Special Issues Facing Schools

Training Sessions:

Employing Faculty In Today’s Environment: Tips, Traps And Best Practices
Harassment, Bullying And Lessons Learned
Criminal Records: Best Practices For Minimizing School Liability
A Teacher Sues, And The Allegations Fly! You Be The Judge At This Mock Trial
Rethinking The Independent School Financial Model – A Practical And Legal Guide
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Challenges and Solutions
Bullying, Cyber-Bullying And Sexting Seminar For Students
Shades Of Grey And Blurred Lines
Anti-Harassment & Diversity Seminars
Risky Business On (And Off) The Independent School Campus
Mastering An Effective Investigation Of Alleged Misconduct In An Independent School
Board Compliance
“Getting In Sync”: Making Handbooks, Agreements And Protocols Work Together
From Stonewall to Gay-Straight Alliances: GLBTQ Students in Independent Schools

Employing Faculty In Today’s Environment: Tips, Traps And Best Practices

You found the perfect teacher to fill the vacancy at your school – now what?  Conveying the offer is a critically important step for an independent school.  From a business perspective, a school’s goal is to ensure adequate faculty coverage throughout the academic year.  From a legal perspective, a school’s goal is to avoid guaranteeing employment to a teacher who may prove to be ineffective.  A well-drafted offer letter can assist a school in achieving both of these goals. But what should a school say (and not say) in the offer letter?

The goal of this seminar is to educate independent schools on the value of well-drafted faculty offer letters.  The program focuses on important elements to include in each offer letter, as well as pitfalls of poorly drafted offer letters and includes:

  • Differentiating between employment agreements and offer letters;
  • Essential provisions in faculty offer letters, including terms of employment, compensation and benefits, and duties and responsibilities;
  • Termination provisions of faculty offer letters, including the at-will nature of employment and the final payment of wages;
  • Employment authorization and mandatory background checks;
  • How to incorporate a contingency provision into the offer letter;
  • Drafting offer letters for staff members; and
  • Traps to avoid in drafting offer letters.

In addition to offering this seminar at the Firm’s offices, we are available to present this program on campus.  Because of the value teachers bring to independent schools, this session can be especially effective in creating a productive and informed faculty.

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Harassment, Bullying And Lessons Learned

Bullying is not a new phenomenon at independent schools.  However, the methods bullies use to harass their victims are evolving at a rate faster than the laws designed to prevent bullying.  Thus, independent schools must not only protect their students from the new and various methods of bullying, but must also comply with numerous anti-bullying and anti-hazing laws, the requirements of which vary significantly from state to state.  Fortunately, however, there are a number of steps an independent school can take to minimize the risk of bullying becoming a serious problem among its students.  What should a school’s anti-bullying policy contain?  How should complaints or suspicions of bullying be handled? How can a school prevent bullying in the first place?

The goal of this seminar is to educate independent schools on the importance of taking bullying seriously.  The program focuses on important elements to include in an anti-bullying/anti-harassment policy and includes:

  • Defining traditional and new types of bullying, including cyber bullying;
  • Examining common elements of anti-bullying and anti-hazing laws around the country;
  • Effective bullying, harassment and hazing policies;
  • Internal complaint processes for addressing bullying;
  • Preventing bullying through enrollment agreements;
  • Preventing bullying through student and employee training; and
  • Disciplining bullies.

In addition to offering this seminar at the Firm’s offices, we are available to present this program on campus.  Because of the increased focus on school bullying over the past few years, this session can be especially effective in implementing preventative anti-bullying measures at independent schools.

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Criminal Records: Best Practices For Minimizing School Liability

State laws are constantly changing around criminal and sex offender records.  When was the last time you reviewed your school’s practices in this area?  Are your consent forms current? Are you properly checking volunteers?  Do you have written guidelines in place?  Avoid legal risks like potential litigation from parents denied access to campus, job applicants denied employment, discrimination claims, students harmed by employees/volunteers who are hired with criminal records, and more.  An experienced employment lawyer simplified criminal and sex offender records and provided models to take back to campus, so that you could conduct a self-audit and minimize liability for your school.

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A Teacher Sues, And The Allegations Fly! You Be The Judge At This Mock Trial

In this three hour program, participants will (i) witness a mock trial, (ii) deliberate as jurors over a long-term teacher’s claim that her employer (an independent school) illegally non-renewed her contract, and (iii) discuss the lessons learned with experienced employment counsel and heads of schools.  This mock trial will provide realistic insights into the legal issues and concrete concerns of employment litigation.  The skillfully-led discussion will address legal requirements and practical tips for key employment documents such as teacher’s contracts, performance evaluations, and personnel files.  Participants will serve as jurors, (weighing evidence and deciding the case), discovering what really goes during deliberations.  Come enjoy this highly interactive session – and learn!  (Caveat jurors: both sides will be litigating to win!)

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Rethinking The Independent School Financial Model – A Practical And Legal Guide

The “great recession” has led to some changes for our independent schools, but are we really operating differently or did we just make minor modifications? There are few economic levers to pull which have much of an impact on the financial model of our schools. On the revenue side, we have been experimenting with tuition and financial aid (net tuition revenue). Enrollment Management is the new term for Admission – what does this mean for your school?  The other side of the coin is expenses, and the number one place to examine should be:  compensation! What will it take to dramatically alter the compensation equation?


Some believe that a school’s finances are the wrong focus for strategic change—instead, revising the entire structure of teaching itself, and the technology used to do it, will create financially sustainable “schools of the future.” Changing the structure of teaching may indeed be the key to redefining the financial model.  Revising our employment model will inevitably alter each school’s relationship with its employees, leading to countless legal issues that must be carefully considered. Rapid changes in how technology is used in our schools create legal and risk management challenges that merit consideration in new ways.

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Challenges and Solutions


This interactive presentation focuses on best practices for BYOD policies, procedures and agreements related to students.  Experienced Schwartz Hannum PC attorneys will discuss solutions to practical and legal difficulties that arise when students use their own devices on and off campus and/or to access the school’s network.  They will use sexting and cyber-bullying case studies to address issues that often arise in the BYOD context.


Attendees will receive useful checklists to help establish sound BYOD policies and procedures for students.

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Bullying, Cyber-Bullying And Sexting Seminar For Students

“Thanks again for the great job yesterday.  The feedback that I have received from the teachers and students has been excellent.” ~ Headmaster, Independent Middle School


As important as it is for independent school faculty, staff and administrators to know what to do when confronted with students who bully, cyber-bully or sext, students also need to learn about how important it is to abide by the law and their own school policies that restrict such behaviors.  We have found that our experienced counselors are often better able to convey to students the gravity attendant to these types of behaviors than internal school personnel, with whom students interact on a daily, collegial basis.


The Firm’s education lawyers are skilled at interpreting the law and the school student handbook for student audiences of all ages, and are happy to join students and faculty on campus to educate students about these topics.


In this interactive presentation, our attorneys will:

  • Review applicable laws related to bullying, cyber-bullying and sexting;
  • Review student handbook policies covering respect, honesty, diversity, acceptable use of technology, bullying, cyber-bullying and discipline;
  • Discuss the consequences, both inside and outside the school environment, for engaging in bullying, cyber-bullying and sexting;
  • Describe the School’s process for investigating these types of misconduct; and
  • Provide information about supports and resources for students who are victims of or perpetrators of the misconduct.


By using real world scenarios from the Firm’s counseling experiences, our attorneys describe the consequences—from hurt feelings, to embarrassment to potential legal jeopardy—that may ensue if students misbehave in this fashion.  The Firm conducts both large group presentations and also facilitates smaller student discussion groups about these sensitive topics.

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Shades Of Grey And Blurred Lines

“Thank you again for your time and a great presentation… It really hit the mark and sets us up to start the school year with excellent information around boundaries that will benefit all faculty and staff.” ~ CFO, Independent School


Educators at independent schools play a special role in the lives of students, well beyond just that of caring teacher: mentor, coach, disciplinarian, and friend.  It is in a teacher’s role as the latter that lines may be blurred and boundaries need to be enforced.  It may be obvious to most that intimate relations between teachers and students is a bad idea on many fronts–legally, morally, and ethically–however, in the independent school world, where many interactions happen outside of the classroom, let alone in cyberspace, it is important to revisit the complex definitions of what is appropriate and in the best interests of students.  Of course, the concept of boundaries in the independent school world transcends the teacher/student context, and often includes teacher/parent, teacher/alumni, student/student and any number of other pairings in which positive, close connections can quickly turn into an uncomfortable and negative experience that expands beyond appropriate boundaries.


The Firm has developed many iterations of an interactive workshop to encourage dialogue and exploration of these issues, including defining the boundaries and addressing the legal and ethical ramifications of inappropriate boundary crossing. Using real world scenarios from the Firm’s counseling experience and beyond, in addition to referencing the School’s employee and student handbooks for applicable policies, the workshop will guide educators through the “gray areas” of mentoring and caring for students on the right side of the legal and moral divide. This workshop can also be tailored for Board retreats.

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Anti-Harassment & Diversity Seminars

Harassment claims of all types (sex, religion, race, etc.) have risen to dramatic new levels, and so, too, have the total settlement amounts paid to victims of workplace harassment.  Accordingly, independent schools should now train their faculty and staff on the value of a diverse workforce, as well as the importance of recognizing differences in others.  The goal is to facilitate a productive and satisfied workforce and (from a legal perspective) to avoid litigation.


Understanding what constitutes sexual (and other) harassment can be difficult for many faculty and staff.  The goal of this seminar is to educate faculty and staff on the value of diversity and ways to avoid exposure to claims of harassment, while examining factors that tend to create a hostile work environment.


The seminar focuses on identifying and preventing harassment and includes:

  • Information on the number and types of charges filed at the EEOC;
  • Defining quid pro quo sexual harassment;
  • Defining hostile work environment harassment;
  • Examples of actions that may create a hostile work environment;
  • Risky subjects in the workplace;
  • Conduct that may create a risky work environment;
  • Personal and professional consequences of workplace harassment;
  • Prohibition against retaliation; and
  • Critical equal employment opportunity and harassment policies.


Schwartz Hannum regularly conducts this seminar on our client’s campuses, and we are happy to tailor the program to meet the specific seminar objectives of each independent school.

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Risky Business On (And Off) The Independent School Campus

Are the students at your school sexting, snapchatting or tweeting?  Can you recognize the difference between student conflicts and bullying?  Is the issue of sexual harassment on your radar at your independent school?


This workshop will explore multiple areas of potential “risky business” that could be happening on your campus, such as:

  • Bullying
  • Cyber-bullying
  • Sexting
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Gender Identity Issues


We will address these concerns and provide you with an overview of policies that may help your school prevent and respond to instances of bullying, sexual abuse, and the misuse of social media and electronic devices by students and employees.  For example, what should you do if you find out that some of the students have been circulating inappropriate photos of a classmate?  Or, what if a parent calls saying that their daughter has not been invited to a birthday party and this exclusion is an act of bullying?  Do you have a plan if someone reports an instance of sexual abuse that happened on your campus whether it occurred last week or thirty years ago?


All attendees will be provided with helpful checklists for preventing and responding to these common situations.

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Mastering An Effective Investigation Of Alleged Misconduct In An Independent School


“The group found [this] seminar one of the most beneficial they have attended.” ~ Business Manager, Independent School


Every now and then, in spite of all the education that independent schools provide through seminars, policies, and other communications, employees and/or students “do the wrong thing.”


How should a school respond if a student complains about being bullied or sexually abused, or a teacher accuses a co-worker of harassment?  Taking effective action in response to a student or employee complaint, or allegation of wrongdoing, is surely everyone’s goal – but how?  This program provides comprehensive training in the elements of an effective internal investigation process.


Topics will include:

  • Planning the investigation
  • Identifying the best investigator
  • Identifying witnesses
  • Conducting complainant and witness interviews
  • Documenting the investigation
  • Preparing the investigation report
  • Addressing wrongdoing
  • Avoiding retaliation
  • The role of counsel
  • Confidentiality and privacy issues
  • The “Post Mortem” and Action Items

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Board Compliance

Serving on the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization can be a wonderful way to give back to your community or help guide an organization about which you care deeply.  With such service, however, comes a responsibility to ensure that your organization’s operations meet all legal requirements.  A non-profit can lose its status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization or even be subject to suit by the Attorney General if it fails to comply with its legal obligations.


Whether your non-profit is an independent school, a hospital or some other type of entity, it is your responsibility to make sure that your organization is compliant with legal requirements and best practices.  For instance, does your organization have an up-to-date policy on conflicts of interest?  When was the last time your organization reviewed its bylaws, filed an annual report with the Secretary of State, or engaged in a benchmarking process to review the Executive Director’s compensation?


The Firm has developed an interactive seminar to assist non-profit Board members in understanding their roles and legal responsibilities.  Our attorneys can visit your organization and tailor the presentation to address topics that are of most interest to you.


Potential Topics Include:

  • Legal Principles Applicable to Non-Profits
  • Ideal Board Composition
  • Board Members’ Roles and Responsibilities
  • The Role of Board Officers and Committees
  • Bylaws, Trustee Codes of Conduct, and Other Critical Documents
  • Hiring and Overseeing the Executive Director
  • The Board’s Role in Crisis Management

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“Getting In Sync”: Making Handbooks, Agreements And Protocols Work Together

Many independent schools do not realize how enrollment agreements, offer letters, websites, admissions materials, handbooks and even vendor agreements “talk to” one another, or do not reference each other when they should, or reference each other but do so improperly, creating obligations for a school that are not in a school’s best interests.


This seminar will connect the dots between documents to help schools manage compliance with legal obligations and best practices, and offer a cohesive approach to synchronizing the following documents and policies with each other:

  • Faculty/employee handbooks
  • Student/parent handbooks
  • Athletics and coaches handbooks
  • Faculty offer letters and agreements
  • Job descriptions and applications
  • Enrollment agreements, acceptable use policies, and homestay guidelines
  • Crisis management plans, health center protocols and other key documents—including school websites.


Topics include state-specific variations, exploring which documents should be contracts and which should not, social media challenges, non-discrimination policies and special considerations for students age 18 and older.  This seminar will examine an independent school’s array of documents and recommend ways to ensure that these materials work in sync with each other to reflect the school’s vision and mission, without inadvertently undermining them.

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From Stonewall to Gay-Straight Alliances: GLBTQ Students in Independent Schools

In this seminar, attendees will learn about the experience of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and queer students in independent schools.  This seminar will  provide independent schools with information to ensure that they are in step with current and evolving practices in this area of student well-being.  Participants will also gain an understanding of the legal framework that governs the rights of students and responsibilities of schools to ensure an educational experience free from discrimination.  This seminar will also address recent court decisions and recently-enacted legislation that has a direct impact on schools, and recommended steps that independent schools should take to make sure that GLBTQ students are afforded the same educational and extracurricular opportunities as their peers.

Questions that will be addressed include:

  • What laws related to protecting the rights of GLBTQ apply to independent schools?
  • Must an independent school prioritize the rights of a GLBTQ student over those of other students at the school?
  • What types of alterations to an independent school’s program or facilities may be needed to ensure that GLBTQ have a positive educational experience?

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