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COVID-19 and Our Commitment to You


 
 

In these uncertain times, Walsh Gallegos remains committed to the mission our firm was founded on over 36 years ago—to make a positive difference in public education. 

The work we do to serve our clients is critically important and we take our responsibility very seriously. We have enacted a business continuity program that protects the safety and health of our employees and their families while ensuring that we continue to provide the highest level of services to our clients. Moving forward, you can access us as you always have and receive the same level of excellent service as you always have. We know that your first priority is the health and safety of your students, your staff and your community. As you work toward that goal, legal issues will arise. Today we want to provide you with a summary of items for you to consider.

Keep in mind that the situation is literally changing from hour to hour. We are confident that you are keeping up with updates from T.E.A. and/or your Education Service Center. Any decisions you make with regard to the areas we outline below need to take into account: 1) guidance from the Agency, and the federal Department of Education; 2) guidance from local health officials; 3) your local policy; and 4) specifics of your District of Innovation Plan, if applicable. 
 

With that in mind, here are the areas of concern:


GOVERNANCE 
Many school boards are considering how to meet during a health emergency.  There are provisions in the Texas Open Meetings Act that allow school boards to meet by telephone or video conference call.  There are also situations in which an emergency meeting can be called on short notice.  Our attorneys are well versed on these aspects of TOMA and can assist you in crafting agenda notices and appropriate resolutions to address school closures, expanded authority for the superintendent and other issues that may be appropriate. Additionally, by the filing of appropriate notice with the Attorney General, school districts can suspend the requirements of the Texas Public Information Act if the district is currently impacted by a catastrophe. Our attorneys can assist you with that. ​

STUDENTS
Parents will want to know that you are protecting the health of their children. It is possible to screen certain students for infectious diseases if it is done properly. No student can be denied enrollment in your district, but they can be barred from attendance under appropriate circumstances. You are well aware of the duty to maintain confidentiality regarding student health information, but FERPA permits the disclosure of information in a health and safety emergency. Even in those situations, however, personally identifiable information can usually be redacted. Our attorneys can help you navigate the specifics of these issues.

While the Governor has cancelled the STAAR exams for this year, there are a number of questions you may have about accountability or credit. Upon receipt of his specific directives about these issues, we will be ready to help you implement plans.

SPECIAL EDUCATION  
If your school closes entirely, with no services provided to the general student population, your duty to provide services to students with disabilities is also suspended. However, if your district provides services to some students, it must provide services also to those with disabilities. Thus, if you are anticipating providing general classes through the use of technology, you will need to also serve your students with disabilities. 

Some timelines are suspended during a school closure. The timeline to conduct an evaluation is based on school days.  Days when your school is closed entirely, with no educational services provided, are not “school days.” However, other timelines are based on calendar days, and those days continue to run. For example, after completion of a Full Initial Evaluation you have 30 calendar days to hold an ARD and offer an IEP. If it is impossible to meet this deadline due to school closures or staff absences, you will need to do the best you can, taking each student’s individual situation in mind. 

If schools are shut down for a period of time, there will be issues to be considered as to the impact the closure has had on a student’s progress toward FAPE—the Free Appropriate Public Education each student is entitled to. As is usually the case with our special education laws, this will need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Our attorneys can provide guidance about FAPE, Extended School Year, missed therapy sessions, compensatory education services and other issues.  

EMPLOYEES
Many issues regarding employees are addressed by your policies regarding leave.  But COVID-19 presents some unique issues as well. Can your board authorize payment to at-will and hourly employees when they are not performing duties due to a school closure?   We are confident that this is an option the board can implement, but it requires appropriate language in a resolution or motion. We can help with this. Meanwhile, timelines for consideration of renewal and/or nonrenewal of teacher contracts are not suspended. 

FACILITIES AND BUSINESS
The health crisis does not authorize a suspension of our regulations concerning the procurement of goods. Contracts for most goods or services that exceed $50,000 annually are still subject to competitive procurement procedures. However, the board may want to grant the superintendent more authority to make purchases to meet immediate needs without further board action. Those districts that are working on construction projects may need to review the contracts with the builder and architect for guidelines regarding delays and associated costs. The attorneys in our FAB (Facilities and Business) Practice Group can assist with this.

We know that you are in contact with neighboring school districts, your city and county officials. Under the Interlocal Cooperation Act, you have the power to act collectively to address community needs. 

At Walsh Gallegos, we are here for you, anticipating and thinking ahead to provide you with the guidance and the resources you need. You can reach us at any of the numbers below:


Amarillo Office   ̶   888-622-6864
Austin Office – 800.252.3405
Houston Office – 888.565.6864
Irving Office – 800.231.4207
Rio Grande Valley Office – 866.770.6864
San Antonio Office – 800.232.9169
Albuquerque Office – 800.771.6864

 
This email update was prepared by Walsh Gallegos attorneys  Jim Walsh and Joey Moore and is provided as a benefit of the Walsh Gallegos retainer program. The information in this email was created by Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle P. C.  It is intended to be used for general information only and is not to be considered specific legal advice. If specific legal advice is sought, consult an attorney.

 
 
 
 

Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle P.C.
505 E. Huntland Dr., Suite 600, Austin, TX 78752

Telephone: 512.454.6864
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