Maiello Brungo & Maiello

Snow Day Guidance Is On The Way The Pennsylvania Department of Education is developing guidance and establishing a standard application for schools seeking to use flexible days. A key requirement is ensuring students have access to the internet in order to receive instruction on the flexible days. A school may seek approval of up to five flexible school days. 

Synchronous help for homebound students with Keystone Telepresence Education Grants To assist homebound students who are unable to attend school for an extended period due to serious medical conditions, the Department will award grants to Intermediate Units to provide technology for homebound students to participate in real-time class activities from a remote location.

Trauma-Informed Approach to Educational Environments This Act requires schools to recognize the signs and impact of trauma in students and to provide support. School Board members are required to receive a minimum of one hour of training on trauma-informed approaches and recognizing student behavior which may indicate a threat to the safety of others. This mandatory training increases new board member training from four to five hours and re-elected members from two to three hours.  Additionally, schools are required to add a minimum of one hour of evidence-based training on trauma-informed approaches to its professional development plans.    

Trauma results from an event or series of events that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has a lasting adverse effect on the individual’s cognitive functioning and physical, social, mental or spiritual well-being. Trauma has no regard to age, gender, socioeconomic, race, ethnicity, geography or sexual orientation.

Young people bring their traumatic experiences into the school systems, often interfering with their school success. A trauma-informed approach is a school-wide approach to education and student learning for the purpose of recognizing trauma, resisting recurrence, and promoting resiliency tailored to the school district’s culture. A trauma-informed approach focuses on how a school district responds to trauma. This approach requires school entities to be mindful of the way in which its staff interacts with students which might inadvertently make students feel unsafe, either physically or emotionally.  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a department of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department defines a trauma-informed entity in the following way:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • Seeks to actively prevent re-traumatization.

School Safety & Security Enhancement Assistance for Non-Public Schools Intermediate Units will take applications upon request received from a non-public schools for assistance to the department. Intermediate Units will receive funds to administer grants for this purpose. 

School Safety & Security Grants A school safety and security fund was established. Money allocated for the purpose of making grants shall be awarded no later than October 2019.  The award of grants will be prioritized in response to the most recent survey instrument completed by a school district. 

Threat Assessment Teams Each school district is required to establish at least one team for the assessment of and intervention with students whose behavior indicates a threat to the safety of the student, other students, school employees, school facilities, the community or others.  Each district is to provide training to the team members consistent with best practices.  Schools must inform their students, employees, and parents of the existence and purpose of the team and post the information on the school district’s website. The team will have an annual requirement to report to the Board of School Directors a summary of interactions with law enforcement, summary of team operations and recommendations for improvement of the school district’s threat assessment process. Importantly, the Act permits cooperation between county agencies and juvenile probation.

PlanCon Changes A more streamlined process will be in place 2020.  The PlanCon process will now include a four steps:

  1. Project Justification-Application and Board Approval
  2. Construction Documents-Bid Documents
  3. Project Bid Awards-Approval of Signed Contracts by Board
  4. Project Completion-Audit

PDE is authorized to further streamline the process by implementing a web-based application and data collection process. The changes include simplification of the PlanCon process; a new funding rubric; recognizes and provides an incentive for utilizing high-performance building standards; creates a grant program to assist with smaller building maintenance and school safety needs.   

The changes now recognize High-Performance Building Standards, LEED and Green Globes and permits the Secretary of Education to recognize other high performing standards which meet or exceed LEED or Green Globes.  An incentive is provided to districts using high performance standards of a 10% increase over the reimbursement formula.  To receive the 10% reimbursement enhancement, the projected return on investment versus regular code construction practices must show a positive return over the building’s lifetime.

Maintenance and Repair Grants A grant program that supports small maintenance projects such as roof repair and roof replacements; heating and air conditioning; energy savings projects; plumbing systems and emergencies. A school entity is required to fund a 50% match of the project cost, unless the project is an emergency as determined by PDE.

Alfred Maiello

Alfred C. Maiello is the founding member of MBM and has represented area school districts as solicitor for 50 years. He counsels school districts and educational institutions on leading developments in school law and guiding them through their day-to-day and long-term challenges.