TikTok Challenge Inspires Students to Vandalize School Bathrooms
The social application TikTok, wildly popular among adolescents and teens, features a school bathroom challenge that asks students to vandalize and steal items from school bathrooms.
Dubbed the “devious lick” challenge, students are inspired to steal common items, such as soap dispensers, from school bathrooms. Council Rock School District in Newtown, Pennsylvania confirmed to parents that this has happened in district schools. At Hatboro-Horsham School District, students have ripped signs off the walls and stolen soap dispensers.
Popular videos include students pouring paint on toilets, smashing toilet paper dispensers and one student cutting the hair of other students in the bathroom.
While it may be just a social media application, the students who take part in this TikTok challenge may be disciplined by their school. Schools are sending out letters to parents warning of “devious lick” and the discipline that is likely to follow vandalism and theft of school property, including calls to the police. There are schools that have also closed bathrooms in response.
We recommend that schools inform families of this matter and the potential consequences of such conduct. We also advise that schools ensure that their staff are up to date on the potential issues that can arise. It is important to review safety protocols for teachers or staff entering bathrooms while students are on campus. We would like schools to avoid closing bathrooms at all costs unless there is damage that prevents their appropriate and safe usage.
The disciplinary issues that surround school vandalism and theft will likely be a challenge for school districts. Our legal team at MacMain Leinhauser advises and counsels schools regarding all types of legal issues. Call Brian Leinhauser at 484-318-7802 or complete our online form to get started. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout New Jersey and the Philadelphia area.
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 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.
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 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.
Action on Pennsylvania Charter School Law Reform
Governor Tom Wolf has announced wide ranging changes to Pennsylvania’s charter school policy, including charging charter schools for services the state provides, tightening ethics standards, and permitting school districts to limit enrollment at under-performing charter schools. The Department of Education will oversee the changes to charter regulations with the aim of increasing accountability for the schools. Wolf plans to makes the changes through executive actions. Revision of charter school law would have to be made with the support of legislative leaders.
Charter School Controversy
Charter schools are for some a much-needed alternative to traditional district-run schools. The movement has grown from some 79,000 students enrolled in Pennsylvania charters nearly a decade ago to more than 143,000 students last year in 180 independent public schools. In Philadelphia, more than one-third of city public school students attend charters. Enrollment in a charter school is free to students, but the school district is required to pay their tuition. Critics of charters see this as a drain on the public education system.
Districts must pay for both brick-and-mortar charters and cyber charter schools where students learn via computer from home. Cyber charters have performed poorly in recent studies and reform advocates want all taxpayer funded schools to have the same standards of transparency and accountability.
The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools criticized Governor Wolf for not involving the charter school community in the plans for reform and said that some of the reforms represent a “blatant attack” on charter schools. It also questioned the legality of the proposed changes and suggested that some could be in violation of the state Charter School Law.
Charter school reform has been a topic for years in the Pennsylvania legislature with four charter reform bills being passed just last year in the House. However, none have become law.
Goal and Priorities
The Governor’s announcement offered a broad proposal of “goals and priorities” but little detail about how they would be achieved. Following are some of the proposed charter reform changes from the full text released by the Governor’s office:
- Allow school districts to limit student enrollment at charters that do not provide a high-quality, equitable education to students.
- Require transparent charter school admission and enrollment policies that do not discriminate based on intellectual or athletic ability, race/ethnicity, gender, or disability, among other student characteristics.
- Hold charter schools and their operators to the same transparency standards as school districts because they are public schools and receive more than $1.8 billion in state and property tax dollars annually.
Require that charter school Board of Trustees and operating companies– like school district School Boards – are free from conflicts of interest and prohibit them from making decisions that provide a financial benefit to themselves, friends, and/or family members.
- Require charter schools to use sound fiscal management, provide regular financial audits to state regulators, publicly bid contracts for supplies and services, use fair contracting practices, and engage their communities.
- Establish a model state application to start a new charter school or renew an existing charter school that provides school districts with comprehensive information on how the school will be run and allow for rigorous analysis.
- Establish a clear process that requires charters to accurately document their costs.
- Initiate a fee-for-service model to cover the department’s costs associated with implementing the charter school law.
Chester County Charter School Attorneys at MacMain Leinhauser Advise and Counsel Charter School Administrators
If you have a question about charter school law in Pennsylvania, contact The MacMain Leinhauser to speak to an experienced Chester County education law attorney. Call 484-318-7106 or contact us online. From our office in West Chester, we assist clients across Philadelphia, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.
Important Principles of IDEA
Every child in the United States is entitled to a public education. This includes students with disabilities who may require additional accommodations. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law requiring schools to take the necessary steps to empower students with disabilities to learn alongside other students. The law covers 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, and children and mandates that schools meet certain conditions for their students.
Free Appropriate Public Education
The essential tenet behind the IDEA is the guarantee of a free appropriate public education for students who have different learning needs. Schools must provide specialized services to meet these needs, which may vary from student to student, and help to prepare them for their future. These services are provided, like all public education, at taxpayer expense and at no additional cost to the student and their family.
Individualized Education Plan
To create this tailored educational approach, key school staff members and the student’s parents collaborate to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which lays out all of the services the student will receive to help them access educational resources. This includes plans for helping them to access extracurricular and nonacademic activities, if applicable. Parents have the right to be involved in the planning for their child and to have access to all the relevant information about their child’s progress. They and the school must work together effectively for the benefit of the child.
The student’s IEP will include benchmarks for evaluation to ensure they are achieving their academic goals. When drafting the IEP, the team will establish the student’s current academic and functional levels. From there, the student will have personalized annual, measurable goals and regular progress reports to ensure that the IEP is getting the desired results.
Least Restrictive Environment
Perhaps most importantly, the IDEA requires that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. Some adaptations may need to be made to accommodate their different learning needs, but as much as possible, they should be educated and participate in activities alongside and in the same manner as non-disabled students. The students should only be separated if their supplemental services cannot be effectively implemented in the same classroom.
When drafting and implementing an IEP, there may be disagreements between the parents and the school as to what is best for the child. Parents and teachers both have the right to challenge care decisions that are made, and the IDEA lays out specific procedural protections to ensure that the student’s rights are not infringed upon while these disputes are resolved. For example, students have the right to stay put in the school while discussions are taking place. If a dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, the IEP team may need to go through a due process hearing; if it escalates further, one of the parties involved may pursue a civil lawsuit.
Philadelphia Education Lawyers at MacMain Leinhauser Help Schools Accommodate Students With Disabilities
The education law practice at MacMain Leinhauser has the knowledge and experience to help schools and educational institutions provide the best possible learning environment for their students while protecting their interests. We have handled all types of IDEA cases and can help institutions successfully implement IEPs, as well as provide comprehensive representation in the event of a dispute. With offices conveniently located in West Chester, we work with schools throughout the Philadelphia area and Chester County. Call us today at 484-318-7106 or contact us online to speak to a Philadelphia education lawyer.
Law Enforcement and School Safety
In the wake of the 20th anniversary of school shooting in Columbine High School in Colorado last April and recent spate of gun violence in schools across the nation, school districts have had to institute additional school safety measures. School districts and law enforcement agencies have begun to work closely together to implement policies and school safety measures in schools nationwide. Many schools practice active shooter drills and have emergency response plans with local police.
Armed Officers and Teachers on Campus
Many schools have increased patrolling of schools by police officers. Several schools also place armed officers on their campus while school is in session. Because teachers are the first line of defense in a school shooter situation, some experts advocate arming teachers and training them in emergency response, handling and carrying guns. They argue that by the time the local police or armed officer on campus becomes aware of the active shooter, it may be too late.
Some school districts have opted for increased technological measures such as surveillance cameras, driver’s license scanners and metal detectors. Many schools have installed surveillance cameras that monitor the hallways and classrooms. In some areas, all visitors are made to scan their driver’s license upon entry and exiting the school. Visitors have to wear an ID tag that is printed after the driver’s license is scanned when they are on campus.
Various experts agree that though increased security measures are useful, intelligence gathering and sharing are critical. Schools have also tried to enhance information sharing between agencies and schools to create instantaneous lines of communications between agencies so that in the event of an emergency critical information can be shared immediately.
Increased Communications Between All Stakeholders
School districts are encouraged to hold district wide school safety meetings where all stake holders participate. Meetings include teachers, law enforcement officers, parents, PTAs, counselors, school psychologists and administrators so that information can be shared and all perspectives represented.
Detectives and law enforcement officers have a made a practice to visit schools in their district on a regular basis and cultivate relationships at these schools with teachers, students and staff. During these meetings, appointed officers can assess each school’s social climate and address issues of bullying, intimidation and harassment.
When detectives talk and collaborate with schools, they are more sensitive and aware of the well-being of the school and its students. Students often know students who are having social issues and tendency for violence. They also are first to know when a fellow student is planning a violent act. Officers can serve as mentors and role models to students. When police officers are able to win the student’s trust, it is easier for students to report issues to them.
Anonymous Reporting of Issues
School districts should make it easier for students to report issues. A confidential anonymous tip line where students can report any problems, issues or planned acts of violence is good way to stay on top of issues in the school and the individual actors. Students want to be able to anonymously report these issues without being implicated by their peers.
Attorneys at MacMain Leinhauser Advise School Administrators
Our experienced educational law attorneys at MacMain Leinhauser represent many local schools, school districts, colleges and universities. To learn more about our services and what we can do for you, contact us online or call 484-318-7106. We serve clients throughout Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Chester County from our office conveniently located in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
FERPA and Student Privacy
After a five year battle, the Department of Education has ruled that it is a violation of the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to require students and parents to supply personal identifiable information to third-party services as a condition of enrollment. Parents of a charter school student in Pennsylvania complained to the Department of Education in December of 2012 that their child’s rights to privacy had been violated by the school.
The complaint claimed that the school forced parents and students to accept third-party privacy policies as a condition of enrollment. The complaint further explained that the third-party servicers they were forced to accept allowed the student’s and parent’s personal identifiable information to be “used, reproduced, displayed, performed, adapted, modified, distributed, and promoted” in any way they wanted.
In the recent Department of Education decision, FERPA laws make it unlawful to require students and parents to use or agree to the policies of third-party services as a condition of enrollment into a school, educational training service provider, or any other educational institution. The decision of the Department of Education goes a long way in supporting the current efforts to clarify and enforce the mandates of FERPA law.
How the Recent Decision will Affect Schools
Now that the Department of Education has officially taken a stand to protect the privacy rights of students, a “FERPA Compliance Crackdown” is expected to ensure the privacy rights of students are being understood and enforced. Critics of the FERPA laws fault legislators for making the mandates of the legislation hard to interpret. Legislators and educational policymakers are working hard to interpret and confirm the stipulations of the law.
As technology is embraced and utilized by public, private, and charter schools nationwide, the need for clear policies to protect student privacy are becoming increasingly important. Students will continuously access websites and online educational programs throughout their educational journey, and parents need to feel that their child is safe from data breeches and hackers.
Educational technology companies have been profiting both financially and in their business development by misusing student data. Now that the Department of Education has taken a stand on the student’s right to privacy, more parents can feel empowered to enforce the rights afforded under the FERPA laws.
Educator Training is Vital to Student Privacy Protection
Technology has been exploding faster than many can keep up with, so the laws regarding protections for student personal identifiable information must evolve as well. Training of teachers, administrators, and staff of educational institutions is vital to protecting students from tech predators and avoiding potential liability for educational institutions.
Schools and educational institutions must develop clear and specific policies regarding student privacy. Teachers and administrators who are properly trained on how to protect student privacy will be able to empower students to actively protect their online data.
West Chester Education Lawyers at MacMain Leinhauser Advise School Administrators on Data Privacy
For information on data protection in schools, call the West Chester education lawyers at MacMain Leinhauser at 484-318-7106, or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our offices are conveniently located in West Chester, Pennsylvania and serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and across the state.
Judge Rules on Skirt Requirement in Dress Code
A federal judge recently ruled that the dress code at a North Carolina public charter school was in violation of federal sex discrimination laws. The charter school’s dress code required girls in kindergarten through eighth grade to wear skirts throughout the school year while male students wore pants. The parents of three female students filed a sex discrimination lawsuit claiming that the skirt requirement was biased and in violation of federal anti-discrimination laws.
The lawsuit claimed that the skirt requirement caused unnecessary discomfort for the female students, limited their activity, and distracted them from their studies. Female students reported feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable while sitting at their desks, playing at recess, and engaging in other activities during the day for fear their undergarments would be exposed. The plaintiffs claimed that the skirts forced the girls to sit in uncomfortable positions and abstain from many physical activities during the day.
Skirt Requirement Found Unconstitutional
With help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a mother of one of the female students named in the lawsuit claimed that consideration for her daughter’s comfort should be equal to that of the male students at the school. She argued that failure to provide comfortable options for female students caused her daughter to be distracted from her academic activities because of the discomfort she felt the skirt imposed.
While the charter school is funded through taxpayer dollars, they are not required to adhere to the same mandates of the public schools. Uniform requirements are part of the charter school’s focus on values and discipline; and requiring students to wear uniforms is not a violation of anti-discrimination laws. Uniforms are meant to bring pride to the school community, encourage discipline, and promote community.
In accordance with North Carolina state public school policies, punishment for not adhering to required dress codes were enforced at the charter school. The judge that ruled on the case stated that the charter school was not obligated to enforce punishment as a result of dress code violations. Doing so added to the plight of the female students that already believed they were being treated unfairly.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs asked the school to revise the dress code to include the option for girls to wear pants. Including this option would allow the girls to choose the apparel that was most comfortable for them and allowed for their freedom of movement in all activities.
Officials defending the charter school’s restrictions on their dress code argue that the discipline enforced by the school uniforms support the broader goals of the school. The charter school defends its principles with academic scores far above those at the state’s public school level, however there is no indication that the skirt requirement enhances student performance.
West Chester Education Lawyers at MacMain Leinhauser Advise Charter School Administration on Policy Enforcement
For assistance in drafting and enforcing school policies and procedures, call the West Chester education lawyers at MacMain Leinhauser at 484-318-7106, or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our West Chester, Pennsylvania offices serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and across the state.
College Admissions Scandal
Federal authorities recently announced 50 indictments on conspiracy charges in relation to a higher education admissions scandal. Documents released by the U.S. attorney describe how wealthy parents paid to ensure their children’s admission to prestigious universities including the University of Southern California, the University of California Los Angeles, University Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University, Georgetown University, Yale University, and the University of San Diego.
To date, more than 30 parents have been charged for paying up to $6.5 million in exchange for either their child’s admission into college, recruitment onto a college sports team – regardless of athletic ability, or help getting good scores on college admissions exams such as the SAT and ACT. Many are now concerned that wealthy advantage is threatening the meritocracy of college admissions.
College Admissions, Entrance Exams, and Athletic Recruitment
The indictment includes charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and bribery – all means by which wealthy families used money to gain a competitive advantage for their children. Parents, athletic coaches, and exam administrators are all implicated in the nationwide scandal involving:
“Side Door” Admissions – Witnesses describe the process of side door admissions whereby wealthy parents pay to get their children admitted into elite schools, regardless of their grades, test scores, or abilities. It is an alternative to “back door” admissions (otherwise known as institutional advancement), which can cost millions of dollars and is not guaranteed.
Fake Test Scores – Several exam administrators have been charged with facilitating cheating on college entrance exams. Parents were allegedly instructed to request extra time for their children to take their exams due to purported learning disabilities. Then, they were allegedly told to request a change of location for the exam to one of two test centers where test administrators allowed a third party to either take the student’s exam, provide the student with the correct answers, or correct the student’s answers after they completed their exam.
False Athletic Profiles – Information obtained through wiretap reveals that parents created false athletic profiles for their children and paid for their children’s recruitment onto college athletic teams through disguised donations to charitable foundations. As many as 13 coaches have been charged for their involvement in the conspiracy.
Who Was Aware of the Deals?
Many students involved in the alleged bribes claim to have had no knowledge of their parent’s arrangements. The universities named in the documents have also denied any knowledge of the schemes and are currently cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation. Several employees and coaches have been terminated and many of the universities implicated are launching their own investigations into the matter.
The executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling says that each institution must follow its own protocol for such high-profile scandals. Schools may wish to reach out to students who were unaware of the bribery to offer support or other necessary accommodations. The executive director also suggests that given the public nature of this incident, institutions may also wish to communicate their intended response to the entire student body to ensure campus-wide understanding.
For more information on how to protect your rights as a university, contact the Chester County education law attorneys at MacMain Leinhauser through our online contact form or call us at 484-318-7106. From our office in Malvern, Pennsylvania, our experienced lawyers counsel and represent educational institutions throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania University Faculty and Background Checks
A relatively new policy requiring background checks be done on employees in Pennsylvania state schools is now being challenged in court. The policy was formed in response to a sex abuse scandal at Penn State. In 1998, a parent reported football coach Jerry Sandusky to administrators for inappropriately showered with her minor son at Penn State. Sandusky continued coaching at the school without any apparent repercussions despite a campus police investigation of the incident and reports of other incidents made by school staff to administrators.
It was not until late 2011 that the coach was arrested and charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys. The case was based on decades of misconduct where Sandusky attracted young boys through a non-profit he established, where he groomed and abused them for years.
Legislative Response and New University Policy
Allegations of a cover up to protect the popular coach at the expense of his young victims were rampant. In 2015, Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education adopted a new policy based on legislation passed in November 2014. The law required background checks be performed for employees and volunteers working in the state university system. It also required all employees, volunteers, and administrators to provide written notice if they are arrested for or convicted of certain misconduct involving children. This must be done within 72 hours of the event.
The law was revised in 2015 to cover a smaller number of employees. The law now applies only to educators teaching minors or college and university faculty who have direct contact with children not enrolled in their schools, such as summer camp students. This language would address the Sandusky crimes where minor children were bought to a university campus. However, the State System chose to keep its broader policy in place, which has been under intense scrutiny.
Court Challenges to State System Policy
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and Universities Faculties (APSCUF) is a union that represents university faculty members and coaches. It challenged the State System’s choice to maintain a broader reporting system than is required by law, claiming the policy exceeded the State System’s authority. APSCUF states the issue should be the subject of contract negotiations between represented university employees and the State System. In contrast, the State System believes it has the right to adopt a policy that is crafted to protect minors from sexual abuse by any of its employees as part of its essential managerial responsibility to protect children.
The first challenge to the policy was considered by the state labor relations board that decided in favor of the union’s position. An appeal to the Commonwealth Court followed. The court upheld the original decision finding that schools can only mandate that background checks and arrest reports be required for teachers who are likely to encounter minor children not enrolled as freshmen or to prospective students touring campus. The case is now scheduled to be heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
MacMain Leinhauser provides legal advice to public and private entities seeking to comply with legal requirements. We counsel clients in the areas of labor and employment law, school law, civil rights, and tort matters. To schedule an initial consultation, call us today at 484-318-7106 or complete an online form. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia and Chester County.