COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Governor Baker Issues Executive Order Modifying Open Meeting Law Requirements

In light of the recent state of emergency and outbreak of COVID-19, Governor Charlie Baker issued an Executive Order on March 12, 2020 modifying the requirements of the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, § 20.

At this time, public bodies are authorized to permit remote participation by all members in the public body, and public bodies are not required to have a quorum and the chair physically present at a specified meeting location.  A quorum may be achieved with members participating remotely.

Public bodies are not required to conduct meetings in a public place.  If a public body chooses not to conduct a meeting in a public place, it must provide adequate, alternative means of public access to its deliberations.  This includes, but is not limited to, meetings via telephone, internet, or satellite enabled audio or video conferencing or any other technology that enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body while they are occurring.  The public body may not charge for access to proceedings conducted through these alternative means.

If a public body faces economic hardship and cannot provide such alternative means despite best efforts, the public body may instead post on its municipal website a full and complete transcript, recording, or other comprehensive record of the proceedings as soon as practicable after the meeting concludes.  This exception does not apply to proceedings that require the allowance of active participation by members of the public pursuant to a general law, special law, regulation, local ordinance or by-law, such as a public hearing or Town Meeting.

The order remains in effect until it is rescinded or the state of emergency is terminated, whichever happens first.  Our office is closely monitoring for further developments related to COVID-19, and will provide further updates as available.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

FERPA and COVID-19

With a growing number of cases involving public K-12 students who have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who has such symptoms, circumstances will arise which implicate student education records covered by 20 U.S.C., 1232g (“FERPA”). School districts must work promptly and closely with local boards of health to ensure that all their students are protected. The Department of Education’s Student Privacy Policy Office recently released FAQs that attempt to address issues in this emerging context. The FAQs cover such matters as what constitutes an “emergency” which authorizes the disclosure of personally identifiable information without prior consent; what type(s) of information may be disclosed without prior consent; and how/when information may be disclosed to others in the affected school community. The FAQs can be found at: https://studentprivacy.ed.gov/sites/default/files/resource_document/file/FERPA%20and%20Coronavirus%20Frequently%20Asked%20Questions_0.pdf

We will be updating our advisories as circumstances warrant. In addition, the Massachusetts student record regulations at 603 CMR 23.00 differ in some respects from FERPA and its regulations at 34 CFR Part 99. This advisory is not legal advice as to how you should address any specific circumstances regarding FERPA. Should you need such advice please contact us.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Interim Guidance for School Districts – COVID-19

Yesterday Governor Baker declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts regarding the COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) outbreak which is impacting the United States. Among the many activities being affected by this outbreak is K-12 public education. As school administrators wrestle with the implications of the outbreak for their schools, governmental authorities at the federal and state level are releasing guidance. We are therefore issuing this advisory to our clients. Keep in mind that the public guidance, and our advice, can, and probably will, change quickly as the situation evolves.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has issued its “interim” guidance at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-schools.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fspecific-groups%2Fguidance-for-schools.html

The CDC guidance is broken down into two main categories – (1) guidance for schools that do not yet have COVID-19 identified in the community and (2) guidance for schools that do have identified COVID-19 cases in the community. We urge you to review that guidance. A common thread in both categories is that school districts should work closely with their local health authorities/boards to stay apprised of the community’s status.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (“DESE”) has issued its own guidance at http://www.doe.mass.edu/sfs/emergencyplan/covid19.html.

The DESE guidance is directed at two matters: (1) the process for closing a school or schools for reasons related to COVID-19; and (2) adjusting the 180-school day requirement in Massachusetts. The former includes, again, close coordination with local health authorities. The school-year requirement is broken down into days lost between the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year and March 15, 2020; days lost between March 16, 2020 and June 1, 2020; and days lost after June 1, 2020. We urge you to review this guidance, as well.

We will be updating our advisory as circumstances warrant. This advisory is not legal advice as to how you should address any specific circumstances. Should you need such advice please contact one of our attorneys.

U.S. Department of Education Announces New Title IX Initiative Targeted to K-12 Public Schools

The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) recently announced a new initiative to combat sexual assault in K-12 public school districts.  This new initiative is intended to enhance OCR’s enforcement of Title IX in public schools and strengthen the ability of public school districts to adequately respond to all incidents of sexual harassment and assault.  It also comes on the heels of an increased amount of K-12 sexual harassment and violence complaints filed with OCR. OCR received fifteen times more complaints this past year than it received a decade ago.

OCR’s initiative will include the following activities:

  • Compliance Reviews: OCR will conduct nationwide compliance reviews in schools and districts, examining how sexual assault cases are handled under Title IX, including sexual incidents involving teachers and school staff. OCR will work with school districts to identify and correct compliance concerns.
  • Public Awareness and Support: OCR will focus on raising awareness of the issue of sexual assault in K-12 schools, including making information available to educators, school leaders, parents and families.
  • Data Quality Reviews: OCR will conduct Data Quality Reviews (“DQRs”) of the data on sexual assault/offenses submitted by school districts through the Civil Rights Data Collection (“CRDC”). As a part of conducting DQRs, OCR will partner with the National Center for Education Statistics (“NCES”) and will work with districts to ensure that incidents of sexual assault/sexual offenses are being accurately recorded and reported through the CRDC.
  • Proposed CRDC Data Collection: OCR has proposed, for the 2019-2020 data collection, to collect more detailed data on sexual assault. The proposed data collection includes incidents perpetrated by school staff or school personnel.  If adopted, the inclusion of this data would make the CRDC collection the first universal collection to gather such data systemically by school.

We recommend reviewing District policies and procedures regarding Title IX and discrimination and harassment.  Our office is available to review and revise these policies and procedures, as well as to train District staff on complying with the provisions of Title IX.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.

Liz Valerio and Nick Dominello to Present at 2020 Massachusetts Association of School Personnel Administrators (“MASPA”) Annual Law Day

On March 20, 2020 Liz Valerio and Nick Dominello will present at the MASPA Annual Law Day at the Verve Hotel in Natick, MA.

Liz and Nick will be discussing the following topics: the Americans with Disabilities Act and reasonable accommodations including service and emotional support animals in the workplace; state ethics law and public school employees; and collective bargaining issues including strike threats and strike preparation.

Liz Valerio and Nick Dominello to Present at 2020 MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show

On January 24, 2020 Liz Valerio and Nick Dominello will present at the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Annual Meeting & Trade Show at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA.

Liz and Nick will be panelists on an MMA workshop panel entitled, “Social Media: Policies, Ethics and the Law Workshop.”

The MMA has described the panel as follows,

Many municipalities have adopted policies and standards for employees and officials participating on social media platforms, but how do policy makers respond to posts from the public that crosses the line of legitimate criticism? What can local officials do in response to unfounded personal attacks and accusations and to protect employees who become targets? What tools are available for addressing inappropriate content? This session will address these questions and more in an area that continues to be a vital part of any municipality’s communications strategy.

Be sure to stop by Room 201, 2nd floor, Hynes Convention Center on Friday, January 24th from 2:00 to 3:30 PM to see Liz and Nick.

Please see the following link to the MMA’s listing of all available workshops at the 2020 Meeting & Trade Show,

https://www.mma.org/mma-annual-meeting-and-trade-show/workshops/annual-meeting-workshops-friday-first-session/

Liz Valerio Receives Life Membership in the MASC

Valerio Dominello and Hillman congratulates Liz Valerio who received Life Membership in the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) on November 8, 2019.  Liz was recognized for her involvement in and commitment to MASC, as well as her advocacy for the children of Massachusetts through her years of assistance to MASC and her membership on the Wrentham School Committee.

Liz is pictured here with MASC’s Executive Director Glenn Koocher.

Liz Valerio to Present at COSCAP Fall Conference

On November 8, 2019 Liz Valerio will present at the Council of School Committee Administrative Personnel’s 2019 fall conference at the Resort and Conference Center at Hyannis.  Liz will be presenting on personnel files and “everything you want to know about school committee meetings.”

Liz Valerio and Elizabeth Paris to Present at MMHR Annual Labor Relations Seminar

On November 1, 2019 Liz Valerio and Elizabeth Paris will present at the Massachusetts Municipal Human Resources Association’s annual labor relations seminar at the Devens Common Center in Devens, MA. Liz and Elizabeth will be presenting on 2019’s major labor law cases.