September 4, 2020
As the end of summer quickly approaches, teachers, parents, and students face unprecedented new challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many students struggled to learn from home over the past months, and few parents have the time and recourses necessary to educate their kids or pay private tutors.
For many families, schools also provide more than education. They provide childcare, food, and social resources to children of all ages. Many overcrowded schools have adopted online or part-time learning modules to comply with social distancing guidelines, but this leaves gaps in education and childcare for many Virginia kids.
Parents around the county have found creative ways to manage thus far, but one solution is growing in popularity – home education pods. These pods – sometimes referred to as pandemic pods – have developed among groups of parents seeking to share the costs of a private tutor. Essentially, parents are creating small, private school experiences in their homes based on the age and needs of local kids.
Some partner parents have opted their children out of in-person learning altogether or hired a tutor to teach kids from home during online learning days. Special laws might apply to children leaning via this hybrid system, and parents should connect with a dedicated home education attorney at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, to protect themselves from liability.
Unlike homeschooled children, kids in education pods generally remain an active part of the public school system. This structure permits parents to bypass certain legal homeschooling requirements if families carefully structure these education pods in compliance with state and municipal law. Every school district has different requirements associated with hybrid learning, and parents should also consider the homeschooling regulations contained in Va. Code Ann. § 22.1-254.1 potentially triggered by home education pods. The following regulations govern home learning programs and may apply to certain pods:
Parents may be able to bypass these requirements by showing that a responsible tutor is merely delivering the children’s certified public or private curriculum. Home education pods may violate Virginia law if the tutor sets aside approved learning plans and acts as an unlicensed teacher without prior authorization for each child.
Suppose children cannot thrive in the online learning environment provided by a local school district. In that case, an attorney may help parents prepare the certification package required by § 22.1-254.1 to transition their children to full-time stay at home education pods. A lawyer can also help group leaders prepare necessary documents in advance if a local school closes classroom learning due to COVID-19.
When neighbors form informal tutoring pods, hosts must consider the additional liabilities associated with having children on their property. Anyone hosting a pod should immediately work with a lawyer to review their home insurance policy, as many insurers disclaim liability for regular commercial or unregulated group activities occurring on the property. In some cases, it may make sense to purchase an additional or umbrella liability policy.
Hosts should also consider the potential liability that may arise as a result of injuries or illnesses during the school day. Precautions may include setting recreational and behavioral guidelines and ensuring compliance with state social distancing, gathering, and health regulations. Pods providing food for children should also ask parents to specify whether their kids have allergies or other special needs. Group leaders themselves should background check any potential tutors and host parents for potential red flags. A lawyer can help partner parents draft waivers and home education contracts protecting them from lawsuits and legal violations.
Parents used private homeschooling arrangements even before the pandemic. As such, experienced home education lawyers can adapt similar home-pod agreements to protect hybrid learning hosts, tutors, and group leaders from potential liability. These home pod education contracts should generally include the following:
Depending on the age of the children and services provided, hosts should also discuss any home daycare or private schooling regulations potentially triggered by the education pod. Supervising more than a small number of young children for consideration may result in unlicensed daycare citations while providing too many school-related services could violation private school regulations. Lastly, every contract should ask parents to identify any special needs, concerns, or other wishes related to their children.
You have enough to worry about as the 2020 school year begins; let us worry about the law. Our Virginia and D.C. home pod lawyers may help parents considering alternative education avoid unwitting daycare and compulsory schooling violations. By working with group leaders to develop lawful pandemic pod contracts, you can get ahead of the curve. We can also help hosts and tutors protect themselves from general personal injury liability and develop health and safety policies complying with coronavirus regulations.
Whether you want to submit a valid homeschooling plan to your local school district or develop a neighborhood-tutoring pod, we are here to help. Call our Vienna or Pennsylvania Avenue office today at 703-520-1326 or connect with us online.