Late Year Changes to School Code Have Immediate Impact on Districts

Effective November 17, 2010, Act 104 of 2010 implemented wide-ranging amendments to the School Code, and by doing so, imposed new requirements on school districts.  School districts must update policies regarding school violence; may consider programs regarding dating violence; and update medication policies to permit students to carry and administer EPI pens.  Act 104 also contains amendments with regard to residency, national teacher certification, and other revisions which impact school reporting requirements.  The following is a summary of the key amendments.

Reports to the Department of Education
Detailed annual reports must be submitted regarding numerous facets of each school district’s operation.  The reports include detailed financial reports that cannot deviate from the district’s audit reports in any material fashion.  The failure to submit the required financial data by October 31st of each year may result in a fine of $300 per day for the first violation and $500 per day for each subsequent violation. 

School districts must also submit detailed drop-out data reports, which include classifications of at-risk students based on the criteria of limited English proficiency, low income, special education, gifted education, race/ethnicity, gender, school entity, and geographic area.

Each school district must also submit a school safety annual report no later than November 1st of each year.  The annual reports must include the following information for each incident relating to specific criminal offenses:  age or grade of the student; name and address of the school; and the circumstances surrounding the incident, including, but not limited to the type of weapon; whether a controlled substance, alcohol or tobacco was involved; as well as the date, time and location.  Prior to submitting its proposed report to the Department of Education, school districts must submit its report to the police department with jurisdiction over the school district.  The police department shall notify the school district whether there are any discrepancies in the proposed report.  A school district administrator who intentionally fails to submit the required report may be subject to a fine of $2,500 for a first violation, a fine of $3,500 for a second violation, and a fine of $5,000 for a third violation.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification
The amendments to the School Code provide that, to the extent funds are available, the state shall:  1) pay all or a portion of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (“NBPTS”) assessment fees for a teacher to become certified or recertified; and 2) reimburse school districts for all or a portion of substitute teacher costs incurred when a teacher prepares for NBPTS certification, for up to three (3) days.  The assessment fee is the $2,500 fee charged to candidates for NBPTS certification.  See www.nbpts.org.  However, some districts and teachers are given greater priority in receiving funds than others.  First priority for receiving funds is given to teachers in schools identified for school improvement or corrective action.  Second priority is given to teachers who teach early childhood education, mathematics or science in middle or secondary schools, or who teach special education or foreign language classes.  The School Code does not specify how funds will be allocated to teachers who are not deemed “priority,” nor does it specify the exact application process for receiving any funds.  The School Code merely states that the Pennsylvania Department of Education “shall develop guidelines necessary for the implementation of this” section of the School Code.  Teachers are eligible to receive the grant created by this section once, even if they do not achieve the certification on the first attempt.  Teachers who do not complete the certification process must reimburse the Commonwealth an amount equal to the grant, but a teacher who is denied certification after completing the certification process does not have to reimburse the Commonwealth for the grant.

Residence and right to free school privileges
A child does not automatically change residence status when the child moves outside of Pennsylvania where one or both of the child’s parents are called or ordered into active military duty, other than active duty training.  The child shall continue to be considered a resident of the school district where the child resided prior to the parent being stationed outside of Pennsylvania, provided the parent maintains a Pennsylvania residence.

Emergency permits at approved private schools and chartered schools for the deaf and blind
The same criteria for emergency permits for public schools are now applicable to approved private school and chartered schools for the deaf and blind.

Reduction of violence in schools and among students
It is mandatory for school districts to enter into biennial Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement.  Within a year, PDE is required to develop a model MOU to assist the school districts.  There are new reporting requirements for listed criminal offenses.  Intentional failure to enter into MOUs or properly submit the criminal offense reports will result in monetary penalties.  In addition, Act 104 authorizes the Commonwealth to make targeted grants to support school-based diversion programs that reduce the threat of violence; and staff training in the use of positive behavior supports, de-escalation techniques, and appropriate response to student behavior that may require immediate intervention.

There are also new provisions with regard to dating violence.  Act 104 requires that the Department of Education develop a model dating violence policy by May 17, 2011.  In developing the policy, the Department of Education must consult with at least one domestic violence center and at least one rape crisis center.  This is simply a model policy that will help school districts to develop their own policies, if the districts so choose.  Individual school districts are not required to adopt a dating violence policy.  School districts may offer dating violence training to staff and also dating violence education to students; however, it is not mandatory.  This revision is a significant departure from the originally-proposed dating violence bill, HB 2026 of 2009.  HB 2026 proposed that all school districts implement dating violence policies within one year of the effective date of the legislation.  HB 2026 also proposed mandatory dating violence curriculum.

School districts must permit EPI pens
Each school district must develop written policies which permit students  to possess and self-administer EPI pens in the same manner that they had previously been permitted to possess asthma inhalers.  Thus, the student must demonstrate proficiency with the device in order to self-administer.  If the student is not proficient with self-administration, the EPI pen must be stored in a location where it will be easily accessible in an emergency.  The policy shall require that  prescriptions and parental approvals be updated on an annual basis.

Management of food allergies
The Department of Education shall develop guidelines for managing life-threatening food allergies in schools.  The guidelines must assist schools in preventing allergic reactions and deaths from anaphylaxis, training staff to prevent student exposure to allergens, and training staff to appropriately deal with a student having a life-threatening allergic reaction. 

Miscellaneous
If funding is allocated, the amendments provide for science technology partnership grants with criteria for partnership agreements with Higher Education Institutes.

The amendments also authorize a discretionary program known as “Operation Recognition” to permit the granting of a high school diploma to honorably discharged veterans who meet the specified criteria.

 Conclusion
As in past years, the 2010 omnibus year-end legislation impacts wide-ranging areas of the School Code.  The members of our Education Law Team are prepared to answer any questions you may have on how the new law impacts your school district.