Safe2Say Gets Underway (January 15, 2019)

Yesterday, January 14, 2019, PA schools implemented a new anonymous tip line. Safe2Say Something is a result of a partnership between the Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General and Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization begun by loved ones of the victims of the school shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut.

Safe2Say Something is an anonymous tip line that will be available 24/7/365 in all Pennsylvania schools for students in grades six through 12. Anyone can use the tip line to submit an anonymous tip regarding persons who may be a threat to themselves and/or others. To submit a tip, people can call the hotline at 1-844-SAF2SAY (1-844-723-2729) or on their own phone through the Safe2Say app.

Tips goes through the PA Attorney General’s Office, where they are evaluated. If the tip is life-threatening, it immediately referred to law enforcement. If a tip is not felt to be life-threatening, it is forwarded to a designated team within the school district(s) involved.

Some school districts have expressed concern over what they see as a lack of preparedness for the implementation of the program, and some have passed resolutions to that affect. However, according to a January  3, 2019 letter from the PA Attorney General’s Office to school districts, “The January 14, 2019, launch date is written into statute, and our office will be ready to receive, triage and forward all tips to school entities, and 911 dispatch as necessary, across the Commonwealth. These tips will save lives.” Safe2Say has begun accepting tips from Commonwealth students, but it still is “a work in progress,” said Joe Grace, spokesman for PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Of course, in addition to the tip line, students can always talk directly to a school staff member or police.

Director Kuntz Provides Guidance for Opioid Prevention Instructional Requirements (January 14, 2019)

Recently, PAPSA Executive Director Dr. Doug Arnold spoke with Carol M Kuntz, Director of the PA Office for Safe Schools about how schools can address the instructional requirements for Act 55 of 2017. Ms. Kuntz is encouraging LEAs to check out PDE’s Opioid Misuse Prevention Act 55 of 2017 webpage at  https://www.education.pa.gov/Schools/safeschools/laws/Pages/Act55.aspx.

Ms. Kuntz is also encouraging LEAs to check out two curricula that cover Act 55 instructional requirements for grades K through 12.  They are Operation Prevention, https://www.operationprevention.com/  and The HOPE Curriculum, https://starttalking.ohio.gov/Schools/The-HOPE-Curriculum. Both curricula have been vetted by Pennsylvania school administrators and health teachers, and meet the health curriculum standards.  They are free for schools to use.

Ms. Kuntz wants everyone to know that the Office for Safe Schools is there to help schools throughout the Act 55 of 2017 process and can be reached at 717.783.6469 or via email at carkuntz@pa.gov.

As Expected, Dear Colleague Letter from USDE Withdraws Statements of Policy and Guidance Regarding School Discipline (January 3, 2018)

A “Dear Colleague Letter” dated December 18, 2018 was recently received by all LEAs informing them the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the US Department of Education (USDE) are withdrawing the statements of Policy and Guidance reflected in the following documents:

  • Dear Colleague Letter on Nondiscriminatory Administration of School Discipline dated January 8, 2014; and
  • Overview of the Supportive School Discipline Initiative dated January 8, 2014.

Additionally, the Department of Education is withdrawing the following related documents:

  • Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline, dated January 8, 2014;
  • Appendix 1: S. Department of Education Directory of Federal School Climate and Discipline Resources, dated January 8, 2014;
  • Appendix 2: Compendium of School Discipline Laws and Regulations for the 50 States, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, dated January 8, 2014; and
  • School Discipline Guidance Package FAQs, dated January 8, 2014.

The Dear Colleague Letter on Nondiscriminatory Administration of Discipline (“Guidance”) discussed the legal framework that the Departments employ to analyze complaints of discrimination under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title IV), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000c et seq., and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq., and its implementing regulations, 34 C.F.R. Part 100. Title IV authorizes the Attorney General in certain circumstances to institute a lawsuit against public school boards, colleges, and universities upon receiving a complaint of discrimination. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin by recipients of Federal financial assistance. The Guidance presented and analyzed, under Titles IV and VI, a number of factual scenarios involving the application of school discipline, and indicated what conclusions the Departments might reach in each scenario.

On March 12, 2018, President Trump announced the formation of a Federal Commission on School Safety.  President Trump directed the Commission to study and make recommendations regarding several issues, including whether the Guidance and associated documents should be rescinded.  On December 18, 2018, the Commission recommended that the Departments rescind the Guidance and associated documents. 


CSPG Update Affects Special Ed. Instruction Certification (January 3, 2018)

On January 3, 2018, Dr. Kerry W. Helm, Chief of the Division of Certification Services, Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality, informed all LEAs of Certification Staffing Policies and Guidelines (CSPG) updates that are now in effect in the Commonwealth. A particular update pertinent to pupil services is CSPG 61 – Special Education PK-8 and 7-12 – which added the restriction for Special Education 7-12 to teach 6th grade. All CSPG information is found on the PDE Website.

Federal School Safety Commission Releases Recommendations, Including FERPA Overhaul (December 22, 2018)

On Tuesday, December 18, 2018, the Federal Commission on School Safety, established by the Trump administration following the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, made public its non-binding recommendations noting that, “[i]mplementation of the practices identified in [its] guide is purely voluntary, and no federal agency will take any action against schools that do not adopt them.”

Predictably, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos noted that one of the report’s recommendations encourages schools “to seriously consider the option of partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel.” Another predictable recommendation is to roll back Obama administration school-discipline guidance that placed an emphasis on tracking school disciplinary actions by race in order to help ameliorate disparities in how suspensions or expulsions are doled out.  

The commission also recommended that Congress update the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The report avers that confusion regarding the application of FERPA can hinder the ability of schools and law enforcement to prevent shootings and other violence. For example, the report suggests that, in its current state, FERPA generally prevents schools from sharing students’ educational records with third parties without parental consent and that “[i]t is critical to recognize that some education records may contain information that, if disclosed to appropriate officials, could help prevent students from harming themselves or others.” Further, the report also recommends that the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) clarify how schools should apply FERPA’s existing provisions during safety emergencies. The report similarly recommends that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services review laws and guidance related to the sharing of sensitive health information to help health care providers to share information regarding those who may be a safety threat in schools.

With regard to FERPA, the report also supports the notion that personnel such as a school resource officer be considered a “school official” and/or an “appropriate party” as an exception under the law and that such an officer could thus disclose personally identifiable information from a student’s educational record without parental consent to individuals determined to have a “legitimate educational interest” in such information when ensuring the health and safety of those within the school environment. The report also recommended that USDE provide technical assistance to schools specifying what they may disclose to such staff members with regard to relevant disciplinary information about students. The report also recommends USDE guidance be provided in certain circumstances, such as wide-ranging natural disasters or events that disable a school district’s data or communication centers, allowing a state department of education to invoke FERPA’s health and safety emergency exception to disclose students’ personal information on behalf of a school district that cannot do so itself.

The report also addresses the issuance of school surveillance footage with local law enforcement units and recommends that districts create a “media plan” to disseminate information in the event of a shooting.

The report further recommends analysis of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to help facilitate greater coordination between mental health providers, school personnel, and law enforcement.

Whether or not the federal government looks at revising FERPA remains to be seen, since previous such efforts have not come to fruition.