In years past, student handbooks at educational institutions contained very basic information about student discipline, school trips and school relations, etc. However, technology has rapidly advanced and students have received added protections under various laws. With the school year ending soon, we have been advising many of our clients to plan student handbooks more carefully for this coming fall, to ensure that all of the important topics are included.
Electronic devices such as cellphones, tablets, computers, etc. should be addressed in the student handbook. These policies should advise students when they can and cannot use electronic devices and the consequences for using a device when he or she is prohibited from doing so. The student handbook should also identify the specific types of electronic devices prohibited.
The percentage of high school students who use electronic cigarettes (e-Cigarettes) has nearly doubled since 2014. Further, the rate of middle school students using e-Cigarettes has also increased. New York State outlawed the sale of e-Cigarettes and liquid nicotine to individuals under 18-years-old. Sometimes e-Cigarettes can look like pens or other devices. Since e-Cigarettes are relatively new, it is important for schools to make sure the student handbooks address these devices and the school’s policy on student use.
Bullying has increased in schools and has been an important concern to parents and children. Also, bullying can cause harm to a school’s reputation. Schools should incorporate an anti-bullying provision into student handbooks to ensure a safe and respectful learning environment. These policies should educate students on the different types of bullying as well as the procedures for addressing incidents. Schools should include policies in the handbook that encourage students to report bullying.
Private schools that receive federal funds are required to have a discrimination/harassment policy. Discrimination occurs when the child is targeted based on a protected category such as race, gender, national origin, age, and other protected categories. If the school receives federal funding, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies, which prohibits discrimination due to an individual’s race, color, or national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or (2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” Although a school may not be subject to Title VII, it is important that the school incorporate discrimination/harassment provisions into its handbook in order to promote a suitable learning environment.
In a previous Newsletter article, we discussed schools’ obligations under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination and applies to all public and private schools receiving federal funding. These schools must name a Title IX Coordinator for students to report incidents of sex discrimination, sexual harassment and/or violence, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence. Title IX Coordinators are important to ensure schools meet all federal obligations. The school’s student handbook should define the conduct that falls within Title IX protection and outline the procedures for reporting incidents.
Schools should have policies on drugs and alcohol in their student handbooks. Since drugs and underage consumption of alcohol are illegal, it is important for school faculty to have clear drug and alcohol policies. The policies should advise the students of the laws and the school’s provisions on alcohol or drugs found on school property. The handbooks policies should also encourage students to report any illegal use of drugs and/or alcohol. Many schools use language such as “drug-free” and/or “alcohol-free” zones in their policies.
As more states legalize recreational marijuana use, it is important for schools to have policies on student marijuana use. Although at this time, recreational marijuana use may not be legal in some states, the trend to legalize such use is spreading. Therefore, schools should be prepared with current policies on the matter.
It is vital for schools to have policies in the student handbook on emergency situations. Specifically, the school policy should provide an emergency number for the school for notification purposes. The school should also provide procedures in the handbook for lockdowns, bomb threats, and severe weather and emergency closings. The school should disclose meeting areas in case of fires or other situations where evacuation is required.
Electronic Communications and Relationships with Faculty
Schools should implement provisions on communication with teachers and school faculty into student handbooks. The provisions should outline the type of communication that is appropriate. The school should also cover student connection with school faculty on social media accounts.
Student handbooks need to cover more areas than they have in the past. By including the topics mentioned in this article, schools will be better prepared to deal with contemporary student issues that arise.
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