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Key Topics for Updating Student and Employee Handbooks (5/17/2021)

Written by: Linda S. Johnson & Susan E. Schorr & David Wolowitz

An update to school handbooks is often a summer project. If it is time for a refresh at your school, here are some key issues to consider as you embark on a revision project.

  • Clarify your school’s policy about reporting student discipline to next schools and colleges. Does your state have a law that requires you to report serious discipline on a transcript if a student is transferring to another school? Are you aware that the Common App has removed the requirement that students report if they have been subject of a discipline violation? Families are increasingly “negotiating” how schools report discipline to other institutions, and schools would do well to have thought through a policy in advance of these conversations.
  • The pandemic has been an extreme version of a communicable illness, but it is not the only one we face, which is why states require annual immunizations for students. It remains to be seen whether the Covid-19 vaccine will be mandated for students the next school year, or whether it makes sense to mandate it for adults in the school community. Whether applicable to this pandemic or not, schools should have policies addressing communicable illness in general in both student and employee handbooks, mindful that different exemptions will apply based on both federal and state laws.
  • Develop or update an authentic DEIJB (diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, belonging) statement. Schools probably tackled this issue in earnest last summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. A year later, it is time to take a fresh look. Lawyers can review a non-discrimination statement to ensure your school is capturing the protected classes applicable to your school; however, a DEI statement is one that should reflect a school’s mission and values. Your school needs to communicate from its heart and soul on this topic.
  • We are hopeful that remote learning and working from home will become the exceptions, and not the rules, as we head into the next school year. But schools know how to accommodate both students and employees who may not be able to be on campus for a variety of reasons. You may be ready to toss last year’s policies out the window, but whether for another epidemic, weather disaster, or cyber-attack, or because a particular job-function can be managed remotely, take the time this summer to fine-tune your policies for when members of the school community want to stay engaged, but do so off-campus.
  • For boarding schools, consider re-imaging rules around parietals or student dorm visitation that are currently based on gender. LGBTQ students are a part of every student body. Consider revising your school’s policy to discourage intimacy between students, but not limit visitation options based on gender.
  • Consider adding more explicit consent policies in the student handbook to help students better understand consent, and conduct proactive student awareness and training sessions on the expectations of behavior and the potential ramifications, including criminal charges, expulsion and impact of their behavior on others as well as themselves. 
  • Schools should review student handbooks to evaluate what out-of-school conduct they have, or should have, jurisdiction over and whether the jurisdiction is, or should be, mandatory or discretionary.

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