be expected to report it to school administrators? What protocol will be used to implement such reporting?
- If a reporting system is implemented, what, if any, additional measures will be taken: to protect other students and staff? to limit access to, and safeguard, any personal or protected information? to continue an impacted student’s education? Under what circumstances will that protocol be reviewed and revised?
- What guidance will be given to prevent discriminatory application of any such procedures?
- If there are localized breakouts of COVID-19 or other contagious medical conditions in the future, how will decisions regarding closures be made?
- Who will participate in those discussions?
- What medical professionals or agencies will be consulted?
- Who will have the ultimate decision-making authority?
- Will the school district consider closing individual buildings or will all decisions be made on a district-wide basis?
- Will access to school buildings be allowed for administrators, teachers, or other staff even if students participate in remote learning?
Financial and Administrative Implications
Cash Flow Estimates
Finishing FY 2019-2020 and revising inputs for FY 2020-2021.
- How are property tax collections being handled in counties relevant to the school district?
- What impact do you forecast on the timing and amount of property tax receipts? And for funding from the State?
- Is the school district currently experiencing savings in any line items due to the closure of school buildings? Does it anticipate savings in any line items in the future?
- Is the school district currently experiencing any increases in expenditures for any line items in response to COVID-19?
- Does the school district anticipate increased expenditures for any line items in the future due to COVID-19, contract amendments, increased sanitation practices, etc.?
Budget Amendments and Future Budgets
The above questions will inform the discussion of whether amendments are needed for the 2019-2020 FY budget. They will also inform the preparation of the 2020-20201 FY budget.
Interfund Loans, Interfund Transfers, Tax Anticipation Warrants, and Other Short-Term Borrowing Options
- Did the analysis above indicate any cash flow gaps? Can those gaps be addressed with interfund loans or interfund transfers? If not, should the school district work with legal counsel and/or a financial advisor to determine whether tax anticipation warrants or other short-term borrowing options are appropriate?
- Additionally, please see Whitt Law LLC’s upcoming guidance on Interfund Loans, Interfund Transfers, Tax Anticipation Warrants, and Other Short-Term Borrowing Options for additional information regarding options available to school districts to meet their cash flow needs.
- Please note that school districts should consult with their attorneys to ensure compliance with the School Code if any of the above measures are necessary. The School Code has specific requirements for each of the above options. For example, waiver of the requirement that Section 17-2A Interfund Transfers be made only for the purpose of meeting one-time, non-recurring expenses is currently set to expire after June 30, 2020. That sunset provision has been extended in the past but has not been extended as of this publication date.
Contract Review for Existing and Future Agreements – Service Providers/Vendors
- Which, if any of the school district’s contracts were modified in response to the COVID-19 school building closures? Are similar modifications anticipated for future contracts?
- What force majeure, delineation of payment, or contract fulfillment provisions does the school district desire to incorporate into its future contracts?
- Does the school district desire additional flexibility in future contracts? If so, what type of flexibility?
- Did negotiations during the pendency of COVID-19 closures impact or inform your working relationship with specific vendors?
- To what extent are any service providers or vendors unable to meet the needs of the school district?
In addition to the questions highlighted above,
- Collective Bargaining. Does the school district desire additional flexibility regarding hours, workday definitions, etc. in its future contracts?
- How will the district “audit” the status of employee evaluations and develop a plan for moving forward?
- Who needs to be consulted?
- How will the school district handle staff members unable or unwilling to return to school facilities once reopened?
- Are there at-risk members of the staff for whom additional considerations are necessary, including PPE, reassignment, etc.?
- Would any changes to the school district’s substitute teacher practices benefit the school district?
Academic and Extracurriculars
Student Academic Gains or Losses
- How will the school district assess its students to determine what academic content is appropriate to each student?
- How and when will the school district address any gaps caused by the closure of school buildings?
- Will the needs highlighted in this process be met within the working conditions as defined by any relevant collective bargaining agreements?
Special Education Students and Medically Fragile Students
- How and when will the school district assess the status of its current or potential special education students?
- Specifically, for each existing IEP, what accommodations and specially designed instruction were provided? For those not being provided during closure, if closures continue or re-occur, could they be? Are any compensatory education services necessary?
- How will the school district get its documentation, academics, services, and deadline compliance back on track if they are not?
- Are there medically fragile students in the special education or regular education population that need special considerations or protection?
- Did the school building closures necessitated by COVID-19 highlight any gaps in the technology available to students and staff in the district? How will the school district address those gaps?
- Are policy and procedure revisions needed to maintain compliance with State and federal privacy and internet safety requirements?
- What does the school district need to do to fully comply with State and federal notice and permission requirements?
- Are all teachers and staff aware of, and compliant with, copyright and intellectual property laws?
E-Learning and Remote Learning
If the school district desires to use statutory “e-learning days” as a part of its future school calendars:
- What is the status of the district’s e-learning program, if any?
- Are any actions or revisions needed for the school district to have a fully compliant e-learning program for the 2020-2021 school year?
- Will the community need to be educated about the differences between the circumstances of “remote learning” and “e-learning” as defined by law?
Field Trips and Extracurriculars
- Will the school district limit field trips or off-site opportunities?
- Will the school district gradually offer extracurricular opportunities or provide the full offering upon re-opening?
- Who will be responsible for the cost of field trips, extracurriculars, etc.? If it is the students or parents, will that be true even if they are canceled or postponed? Will those responsibilities be delineated in permission forms or waivers?
- To what extent, if any, will the school board continue to allow remote attendance by the public?
- To what extent, if any, will the school district record open session meetings to share online?
Planning for re-opening will also depend heavily upon State and federal legislation and rulemaking. Whitt Law LLC continues to actively monitor those developments. The degree to which each of the questions applies depends upon the unique circumstances of each school district, as well as when and how school buildings are re-opened. We recommend that administrators seek counsel from their district’s attorneys and financial advisors for advice specific to the unique circumstances in each district.
These questions are an Introduction to our Planning for the Future Series. In the coming weeks, Whitt Law’s attorneys will provide guidance on many of these questions. Please contact Whitt Law Senior Attorney Brittany Flaherty Theis (email@example.com) for more information regarding this Introduction or the Planning for the Future Series.
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