America is on the verge of a pandemic-induced revolution in education.
The increase in demand for private education alternatives is creating a golden opportunity for those willing and able to meet it. But along with the new and emerging opportunities, parents, teachers, private schools and other alternative education providers will face a variety of legal considerations. These include private teacher/tutor contracts, incorporation, land use and zoning approvals and COVID liability.
Due to COVID concerns, public school districts all across the country are planning to prohibit or severely limit in-person instruction this fall. In some districts, teachers are refusing to return to the classroom even if their schools plan on opening in the fall. As a result, millions of parents all across the country are re-evaluating how and where their children will receive an education. Parents are looking at all available alternatives and even creating their own. Rather than waiting for the government to provide better alternatives, parents, in droves, are enrolling their children in a wide variety of private education alternatives and looking for all the help they can get.
This increase in the demand for private education alternatives is creating a golden opportunity for those willing and able to meet it. Many new businesses have already emerged to help parents ensure their children receive the education they deserve. Additional opportunities will continue to emerge, as the new demand for private schools, curriculum, logistical support, childcare, tutors, and a myriad of components for an educational infrastructure continue to develop, both during and following the current level of COVID-19 restrictions and contingencies. This demand will be met in several forms, from the proto-typical sectarian private school model, to newly emerging alternatives such as the aptly-named “pandemic pods,” micro-schools, home school cooperatives, and other local forms of education.
But along with the new and emerging opportunities, parents, teachers, private schools and other alternative education providers alike will face a variety of legal considerations. Here are just a few of the legal considerations facing alternative education providers:
Private Teacher/Tutor Contracts.
Many parents are looking to hire teachers and tutors for their children and are often willing to share the cost with other parents. As a result, some teachers are finding it financially and educationally advantageous to offer to teach a small group of students for a fee. In such cases, and for the benefit of all involved, the parties should have a written contract. For example, the parties can enter into an independent contractor agreement which defines the scope of the services the teacher is expected to provide, the expected schedule of services, the manner of payment, any other employment benefits, the teacher’s independent contractor status and tax treatment, the remedies available to either party in the event the contract is breached, and other liability issues.
Individuals and organizations which are looking to provide alternative education services should look considerinto the benefits of creating a corporate entity through which to provide the services. There are variety of corporate forms that can be tailored to help insulate individuals and organizations from liability and help them accomplish their goals—be they for profit or not-for-profit. It is important to know the costs and benefits of incorporating and the different corporate forms each state makes available.
Land Use and Zoning Approvals.
For organizations looking to start a new school or expand an existing one to welcome new students, zoning and land use regulations may pose a significant problem. New, private schools often struggle to find property or space to rent. And even when they do find a suitable location, they run into zoning and land use regulation barriers. Many zoning codes make it difficult to establish a new school in town or expand an existing school to accommodate increasing enrollment. Understanding how to navigate and overcome zoning regulations will be very important for such schools. Religious schools in particular should also be aware of the substantial rights and protections they enjoy under a federal law called the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et. seq. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable attorney, if a municipality is making it difficult for your school to open or expand.
Any time people gather together there is a risk of transmitting or contracting COVID-19. Many alternative education providers, be they private schools or home school co-ops, are using COVID liability release forms. But just because a form can be found online, doesn’t mean that it is enforceable or is best tailored to any given situation.
New opportunities, be they for profit or not-for-profit, always come with new legal challenges. With any of the above legal issues, and the many others not mentioned above, it is important to find a knowledgeable attorney to help you. The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have decades of experience working with organizations of all types, from for profit businesses to not for profit schools. From drafting contracts to obtaining zoning approval, our attorneys have the experience needed to help navigate the wide variety of legal issues which could stand in the way of the various opportunities these uncertain times are presenting.