For almost a year, schools have been reacting to the unprecedented circumstances that Covid-19 has caused. Most of the mitigation efforts thus far have been at the direction of state and local governments. Only recently have federal agencies given clear and substantial guidance on how to get students back into the classroom. Schools have largely fallen into three categories — in-person, remote, or a blended model that involves students doing some classwork at home and some at school. Some schools moved to increase their in-person learning and some have had to retrace their steps when positivity rates were too high, either in the school or in the larger community.
On May 19, 2020, the Department of Education published a final Title IX regulation that changes the rights and responsibilities for schools, complainants, and respondents. In summary, these regulations respond to the need to provide a prompt and just response to individuals who have suffered sexual harassment and provide due process for an alleged perpetrator. These changes create a standard grievance process, define conduct that constitutes sexual harassment, outline conditions that activate a school’s obligation to respond, impose a minimum standard of school response, and establish procedural due process protections.
During the expedited legislative session on May 20-24, the Illinois General Assembly passed HB 2455 which was signed into law as Public Act 101-633 on June 5, 2020. While well-intentioned, this Act could create a huge liability for school districts depending on how the Illinois Department of Employment Security (“IDES”) interprets the law. School districts are already facing an uncertain financial future and this law is adds more uncertainty and possibly more financial insecurity.
California signed SB 826 (“Act”) into law on September 20, 2018, requiring all publicly-traded California companies to have at least one female on their board of directors by the end of 2019. The law was enacted to create more diversity in corporate governance and expedite the slow movement toward gender parity in the boardroom. Now that each company should have at least one female member on their board of directors, the California Secretary of State (“SOS”) has released a document showing which companies complied and which companies will be facing fines.
Public Act 101-0531 (“Act”) was signed into law on August 23, 2019. The Act is a step that the Illinois legislature has taken to protect students from recurring violence by school employees. It allows the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) to suspend an educator’s license if they are charged with crimes listed in Section 21B-80 of the Illinois School Code. If the person is acquitted of that crime, however, they would have their license reinstated. Prior to the enactment of this statute, ISBE had to wait until the conclusion of any criminal proceedings to revoke a teaching license if a teacher was charged with a sex crime or Class X felony. In addition to the change in agency authority, the bill also creates several reporting and policy review requirements that will help protect students from violence and school districts from liability.
An article published on November 19, 2019 by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune has alerted Illinois lawmakers, parents, and school personnel of the widespread use of seclusion rooms for isolated timeouts. The use of these rooms, which has now been halted by the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) and Governor J.B. Pritzker, has been legal in Illinois for over twenty years. The students who are most frequently placed in these rooms have an emotional, behavioral, or intellectual disability, and special education advocates are calling for an end to this practice. These rooms were introduced as a legally-sanctioned separation method to prevent students from harming themselves or others, but the investigative article found that students are often unlawfully placed in these rooms for minor behavioral infractions. The report also found that parents and school administrators did not have knowledge of the full scope of isolated time-out use for their students.
In September, the Department of Labor announced a final revised “Overtime Rule” set to take effect on January 1, 2020, that raises the “standard-salary level” from $455 to $684 weekly to an annual total of $35,568. This will entitle anyone making less than this standard salary to receive fifty percent more in hourly wages for any hours worked in excess of forty in one week because they are no longer “exempted” from the overtime pay requirement in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Rule is expected to allow 1.3 million previously-exempt workers access to overtime pay. Workers who make more than this threshold can still receive overtime pay if their roles do not include substantial decision making such as administrative, professional, or executive jobs.
The annual Illinois School Report Cards under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) were released on October 30. The report cards are now focused on student growth under ESSA which was signed into law four years ago. This will be the second Report Card released in Illinois under the new reporting guidelines under ESSA that requires states to evaluate schools on a variety of indicators of success, rather than just by student achievement. These report cards will rank schools from “Exemplary” to “Lowest-Performing” and report school spending this year as well as student performance data.
After two years of deliberation, public comment, and litigation, the Department of Education has released its final regulations for an overhaul of borrower defense to repayment claims. On August 30, 2019, the Department of Education released a press brief outlining new regulations set to take place on July 1, 2020. The new rules maintain that they are in place to create “streamlined and fair procedures that ensure basic due process for both borrowers and institutions.” Touting an anticipated savings of $11.1 billion dollars in savings to taxpayers over a ten-year span, the new regulations will likely make it more difficult for students to have their student loans forgiven. However, because of a missed deadline by the Department of Education, an Obama-era rule that favors borrowers by offering a transparent process for handling their claims, as well as automatic forgiveness of loans for some borrowers, is effective until that time.