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Pennsylvania Charter School Reform

Governor Tom Wolf recently proposed significant changes to Pennsylvania’s charter school law that he alleges could save school districts several million dollars while reducing the funding provided to charter schools. The reform overhauls Pennsylvania’s rules for charter school funding and accountability. Charter schools are independent public schools funded by payments from districts based on the parents’ choice to enroll their children. Public school districts in the state have been seeing a shortfall in their budgets and allege they are due to the increase in charter school funding payments while ignoring growing line items in their budget like PSERS payments. School districts pay charter schools based on enrollment at the per student at a rate which is set based on the spending of the district and is about 75% of the money the district spends on students.

Pennsylvania has a history of school choice. Charter schools have been promoted as alternatives to public school systems. Since their introduction in the late 1990s, student enrollment in Pennsylvania charter schools has steadily increased. Approximately 143,000 students are enrolled in charter schools throughout Pennsylvania. Charter school enrollment in Pennsylvania is amongst the highest in the nation. The reform put forth will have a significant and negative impact on the following factors:

Cyber Charter Schools. Cyber charter schools run at the same rate as brick and mortar charter schools.  The Governor alleges that they do not have the additional costs of maintaining a building and the is not based on the actual cost of educating the child.  The reform proposes to set a statewide rate for what a school district will pay cyber charter schools. However, cyber charter schools do operate out of buildings within the Commonwealth and establishing a flat rate to be paid to cyber charter schools would not take into consideration all the factors that go into the education of a child in a cyber environment like providing internet access, providing equipment including computers and printers, and providing in person services where the needs of the student dictate.  While the provision of education and the mechanism of education in a cyber environment is different, the Governor’s proposal ignores many of the costs and expenses that cyber charters experience that District’s do not.

Special Education. The reform proposes that the law be modified to set different rates for special education of students based on the severity of students’ needs, as opposed to a standard rate for the wide spectrum of special needs.  The Governor’s proposal ignores the fact that the rate for special education payments to charter schools is entirely based on the district’s spending on special education of students in the district.  The implementation of a tiered rate for special education students may benefit some districts, but overall will negatively impact the provision of services to students with special needs.

Standard Application Process. The reform proposes a standard framework for charter applications, which is something that charter schools have advocated for over the last few years.

Tighten Regulations. The reform proposes to make private companies that contract with charter schools subject to state Right-to-Know laws. However, the reform fails to distinguish between service providers and would subject entities like health care companies, insurers, accounting firms, and law offices to inquiries under the Right to Know Law unless the proposed reform is modified.

The Governor is sending a harsh message to parents of students enrolled in charter schools as funding for these schools will decline sharply due and more than 143,000 students will be affected.  Districts have blamed charter schools and ignored budget drivers like retirement costs skyrocketing over the last ten years, and refused to discuss equitable funding of the education of children in Pennsylvania.

For more information on how the proposed reform will affect your school, contact the legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. Our counsel has considerable experience in representing school districts and charter schools. Contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106 for an initial consultation. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania from our office in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

What Should I Know About My Public Employees’ Social Media Use?

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have changed the way we communicate as a society. Now more than ever, we have a unique glimpse into the private lives of our acquaintances, friends, colleagues, and even employees. While we are endowed with free speech in this country, public sector employers should still be cautious about just how much their employees reveal in their online posts. If an employee works for a public school, government office, or law enforcement agency in New Jersey, they can get in trouble for a social media post, especially if it reflects poorly on their workplace.

New Jersey Law and Public Workers’ Social Media Use

New Jersey Public Law 2013, Chapter 155, addresses the interests of the public employer and the rights of the employee acting as a free citizen utilizing social media. The law prohibits the employer from seeking access to employees’ social media accounts, but it does not prevent them from viewing public posts or posts brought to their attention. Under the law, a public sector employer has the following rights when it comes to reviewing employee social media posts:

  • A requirement to comply with state and federal laws.
  • Enforcement of policies regarding the use of electronic communication during working hours on their devices or made for business purposes at any time.
  • Ability to investigate issues of compliance with applicable regulations and laws brought to their attention as a result of social media activity and any unauthorized transfer of confidential information to a personal account.
  • View, access, and use any information posted by a potential or current employee on public social media accounts.

Bad Social Media Use

Social media is important to both the employer and the employee. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, about 43 percent of employers use social media to check on current employees. The following are social media behaviors that left employers with a bad impression:

  • Provocative or inappropriate information
  • Drinking or drug use
  • Discriminatory comments
  • Poor communication skills
  • Bad-mouthing previous employers
  • Sharing confidential information from previous employers
  • Lying about an absence
  • Posting too frequently

An employer can act on public posts that contradict the values of the public school, office, or department where the employee works; an employee does not have to give them access. If an employee retaliates and uses slander against the institution, they may be penalized under the law. An experienced employment lawyer can best explain your rights.

When it comes using social media, finding out where to draw the line at free speech is not always simple. At MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser, our skilled West Chester employment lawyers handle complex legal issues facing public sector employers. To learn more about our services, call 484-318-7106 or use the online form to contact us today. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.

Law Enforcement Professionals Increase Use of Technology

Technological advances are improving law enforcement officers’ ability to combat crime. From robots and drones to biometrics, advances in technology are helping detectives and police officers apprehend, identify, and track criminals more accurately. Critics lament that these tools can be abused and increase police officers’ authority. Advocates of the technology argue that the technical tools are instrumental in solving and preventing crimes more thoroughly. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel increasingly rely on the following:

Robots

Remote-controlled robots equipped with cameras can be utilized to enter dangerous buildings and inaccessible areas for surveillance. These robots can detect bombs and provide real-time information regarding crimes in progress. Police can use the information to plan their responses and identify criminals without risk of injury or death.

Drones

Similar to robots, drones with cameras are increasingly utilized to monitor activity remotely. Police can send drones to areas where suspected crimes are occurring to watch for criminal activity. They can provide an aerial view to gain vital information on individuals conducting crimes and follow them to their hideouts without their knowledge. The crucial information can be gleaned from the safety of the police station where an appropriate plan and response can be created with minimal disruption to public safety.

Biometrics

Police have always relied on fingerprints taken from the scene of a crime in their investigations. However, the advances in biometrics now include retinal scans and DNA analysis to identify individuals more accurately. Due to technological advances, police officers can instantly identify criminals.

Big Data

Data collection has become a great source for law enforcement as data is constantly generated from various sources. Data from video surveillance, cellular communications, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and other sources is compiled and used to track crime and identify suspects. GPS data can be used to pinpoint locations of calls. DNA, fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial recognition technology are stored in databases utilized by law enforcement officers to identify suspects quickly so that they can be apprehended before further harm occurs.

Social Media

Another great source of information is the scouring of social media sites for further information on an individual’s activity. Most individuals have a social media presence in which they voluntarily post information about their whereabouts, activities, photos, and videos that offer several clues to investigators.

License Plate Readers

Police cars are equipped with scanners that read license plates and tags.  These scanners can alert officers of stolen vehicles and provide instant analysis on the vehicle and its owners.

Body Cameras and Accountability

Body cameras and cameras mounted to police vehicles increase police accountability. Video from these cameras can be used to monitor and safeguard police brutality. Due to the recording of police behavior, police officers can be held more accountable and build credibility in their communities.

The attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser have considerable experience defending local, county, and state law enforcement agencies.  For an initial consultation on police officer-related matters, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. We represent clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia, as well as in New Jersey from our office located in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws During COVID-19

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently updated their technical assistance publication. This update addresses commonly asked questions about the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws in accordance to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new publication entitled, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” discusses the previous publication about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, as well as including a question and answer section.

The question and answer section of the updated publication addresses concerns regarding returning to work, appropriate accommodations being made, and the current harassment protocol. Answers to common questions include:

  • How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick to protect its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Does the ADA allow employees to stay home if they have symptoms of the COVID-19?
  • May an employer disclose the name of an employee to a public health agency if they have COVID-19?
  • If an employer is hiring, may it screen applicants for symptoms of COVID-19?

This publication also provides the public with resources on issues related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. The EEOC will continue to provide updates and assistance to the community during this public health crisis. To read the question and answer section, click here.

The main goal of the EEOC is to advance the opportunity of employees in the workplace and develop laws that prohibit employment discrimination. This includes discriminating against a job applicant or employee on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, age, or disability. Those who engage in discriminatory acts could face legal charges. Employers with at least 15 employees are covered under EEOC laws, as well as most labor unions. For more information on the EEOC, click here.

The experienced labor and employment attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser are available to answer any questions you have about the new employment laws and the effects COVID-19 has on workers in the United States. We are taking client inquiries over phone or video conference to maintain the health and safety within our staff and clients. Contact us online or call us today at 484-318-7106 for an initial consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County, Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey.

Guidelines to Ensure Title IX Compliance

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that was enacted in 1972 to prevent gender-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal financial aid.  Schools are subjected to this law and need to ensure that all school activities and programs are compliant. However, many schools are unaware of the law and the need to implement compliance policies in their schools. Schools can incur litigation costs averaging thousands of dollars if they violated the law. It is important for schools to create policies and practices to ensure compliance to avoid unnecessary litigation costs.

Educators need to know that Title IX requires that they provide equal opportunities to all students who engage in school-related activities, including online and school-based electronic learning environments.

Policies and Guidelines for Educators

All schools should strive to prevent discrimination in any school-related activity. School administrators and principals can also prepare their schools by implementing the following practices:

  • Appoint a Title IX Coordinator. Appointing a member of the staff as the Title IX coordinator in the school is a good practice. One staff member is designated and responsible for understanding and being apprised of the law. It is important to appoint someone who is fair, balanced, and unbiased.

This individual can ensure that all other staff members are also educated in the law. They can arrange regular training sessions, invite speakers to educate staff, and check in on all school-sponsored activities to make sure they are compliant. This person can also guide others in best practices and assist parents in their complaints.

  • Continually Educate Staff on the Law. Since there is a lack of awareness of the law, schools should make it a practice to hold workshops and educational sessions on the law periodically. This law can have broad effects as gender discrimination can include gender identification, sexual identification, sexual orientation, binary gender, bullying, and harassment. Because the law can influence a broad range of behavior, periodic training sessions should prevent inadvertent acts that may be discriminatory.
  • School culture. Schools should instill a culture and environment that respects gender equality. They should also create awareness amongst all stakeholders in the community, and strive to diminish them.
  • Schools should have a clear procedure for notifications of complaints and how to address them. Schools should also respond to complaints and make investigations of the claims immediately.

Guidance for Parents

Parents who believe that their child was subjected to discrimination based on gender should notify their school administration. Parents can start by requesting that the school identify their Title IX coordinator. They can also review school policies or request the handbook to ascertain school policies with regard to discrimination. If the school does not respond adequately, parents should reach out to the school district or superintendent. If no one responds, parents can notify the public through media outlets and or file a formal complaint.

The education lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser are experienced in all aspects of law related to schools and educational institutions. Our counsel has vast experience from advising schools on policies and practices to effective representation in litigation. For legal representation on education-related matters, please contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia.

Employee Training Regarding Data Protection

Data breaches have become a new reality and an important consideration for all businesses. A business needs to make cyber security a priority or risk loss of important intellectual property and/or private consumer data. Businesses need to develop and implement a company policy and plan to protect their computer systems. These methods need to include technical safeguards, trustworthy employees, and safety measures to prevent vulnerabilities

Most data breaches are not caused by sophisticated backdoor attacks by unknown entities. In fact, most common causes of data breaches occur due to human error and breaches by employees. A company must make employee training a primary aspect of their policy when dealing with cyber security.  A company policy should also include the following best practices:

Background Checks. A business should always conduct background checks on potential hires. It is important to hire trustworthy individuals, especially information technology (IT) professionals who have access to the company’s computer systems. It is important to ensure that the IT staff has been vetted properly.

Confidentiality Agreements. All employees and new hires should sign a confidentiality agreement for securing sensitive company information, including data confidential.

Data Security Agreements. All employees must have access to the company’s data security standards policy and sign an agreement to abide by the agreement.

Limit Employee Access. Limit access of employees to important information, such as Social Security numbers. Only give access to employees on a limited, need to know basis.

Provide Training. Provide frequent training and reminders on the company’s best practices regarding data security so that employees are aware of how attacks happen and how to prevent them.

Passwords. Insecure passwords are the easiest way to hack into protected networks. Train employees on creating passwords that are harder to crack.  Make it a policy to create complex passwords and change them frequently.

Prevent Human Errors. Create awareness among employees of how human error can cause data breaches. Train them to not send important emails over unencrypted hardware devices, to not share account information with others, to not leave important paperwork unsecured, or to not send important information to the wrong recipient.

Reward Reporting of Suspicious Behavior. Reward employees who report suspicious activity or behavior.

Discipline Violators. Discipline employees who violate company data security policies.

Train Employees on Phishing Attacks. Train employees on how to spot phishing attacks and require that they independently verify all requests for sensitive information.

Secure Building Access. Prevent non-employees from entering office buildings by requiring security codes and request employees not give access to non-employees without permission.

Report Lost Equipment. Require all employees to report lost company equipment, including laptops and cellular phones.

Personal Devices. Limit the use of personal devices for business purposes and vice versa.

Software. Do not allow employees to download unauthorized software onto company computer systems, laptops, cell phones, and other devices.

Termination of Employment. When an employee is terminated or resigns, it is important to terminate their access to company information, papers and other sensitive information immediately.

An educated work force that is vigilant and alert is the best way to tackle threats to a company’s computer systems. Building employee awareness is a big step toward securing company data.

If you have concerns about creating a company cyber security policy for your business, contact the attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. We provide human resource support and review employer policies to limit exposure to litigation. For further information on how our firm can assist you, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Chester County and Philadelphia.

Judge Denies Chester Community Charter School Proposal to Take Over K-8 Schools

In the first effort of its kind in Pennsylvania, a local charter school recently announced their intention to take over all kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8) education in its local district. Currently, Chester County Charter School (CCCS) serves most elementary and middle school students in the Chester Upland School District. They asked a Delaware County judge for approval to convert all remaining schools to charter schools, a request that was denied last month.

CCCS asked the court to accept proposals to convert any K-8 schools not currently operating under the charter company. Yet, the judge said that while some charter school expansion may be necessary to fortify the financially strapped school district, he felt the CCCS petition was premature at this time. This spring, he will hear a new plan for the district’s financial recovery.

A Closer Look at Chester County Charter School

CCCS currently educates more than half of all grade-school aged children residing in the Chester Upland School District and operates the largest charter school in Pennsylvania with more than 4,300 children. After the district was unable to get out of debt, the state took over through a process called receivership. Under this system, all financial recovery efforts and leadership changes must be approved by a local judge, including adding more schools to the CCCS roster.

Opposition to the Charter School Takeover

Members of the Chester Upland Education Association and some public-school teachers were concerned a full charter school takeover would limit school choice, impacting students who may not thrive within the charter school model.

The Vice President of the CUEA works with special needs students who are not getting their needs met in CCCS. Without an alternative, she worries these children may fall through the cracks and she may have valid reasons for her concerns. According to the most recent test scores, district-run schools perform on average the same and sometimes better than charter schools.

Some parents with students in the district filed a lawsuit claiming a takeover would prevent any community input and put the students at an academic disadvantage based on the charter school test scores. Unions representing district teachers and other staff are also concerned a takeover would mean certain termination for their members. Others feel it will fix the underlying problem of inadequate funding. A financial recovery plan for the district was expected to be submitted late last month. If approved, it may delay the charter school takeover.

The education law lawyers at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser resolve complex legal matters facing today’s educators and educational institutions. We ensure schools are compliant with local, state, and federal regulations and defend them in all types of litigation. We are on top of ongoing changes in education so you can feel confident you are receiving the most effective and informed guidance for your legal issue. Call us at 484-318-7106 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we represent clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County.

What is a Breach of Fiduciary Duty?

Some relationships carry fiduciary duties and responsibilities according to the law. These relationships are held to a higher standard so that a breach of said duty is actionable in the court of law. Usually, a fiduciary relationship exists when one party must act in the best interest of another party and that party places confidence and trust in another.

What are Fiduciary Duties?

A fiduciary duty exists between parties of a transaction where one party is bound to act according to good faith, fair dealing, and for the benefit of the other party. In these relationships, one party invests their confidence in the loyalty and integrity of the other, known as the fiduciary. The party that the obligation or duty is owed to is the beneficiary. Some fiduciary duties are governed by statute and others are defined specifically in contract terms.

Some examples of those who have fiduciary duties include medical professionals, such as physicians and psychiatrists to their patients; legal and financial professionals; spouses; and appointed guardians. Often, corporate directors have fiduciary duties to shareholders, as well as employees to their employers. Fiduciaries have the following duties and responsibilities:

Duty of Loyalty. The fiduciary is under obligation to act on behalf of the beneficiary and never knowingly act against their interest. If a conflict of interest exists that prevents the fiduciary from complete loyalty to the beneficiary, this conflict must be disclosed to the beneficiary.

Duty of Care. The fiduciary is also under a duty of care to the beneficiary and must act in a reasonably safe manner in accordance with the standards set in the community.

Duty of Fair Dealing. The fiduciary must also act in a fair manner and not take advantage of the confidence of the beneficiary to gain profit or unfair disadvantage.

Duty of Confidentiality. The fiduciary also owes a duty to not disclose sensitive information given to them in confidence without informed consent or use the information to their advantage.

Claims for Breach of Fiduciary Duty

To file a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, one must first establish that a fiduciary duty existed. Whether a fiduciary duty existed is a matter of law determined by a judge in a court of law. Whether a fiduciary duty exists is a legal question. However, how or what type of duty was breached is a matter of fact often determined by a jury.

One who is injured by the breach of a fiduciary duty is entitled to recover the actual damages incurred, as well as punitive damages. Punitive damages are usually awarded if malice or fraud can be proven. After it is established that fiduciary duty exists, the claimant must then show that a breach of said duty occurred and that the claimant suffered harm caused by said breach.

If you experienced a breach of fiduciary duty, you need comprehensive representation from an experienced professional liability attorney. MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser has expertise in defending professionals against breach of fiduciary duty claims. Contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106 for an initial consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County.

Changes to Standards for Investigations of Police in New Jersey

Due to recent investigations by news organizations into gaps in oversight of police use of force and conduct, new standards will be put in place to monitor police behavior. New Jersey’s attorney general announced that there will be a public database that will track police use of force rates, increase public access to videos of police encounters, and require prosecutors to provide evidence, including incriminating evidence surrounding the credibility of the cops involved, to the accused.

Portal Tracking Police Use of Force

According to the attorney general, the new initiatives will target six New Jersey police departments in a pilot program to report all police use of force incidents to an online portal. The attorney general’s goal is to increase accountability, public trust, and transparency of the police departments. Under this program, Bridgeton, Dover, Linden, Millville, Paterson, and South Brunswick police departments were selected based on the demographics that represented a cross-section of New Jersey’s various police departments, according to the attorney general.

Improve Training and Consider Licensing of Police Officers

The attorney general directed a Police Training Commission (PTC) to devise a proposal for whether the state should be licensing police officers. New Jersey is one of few states in the nation that does not require licensure of police, even though they are authorized to carry weapons and use deadly force. The attorney general also required the PTC to study and draft a proposal to improve police training and revisions to recruiting standards.

Standardize Prosecutor Practices

The attorney general also issued a directive to all county prosecutors to standardize practices on evidence gathering, as well as a policy guidance to provide impeachable evidence and inconsistent statements by witnesses to defendants that may be helpful to the defendant’s case, even if it may undermine a state’s witness credibility and exculpate the defendant.

Prevent Bad Cops from Seeking New Jobs

The new standards require a police officer’s secret internal affairs files to be transferred to any new department that the officer applies to. Additionally, the policy discourages non-disclosure agreements to keep documents hidden. These initiatives are aimed to prevent cops with a record of disciplinary issues from job-hopping.

Release of Videos

The attorney general has also authorized the release of videos from police body cameras, dash cameras, surveillance videos, and smartphone videos when a citizen has been killed or seriously injured in response to public requests. These new initiatives will track use of force incidents in the state and prevent police officers from continuing to abuse their power.

For legal advice and representation on police and law enforcement agency claims, contact the civil rights defense attorneys at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we provide counsel to residents of Chester County and Philadelphia.

Do I Need A Lawyer for My Non-Profit Organization?

A lawyer specializing in non-profit organization law has expertise in incorporation, maintenance, and tax filing requirements for a non-profit organization. Much like a corporate lawyer who specializes in corporate formation and maintenance, an attorney for the non-profit sector has specific knowledge that is tailored to non-profit entities.

A non-profit organization must ensure proper compliance of the rules and laws to maintain its status as a tax-exempt organization. Failure to do so can lead to the organization losing status as a tax-exempt organization and become liable for fees and penalties.

Navigating the Different Types of Non-Profits

There are many different types of non-profits. An attorney that specializes in this field can provide advice on the appropriate entity for the organization’s needs and goals. A charitable organization has different tax and legal obligations from a religious, political, or private philanthropic foundation.

Preparation of Legal Documents

A lawyer can prepare and file the appropriate forms with the government and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to form the entity and take advantage of its tax-exempt status. A lawyer can also draft bylaws and amendments of the organization. Furthermore, a non-profit organization may also wish to file for trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property. An attorney can evaluate the organization’s intellectual property rights and advice on such issues.

Negotiations

An attorney can negotiate contracts with vendors, employees, and third parties. Additionally, an attorney can counsel the organization on liability issues so that litigation may be avoided or minimized.

Management

Lawyers can also provide advice on management and maintenance of the organization. The organization will need to form a board of directors and appoint officers. Attorneys can advise board members, executives, and employees on compliance with various regulations to ensure that the organization’s status is maintained.

Choosing an Attorney

When choosing an attorney, choose one who is not already on the board. It may seem easy to consult with an attorney who is on the board of the organization, but this attorney will have a conflict of interest. As a board member and counsel to the organization, an attorney from the board cannot represent the organization in litigation and may even be called as a witness.

The best way to identify an attorney for consultation may be a referral from another organization that benefitted from their services, which is a tried and tested way to retain counsel. Other means of finding an attorney are through referral services organized by the local state bar association or through online portals. Having a non-profit attorney prepare the legal documents and advise on the appropriate tax-exempt entity for the organization should provide piece of mind, prevent common pitfalls, and set up the organization on a course for successful operations so that it achieves its goals.

MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser understands that non-profit organizations have unique needs. Our attorneys provide specialized knowledge for counseling such organizations. For an initial consultation, please contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County.