Timothy Higus Senior Editor Loyola University School of Law, JD 2021 Ah, the spring – the smell of rain, sights of blooming flowers, the sounds of birds chirping, and government-imposed standardized tests. School leaders, teachers, and even state superintendents are again asking the U.S. Department of Education (“ED”) to waive their obligation to take standardized …
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released revised guidelines regarding physical distancing in K-12 schools. Originally, the CDC recommended that students should stay six feet away from each other in a classroom with mask but now recommends at least three feet between students in classrooms. These new guidelines will encourage more schools to return to the classroom around the nation.
A major upset took place on first day of the very much anticipated 2021 National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) Division 1 Basketball Tournaments, and I am not referring to any of the games that took place on that day. In the evening of March 18th, University of Oregon Forward Sedona Prince took to social media to expose the evident discrepancies between the weight room facilities for the men’s and women’s tournament facilities. To prevent a coronavirus outbreak, each of the tournaments are taking place in a bubble funded by the NCAA. The video Prince posted showed the women’s tournament weight room which consisted of a single set of dumbbells, then showed the men’s tournament weight room that was supplied with various training equipment. Not only were there massive disparities between the weight rooms for the men’s and women’s tournaments, but there is also a clear and substantial difference in the “swag bags” given to each student athlete participating in the tournament from the NCAA. As well as the quality of food provided to the female student athletes who are competing in the tournament.
The latest COVID-19 relief package passed on March 11, 2021 by Congress provides a total of $1.9 trillion in mandatory funding, program changes, and tax policies designed to address the enduring economic damage caused by the pandemic. About 15% of the total package will be allocated to states and local governments to tackle budgetary issues associated with the pandemic with very few strings attached. The State of Illinois and the city of Chicago are in the process of assessing the relief package and formulating plans as to how they will allocate the funds.
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.
The incoming Biden administration includes Dr. Miguel Cardona as the new Secretary of Education. Advocates for students with disabilities recently met with Dr. Cardona to voice concerns about issues ranging from school discipline to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on special education services. In this meeting, Cardona stressed the importance of inclusivity in public schools and the need to promote the rights of people with disabilities, as well as to increase civil rights law enforcement by Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”). Providing a “free appropriate public education” or FAPE during this time came with tremendous costs to budgets and other burdens for school administrators who, in “good faith” tried to meet these standards. However, after the DOE initiated four investigations in the past month over concerns districts nationwide have failed to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic. These investigations will be one of the first tasks Dr. Cardona will take on as Secretary of Education.
On November 17, 2020, Chicago Public School (“CPS”) announced that in January 2021, CPS would have its first week of in-person learning since March of 2020. Upon the announcement, CPS parents had mixed reactions to the district’s plan to bring some students back, where some expressed excitement about the positive effect of in-person learning on their kids social and mental health, while others like the Grassroots Education Movement voiced concerns that the district had not done enough to make schools COVID-19 safe.
The return to in-person learning has been controversial and filled with conflict between teachers and the Chicago Teachers Union (“CTU”) versus the district. CTU expressed that it does not trust the district to keep the teachers and students safe, and the CTU released a statement that 71 percent of its teachers voted to continue remote learning instruction. Even with these concerns, CPS made the return by teachers mandatory. During its first week in-person, over 150 educators have been AWOL, having not shown up to school. Since then, the teachers’ protest has only become louder. CPS responded by docking the pay and locking teachers out of their remote learning platforms. Intense debate surrounds the topic, but the underlying legal principle remains, CPS cannot deny students a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), while CPS engages in a labor dispute with the CTU.
The new Title IX regulations that were introduced by the Department of Education (the Department) in May are officially in effect and require school districts to implement multiple changes in their Title IX compliance practices. Title IX explains that educational programs and activities receiving federal funding from the Department must not act in a discriminatory manner on the basis of sex. These new regulations extend many new protections against sexual harassment, and aim to protect the rights of students, mainly their right to due process. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools are challenged with implementing these new regulations while navigating the obstacles brought by the virus.
As thousands of schools across the country comply with state and local social distancing orders due to the global pandemic COVID-19 for this 2020-21 school year, many schools are now faced with having to educate students from their homes in either hybrid or fully remote models. Millions of students are now utilizing online educational services to aid in remote learning. Although these education technology companies (“EdTech”) are now providing crucial remote learning opportunities for students, school districts must also keep students’ privacy rights in mind. Many of these EdTech services will collect and use personal information of students who use their services. This is where the Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) pertains.
On September 16, The Big Ten conference announced the reversal of the decision to postpone fall sports and will resume football the week of Oct. 23rd. On that same day, Governor J.B. Pritzker announced elementary and high school football teams will still not return for the fall. With football being a contact sport, the risk of spreading COVID-19 is very high. There are hopes for Illinois high school football to return in the spring but as of now, there are not enough resources to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and local authorities’ guidelines.