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Time To Put a Spring In Your Step! (Thank Goodness)

[March 19, 2015] As we watch the snow beginning to melt and enjoy the days getting longer, it is time for independent schools to focus on the logistics of summer programs and to prioritize summer compliance projects.

Summer Programs

If your independent school is open for business year-round, we encourage you to contemplate the summer activities and curriculum as carefully as you do the traditional academic programs and infrastructure. We often find that the summer program is the neglected step-child, even though liability risks are as great (or greater) than during the school year.

As an initial analysis, be sure to clarify whether the school’s summer program is an extension of the school or a camp, perhaps run by an independent entity. That determination may trigger compliance requirements with Department of Public Health or other regulations that do not impact the school during the academic year.

If an outside organization will be using your campus during the summer months, we recommend that facilities use agreements comprehensively address the risks associated with having non-affiliated groups on school grounds—from the use of hazardous materials, to reporting accidents, to maintaining adequate insurance coverage and more. By addressing such potential risks, independent school administrators can help ensure that the appropriate parties will be responsible should accidents or misconduct occur on campus over the summer.

Recommendations For Springtime Projects For Summertime Programs

Registration and Application Forms: If your independent school offers a summer program or camp, is it time to review application and registration forms to ensure they are legally compliant and consistent with best practices? Does your application require a photograph? Do you inquire about a camper’s disability? We recommend a review of the application packet to ensure that it does not (even inadvertently) violate the law. At the same time, independent schools are permitted to ask questions about a camper’s suitability for participation in a summer program. We encourage a legal review of these materials so that schools are asking the right questions in the right way.

Summer Handbooks: What will you do if there is a measles outbreak during a summer program? Or a problem with lice? Or latent TB? We recommend that summer handbooks for campers, parents, employees and volunteers be reviewed on an annual basis and updated accordingly. Summer handbooks may be “pared down” versions of the handbooks that schools provide to students, parents and employees during the school year, but these summer handbooks should still reflect current law and best practices, which evolve from year to year. And there can be special requirements for camps that merit policies not relevant during the school year. Especially with respect to health issues, we recommend that independent schools have written policies upon which to rely in the event that a communicable illness erupts on campus during the summer months.

Permission and Release Forms: Now is the time to ensure that summer permission and release forms are carefully drafted to protect an independent school’s summer program and staff. From medication administration to participation in athletics and extreme sports, swimming in pools, lakes and ponds, to travel for competition with other camps, field trips and/or overnight camping trips, permission and release forms should include assumption of risk, release and indemnification language to assist schools in managing the inevitable risks that occur with large groups of recreating youth. Increasingly, schools are seeking to digitize the collection of permission and release forms (and many other types of documents required of families). We recommend that independent schools seek advice to ensure that any documents signed and provided electronically contain enforceable electronic signatures and that processes are in place to safeguard documents stored electronically. These documents vary state to state and must be vetted accordingly. And, finally, if summer participants are 18 and older, be sure to seek signatures and permissions accordingly.

Staff Training: Educating summer camp employees and volunteers is an essential risk management strategy, especially as many camp workers may be only a few years older than the campers themselves. With a generally less experienced and more youthful workforce, independent schools should ensure that camp staff are educated with respect to boundary issues, bullying, cyber-bullying, sexting and more.

Our List of Priorities For The 2015-2016 Academic Year

“Summertime and the living is easy?” Not on independent school campuses! Summer is the time to get everything set for the fall. This year, we are encouraging schools to plan ahead and start summer projects in the spring, with the hope that summer living will be easier and more relaxing for you!

Student And Parent Handbook: Our #1 summer project for independent schools continues to be updating the student and parent handbook, though we strongly recommend that independent schools review and update all handbooks during this break from the academic year. Faculty, staff, athletic, residential, faculty and employee housing, volunteer and homestay handbooks (just to name a few) should all be reviewed and updated to ensure legal compliance and adherence to best practices.

Compliance Projects: Now is also a great time to consider tackling other compliance projects affecting students and staff that may have been on the back burner during the school year, such as: policies and protocols concerning the health center, students 18 and older, homestays, school trips, background checks and leaves of absence (for family, medical, military, pregnancy and bereavement reasons).

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Schwartz Hannum’s experienced roster of education attorneys is available to help with any and all of these seasonal housekeeping projects. Please be in touch with any of the attorneys in our Education Practice Group, if we can be of assistance.