Doing More with Less: Educational Institutions Have Even More to Do This School Year
Each legislative session ends with what seems to be more and more requirements for education administrators to add to their never-ending to-do lists. This year was no exception. From employee trainings to fulfilling statutory requirements (such as Clery Act reports and EEO-1 filings), there is never a dull moment. As school is recently back in session, it’s important to keep in mind some new developments as well as practical reminders:
- Vaccinations: New York State has eliminated the ability of a student to opt out of school vaccination requirements due to his/her religious beliefs. Medical exemptions are still available, but these must now be completed by the student’s physician using a form issued by the New York State Department of Health. This new legislation applies to all public, private and parochial schools, as well as child care centers, but does not apply to colleges or universities.
- Admissions: College admission scandals are constantly making headlines; yet, many institutions don’t think that it could happen to them. While you can’t always anticipate a rogue employee, now may be the time to add the admissions department to your internal audit program in order to identify and address any lack of oversight, problematic policies and procedures, or potential avenues of fraud.
- Salary History Ban: Starting in 2020, educational institutions can no longer ask or rely on salary histories of applicants and employees when making job offers or determining wages.
- Training: Educational institutions have to train all employees on sexual harassment prevention before New York State’s deadline of October 9, 2019. While many institutions have already been training their staff regarding Title IX requirements, which focus on similar topics (i.e., sexual harassment and gender discrimination), most likely your current Title IX training module will not cover New York statemandated training topics. It’s important to review New York State’s requirements and make sure that each of your employees are being appropriately trained.
- Child Victims Act: Legal experts expect an influx of lawsuits filed against educational institutions, teachers and administrators by former students under New York State’s Child Victims Act, which, among other things, extends the statute of limitations and resurrects time-barred claims of sexual abuse. The idea of trying to defend against sometimes decades-old allegations seems daunting; but so too is the cost of doing so, from public relations to legal fees to indemnification disputes. Many institutions are beginning to take steps to offset these costs by collecting and preserving any and all insurance policies (no matter how old), and contacting counsel in regard to providing written notice to the insurance carrier(s).
- Voting: In addition to early voting this year, New York State now requires employers to provide registered employees up to three hours of paid time off to vote, which employers can require to be taken at the beginning or end of the employee’s shift and subject to two days’ advance notice. The New York State Board of Elections has issued a poster for employers to use, which must be posted at least 10 working days before, and must remain up until, the election polls close.
It’s important to note that none of the increased requirements come with any funding sources, meaning that institutions are continuing to make do in the face of declining enrollments and decreased federal funding.
So is there any good news on the horizon?
The State’s FY 2020 budget does include an increase of over $1 billion in school aid, with the vast majority of that funding earmarked for underserved school districts, along with $208 million in funding for higher education. The expansion of State funding and educational access barriers attempts to offset the decrease in overall education funding, increased costs, and declining student enrollment and graduation rates. And despite its many obstacles, New York State continues to be a leader in the nation for both K-12 and higher education.
Amanda L. Lowe is a partner at Phillips Lytle LLP and a member of the firm’s Education Practice Team. She has advised colleges and universities about their policies and procedures regarding administrative investigations and student disciplinary hearings, and regularly provides day-to-day legal advice to higher education institutions. She can be reached at (716) 504-5747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.