The Pennsylvania Legislature recently passed two bills, House Bill Number 703 and Senate Bill Number 530, by overwhelming majorities and it is anticipated that Governor Wolf will sign both of these bills into law in the coming days. Although neither of the laws would take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature, school districts must be aware of new obligations imposed by both of these laws and prepare to implement their mandates.
Under House Bill 703, school districts must “establish and publish” an email address for each school board member and publish the email address on its website. The law goes on to state that the email address may be used by members of the public, school district staff, and school district students to communicate with each individual school board member regarding matters of district governance. The email addresses must be “published in a location and manner [which is] easily visible and accessible to the public.”
Based on the term “establish and publish” in House Bill 703, it appears that a school district cannot simply publish the personal email address of a board member on its website. Rather, the school district must (if it has not already done so) create email accounts for all board members and publish the email addresses on its website. Many school districts may already be in compliance with the mandate of House Bill 703. Our education law team attorneys can assist your school district in ensuring that you are in compliance. Notably, the law states that school districts must be in compliance with the law within one hundred and eighty days “of the effective date of this section.” The law will take effect sixty days after Governor Wolf signs it, so school districts have two hundred and forty days from the date the law is signed to achieve compliance.
Senate Bill 530 amends the Public School Code to mandate that a school district take certain actions against students convicted or adjudicated delinquent of committing sexual offenses upon another student in the same school district. Under the provisions of the new law, if a student is convicted or adjudicated delinquent of committing a sexual assault (defined in the law as rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, or indecent assault), then the school district must take one of the following steps: 1.) expel the convicted or adjudicated student; 2.) transfer the convicted or adjudicated student to an alternative education program; or 3.) reassign the convicted or adjudicated student to another school or educational program within the public school entity. The school district is required to ensure that the perpetrator is not educated in the same school building, transported on the same school vehicle, or allowed to participate in the same school-sponsored activities at the same time as the victim.
Notably, further language in Senate Bill 530 provides the school district with some discretion in not taking action against a perpetrator of sexual assault, so long as the individual had already been expelled, transferred, or reassigned for the same sexual assault, or if the perpetrator “does not attend the same school as the victim.” The law also contains permissive language, which does not prohibit the school entity from taking action against a perpetrator of sexual assault if said assault takes place outside the school setting so long as the assault was against another student enrolled in the same school district, and the assault had the effect of substantially interfering with the victim’s education, creating a threatening or hostile environment, or substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school. The law also does the following:
- Outlines the circumstances under which an individual expelled, reassigned, or transferred after a sexual assault conviction can return to their original school building.
- Specifically permits a school district to place the perpetrator in an alternative educational setting or provide alternative educational services during or after any period of expulsion.
- Allows a school district that receives a student transferring from another public or nonpublic school during or after a period of expulsion related to a sexual offense to assign the student to an alternative educational placement.
- Requires an individual who is convicted of sexual assault upon another student enrolled in the same public school entity to notify the school district of the conviction within 72 hours.
- Mandates that the parent or guardian of a student seeking admission to a school district must provide a sworn statement stating whether the student was previously or presently expelled pursuant to the provisions of the new law.
Once signed by the Governor, and upon the effective date of the law 60 days after signature, Senate Bill 530 will impose new student disciplinary requirements on school districts. School districts will also be required to update their policies to reflect the provisions of the new law and develop admission forms complying with the reporting requirements. It is strongly recommended, should a situation arise involving a student sexual assault in a school district, that the Solicitor’s office be involved throughout the disciplinary process to ensure that the legal requirements are being met.