Get Schooled: Top 10 Legal Issues Facing Local Charter Schools

One of the biggest questions we often hear from charter school clients is: what kinds of things does a charter school really need an attorney for?  Here are the top 10 things you should consult with an attorney about relative to the operation of your charter school:

  1. Charter School Renewal Applications and Amendments. The renewal process begins when a charter school first opens its doors.  We encourage our clients early on in their tenure to review progress towards each charter goal and document implemented changes that may be required to achieve those goals.  We ensure each item, as set forth in the Charter School Performance Framework, is addressed thoroughly and comprehensively with supporting documentation.  At the time of the renewal application, we help you update policies, procedures, corporate governance models, legal oversight and communicate with the Charter School Office, as needed.
  2. Board Governance and Compliance. It is critical for charter school boards to implement board level policies and procedures which comply with the various laws, rules and regulations in New York (e.g. Open Meetings Law, General Municipal Law, Education Law; and compliance with the Charter Schools Act and Charter).  We can assist with responses to requests under the Freedom of Information Law, facilitate board meetings, strategic planning sessions, assist/conduct investigations into grievances and complaints that reach the board and generally provide counsel to assist a board in its exercise of its duty of oversight.
  3. Obtaining and maintaining tax exempt 501(c)(3) status. As a not-for-profit education corporation, charter schools are required to obtain tax-exempt status.  We can assist in the preparation of and filing applications for tax exemption at the federal and state levels and work with examiners to obtain the desired exempt status.
  4. Real Estate (leases, purchases, development, financing). A charter school’s facility is one of its most important assets.  Our real estate department works closely with you to assist with real estate transactions both large and small, simple and complex, short-term and long-term.  Whether a school or organization needs to develop (or work with a developer) to build (through lease, sublease, acquisition or other arrangement) its 60,000-square foot home for the next 20 years or obtain financing to build or renovate its facility through a variety of financial instruments, our charter school team is ready to help.
  5. Development and implementation of school policies and procedures. Charter schools require many policies and procedures to operate effectively, and to maintain their charter.  Particularly, during the renewal application process, the Board of Regents wants to see that your charter school has the appropriate policies and procedures in place to effectively run the school.  We assist charter schools to develop student codes of conduct to employee handbooks, release forms, grievance/complaint policies and more.
  6. Student disciplinary matters. When “kids will be kids” and a suspension or expulsion is necessary, our attorneys work with charter schools to ensure that there is a student code of conduct in place and advise our clients about the due process requirements.
  7. Formation of fundraising organizations. Charter schools utilize “Friends Of” organizations for a variety of reasons (e.g. fundraising) to support their operations with financial, technical and other assistance.  We advise our clients on the formation of “Friends Of” entities and incorporate them, obtain tax exemption, assist with corporate governance and help support their efforts to support schools.
  8. Special Education. In New York, charter schools are their own local education agencies for all purposes except special education.  Nevertheless, charter schools are constantly working with students, their families and the Committee on Special Education (as well as other agencies) on the provision of special education and related services to students.  Our charter school attorneys help schools interpret legal requirements and advocate on their behalf in a variety of interactions, meetings, and proceedings.  We assist in Committee on Special Education meetings, IEP/504 Review and implementation and advise clients about the legal requirements under Section 504 and the IDEA.
  9. Employment matters. We counsel charter schools on matters related to hiring, termination, supervision, discipline and investigations when complaints are brought to the attention of the school leadership, EEOC and Division of Human Rights investigations, separation agreements, etc.
  10. Closure and Dissolution. Many times, this important aspect is not addressed until it happens but there are many steps required by NY Education Law, NYSED and the Board of Regents when a charter school closes its doors.  Closure and dissolution follows a strict time schedule as set forth by NYSED and we are prepared to help you, and your students, smoothly transition through what may be a very difficult time.

With attributes of traditional schools, not-for-profit corporations, quasi-governmental bodies and innovative start-ups, charter schools face a myriad of unique legal issues that require the involvement of attorneys who possess a complimentary, equally-unique combination of legal skills that cross over a variety of areas of the law.  As a former charter school teacher turned lawyer, Jennifer Aronson-Jovcevski is equipped with the knowledge and skillset to better serve your organizations and ultimately better serve our community’s children.

Article By: Jennifer Aronson-Jovcevski, Esq.

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