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.
Pods May Provide a Solution
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 learning via this hybrid system, and parents should connect with a dedicated home education attorney at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, to protect themselves from liability.
Structuring Home Education Pods to Support Public or Private Curriculums
Unlike homeschooled children, kids in education pods generally remain an active part of the public school system. This structure permits parents to bypass specific 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 rules govern home learning programs and may apply to certain pods:
- Parents must provide timely notice to the school district that a child has opted out of the current school year
- Parents must submit evidence that they qualify to teach or provide their kids with home education, such as a high school diploma, teaching certificate, or enrollment in a program delivered online or by a third person
- A list of subjects to be covered
- Proof of the children’s academic progress after the school year
Parents may 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 documents in advance if a local school closes classroom learning due to COVID-19.
Additional Legal Considerations when Hosting or Leading Home Education Pods
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. It may make sense to purchase an additional or umbrella liability policy in some cases.
Hosts should also consider the potential liability that may arise from 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.
Developing Contracts for Neighborhood Education Pods
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:
- Scope and purpose of the pod
- Identity, certifications, and background of the tutor(s)
- Number of students in the class
- Pandemic safety and social distancing measures
- Charges and services provided, i.e., tutoring, childcare, lunch, or recreational time
- Liability waivers for food allergies, unintentional injuries, premises liability, and arguments between children
- Certifications from parents that their children do not have special needs or behavioral issues posing a threat to another students’ health or learning experience
- Procedures for removing a student from the pod, including identifying specific behaviors warranting termination, and refund provisions
- Emergency contact information and related safety and pick-up provisions
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. For example, 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 violate private school regulations. Lastly, every contract should ask parents to identify any special needs, concerns, or other wishes related to their children.
Call Us Today to Speak to a Virginia Home Education Lawyer about Your Home Education Pod
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 avoid unwitting daycare and compulsory schooling violations in alternative education. 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 build health and safety policies complying with coronavirus regulations.
Whether you want to submit a good 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.