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School is out! How to make the most of your summer break | Venable LLP

For administrators and staff at institutions of higher education (IHEs), “summer break” may not be the vacation they want — while the summer months may seem slow when most students are away, this time still provides an important opportunity to roll. Roll up your sleeves and review and thoroughly review school policies and protocols before the fall semester begins. In anticipation of the rapidly approaching 2022-23 academic year, IHEs should take stock of existing policies or protocols and revise them to increase efficiency and safety, and bring them into legal compliance if necessary. Below is a non-exhaustive list of common items that IHEs should consider in the coming weeks:

  • Review campus safety policies and procedures: School safety is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and it is more important than ever to have effective safety plans that are clearly communicated to campus security and members of the campus community. Now is the time to review safety and security policies, protocols, and campus resources and infrastructure, and after consulting with professionals, implement new measures to increase campus safety. IHEs must ensure that safety policies and procedures are effectively communicated to the entire campus community, including training employees and students on relevant policies, procedures, and available resources.
  • Review COVID-19 Practices and Protocols: Most IHEs are once again open to in-person learning and activities, and it is critical for administration to have clear plans for how to communicate and enforce its health and safety policies before students return to campus in the fall. IHEs should have contingency plans in place should the campus community or surrounding area experience an increase in COVID-19 cases after the academic year begins. IHEs should proactively consider whether there is a certain threshold of new COVID-19 cases that would cause some or all campus facilities or programs to increase COVID-19 restrictions, what those restrictions might be, and the circumstances in which a return to remote learning is necessary. IHEs should consider these limitations carefully and create a contingency plan in advance of the fall semester so that they can quickly and seamlessly implement new restrictions or enforce a stricter campus health and safety policy if necessary.
  • Review cloud platforms and data storage systems for privacy and data security: Existing and emerging online and cloud-based data applications are important resources for IHEs to utilize in modern education, especially with the increased importance of distance learning capabilities. However, with those resources also comes the prospect of serious privacy breaches and, in more extreme cases, even data hacking attempts. IHEs maintain sensitive and confidential information of their employees and students. Thus, it is critical that IHEs’ information and technology departments review best practices and ensure that all administrators and staff know and understand the school’s data security and retention policies. Before the new academic term begins, summer is a great opportunity to ensure that all existing and incoming employees with access to student data are fully trained on privacy and data use compliance, including FERPA and other jurisdiction-specific privacy laws. As the technology landscape changes, IHE employees must refresh their training annually.
  • Keep an eye on the new guidance and find out what regulatory changes may be coming: IHEs should always engage with counsel before beginning a complete overhaul of student-facing policies to ensure policies have longevity under federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Accordingly, IHEs must monitor trends, regulatory updates, and new guidance promulgated by the Department of Education and implemented by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), as well as new guidance at the state or local level. For example, the Biden administration recently released its proposed new Title IX rules that, if implemented, would require substantial changes to Title IX policies promulgated under the previous administration. Accordingly, OCR has received an increasing number of complaints over the past several years, and there has been a trend in OCR enforcement that indicates increased scrutiny of single-sex and targeted-sex scholarships and programs under Title IX. This suggests that IHEs’ existing programs or scholarships may be more susceptible to OCR investigations. IHEs should carefully review their programs and avoid the risks of inviting these investigations.

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