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2021 WSAA Online School Law Conference

Hosted by the Wisconsin School Attorneys Association, the 2021 Online School Law Conference, took place Wednesday, Feb. 24. It featured experienced school law attorneys presenting sessions on a variety of legal and related issues pertinent to school board members and school administrators.

All sessions of this conference were conducted in a virtual format, and all presentations were recorded.

Conference Agenda

Untangling Complicated Employment Issues Caused by COVID-19

School districts continue to face challenging employment issues during the pandemic. The expiration of the FFCRA has led districts to adopt a variety of different leave policies for employees that want to request leave due to COVID-19-related circumstances. In addition to navigating their own policies, school districts must continue to provide state and federal FMLA leave to eligible employees. School districts also continue to receive new or updated requests from employees for reasonable accommodations due to disabilities. Finally, the potential for widespread vaccination offers hope during the pandemic, but also raises important legal considerations.  Using practical, hypothetical situations, this session is designed to help school districts untangle these complicated employment issues.

  • Brian Goodman, Boardman & Clark LLC
  • Claire Hartley, Buelow Vetter Buikema Olson & Vliet, LLC

Meeting Mandatory Reporting Obligations in a COVID World

The Wisconsin Departments of Public Instruction and Children and Families will provide considerations for districts regarding mandatory reporting in a virtual environment.

  • Heather Curnutt, Attorney, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • Julie Incitti, MSW, CAPSW, School Social Work Consultant, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • A representative from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families may also contribute to this presentation

The Future of Charter Schools in Wisconsin

Charter schools are fast-becoming an established alternative to the traditional public school model in Wisconsin.  Having outgrown their roots in faith-based education, charter schools may serve a specific student, educational model or governance method, both within and outside Wisconsin school districts. This session will discuss the history and recent growth of the charter school movement and describe the fundamentals of organizing a publicly-financed charter school in Wisconsin including funding, mission, staffing models and legal obligations under federal law and Wis. Stats. ⸹⸹115 (state superintendent, general), 118 (general school operations), 120 (school district government) and 121 (school finance).

Can a charter school operate as a public school using public funds without being part of its geographical school district? How does that work? What are the obligations of a publicly funded charter school that is also a 501c3 tax-exempt non-stock corporation? What does good governance look like when the school has a specific vision for education and student development? This session will address these questions and engage attendees in the response.

  • Julie Lewis, Lewis Law Office, LLC

Moving Targets in Special Education/Pupil Services

The COVID-19 pandemic forced school districts to rethink how they educated all students, but special education and pupil services were significantly impacted.  The presenters will discuss the latest legal developments and DPI guidance on providing special education during the public health emergency and other developments from the past year that attorneys may have missed in 2020. Topics will include virtual versus in-person instruction, administering mask requirements, vaccine issues, additional services/compensatory education, open enrollment administration, and changes to the restraint and seclusion statute.

  • Tess O’Brien, Boardman Clark LLP
  • Chad Wade, Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis, & Lacy S.C.

When Social Media Gets Ugly: Responding to Social Media Assaults on District Leadership

This presentation will examine the current impact of social media on school operations from several perspectives. Employees, parents, students and the general public often use social media to instantly escalate issues to a level difficult to manage. In addition to the legal considerations, practical strategies and proactive steps available to administrators and boards when facing such scenarios will be examined.

  • Bob Burns, Davis|Kuelthau
  • Susan Finco, Leonard & Finco Public Relations, Inc.

Guidance from In-house Counsel on Responding to the Thorniest Legal Issues

2020 allowed numerous opportunities for public school districts to deal with some of the thorniest of legal issues, and 2021 does not seem to indicate that these opportunities will go away. Two in-house legal counsels, representing a suburban school district and urban school district in very different communities, will discuss some of these issues and the legal implications for public school districts. Their discussion will focus on the First Amendment Rights of students and staff, family law and the schools, and implications of virtual education, including FERPA rights, mandatory reporting obligations, student discipline.

  • Jina Jonen, Oregon School District
  • Melissa Thiel-Collar, Green Bay Area School District
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