Two Commonwealth Court Decisions Could Have Big Effect on School Districts (December 10, 2018)

Two Commonwealth Court rulings could have far-reaching consequences for PA schools. In one case, on December 6, 2018 a Commonwealth Court judge set a summer 2020 trial date for a landmark public school funding case involving the William Penn School District in Delaware County.  Historically, Pennsylvania courts have dismissed challenges to the Commonwealth’s public school funding system, but last year the PA Supreme Court reinstated a lawsuit challenging the funding system. The nearly five-years-old lawsuit accuses the state of failing to provide enough funding for public schools, forcing public school districts to greatly rely on local taxpayers. The suit also claims that state funding discriminates against students based on where they reside, since financially strapped school districts in poor communities are limited in their ability to raise adequate tax revenue.

A second Commonwealth ruling on December 3, 2018 stated that some school bus video can be considered public under the state’s Right to Know Law in a 2016case involving a principal’s wife charged with accosting a student. A television reporter’s request for a copy of the incident was challenged by the school district involved. As a surprise to some, the court rejected the school district’s argument that all surveillance videos must remain secret because they contain private student information, pertain to funding, and are related to investigations. As claimed by the school district, the law currently states that records are not public if tied to ongoing criminal and/or internal investigations, if releasing them could jeopardize federal or state funding, or if they contain private information that is not part of an official government record. However, the plaintiff appealed the school district’s denial to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR), which ruled against the school district. OOR averred that the video was incidental to a noncriminal investigation. The school district then appealed OOR’s ruling to County Court and lost there when it was ruled that the tape was not part of the student’s official, permanent record as defined by FERPA. The Commonwealth Court ruling stated that, “The mere fact that a record has some connection to an investigation does not automatically exempt it under … the Right-to-Know Law.” The school district is expected to appeal the ruling. It is also expected that there will be pressure on state lawmakers to change the public records law involving school videos so they are treated similar to police videos.

PCCD Announces Act 44 Fund Availability (December 7, 2018)

On December 6th, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s (PCCD) School Safety and Security Committee announced the availability of funds to implement projects to reduce and/or prevent violence for specific purposes.  One aspect of Act 44 of 2018 includes up to $7.5 million in funding for the following purposes:

1.      Increasing access to quality trauma-informed support services and behavioral health care by linking the community with local trauma support and behavioral health systems.

2.      Providing health services and intervention strategies by coordinating the services provided by eligible applicants and coordinated care organizations, public health entities, nonprofit youth service providers and community-based organizations.

3.      Providing mentoring and other intervention models to children and their families who have experienced trauma or are at risk of experiencing trauma, including those who are low-income, homeless, in foster care, involved in the criminal justice system, unemployed, experiencing a mental illness or substance abuse disorder or not enrolled in or at risk of dropping out of an educational institution.

4.      Fostering and promoting communication between the school entity, community and law enforcement.

5.      Any other program or model designed to reduce community violence and approved by the committee.

 All interested applicants are encouraged to review the 2019 Community Violence Prevention/Reduction solicitation for more information on the specific requirements. Interested parties are asked to click on this link to review the solicitation:https://www.pccdegrants.pa.gov/Egrants/Public/OpenAnnouncements.aspx.

PDE Reminds LEAs to Report Expenditures Relating to Exceptional Students (October 2, 2018)

Last month, Ann Hinkson-Hermann, Director of PDE’s Bureau of Special Education, notified LEAs that according to Act 16 of 2000 (24 PS §13-1372(8)),  school districts and charter schools must report the number of students with disabilities for which expenditures were between $1 and $25,628.39; between $25,628.40 and $51,256.79; between $51,256.80 and $76,885.19; and $76,885.20 and over for the prior school year. This report will now be collected at the student level through PIMS using the Student Fact Template for Special Education Act 16 Funds.  The template will be collected during Collection #1 (October 1 through October 11, 2018).  Data is to be based on expenditures incurred during the 2017-18 school year. Guidelines regarding the Act 16 reporting can be found at the following link:  Act 16 Information. The Student Fact Template for Special Education Act 16 Funds can be found in the PIMS manual at the following link:  PIMS Information. Please note that failure to complete the Student Fact Template for Special Education Act 16 Funds report may have an adverse effect on your agency’s special education funding. Questions regarding this reporting requirement may be emailed to ra-edseact16@pa.gov.  A copy of this information is being provided to each intermediate unit so they may assist school districts and charter schools with report preparation, as needed.

SB 1078, Now a Law, Allows Executive Session Safety and Security Discussions (July 27, 2018)

Last month, Senate Bill 1078 was signed into law and was added to the PA School Code. The new law allows school boards to discuss certain security measures as a group in executive session without fear of breaking the law. Although it does not give school boards unrestricted discretion to discuss all safety and security-related issues during an executive session, it does permit discussion in executive session where a public discussion regarding school safety measures would be reasonably likely to impair the effectiveness of measures to be taken and/or would likely jeopardize the school and/or an individual’s safety. The opportunity to discuss such topics in executive session will allow for information sharing between administration and the school board without compromising confidential information.

Wolf Selects PCCD Head to Lead New School Safety and Security Committee (July 26, 2018)

Governor Tom Wolf has chosen Charles Ramsey, the Chairman of the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency, to assume leadership of the newly formed state School Safety and Security Committee, which is tasked to identify ways to help protect teachers and students in the school environment. It will also distribute $60 million in grants to school districts and other school entities which can help fund such things as security equipment, staff training, and facility improvements. The committee will also set standards for assessing the safety and security of school buildings, staff training, and help for students with behavioral health needs. It will also develop and conduct a survey to measure safety and security readiness.