PSBA Legal Services offers an experienced team of experts in school law focused on influencing developments in school law and helping school directors, educators and their local counsel understand the law, comply with it and stay abreast of developments.
- Judicial advocacy provides the school board perspective to the courts in important cases affecting public education
- Training and consultation for local school solicitors helps ensure that school boards and educators receive high quality advice and representation
- Legal information for school officials via training, publications and free telephone access educates school leaders about the key legal concepts, obligations and danger areas they must be aware of to carry out their duties and avoid liability
- Closely monitoring developments in the courts and legislation gets the word on breaking legal news out to attorneys and educators in the field
Continuing Legal Education
PSBA offers a range of school law training programs — from expert-level, accredited continuing legal education programs geared to solicitors, to programs for non-attorney school directors and administrators.
An essential component of PSBA’s purpose is advocating the interests of public education in helping to shape law and education policy in front of the legislature, administrative agencies and the courts.
PSBA goes to court for public schools
- PSBA participates in appellate-level court cases as an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” supporting school district positions in cases of statewide or national interest. PSBA attorneys file legal briefs and present oral arguments to ensure understanding of public policy and practical ramifications. In extraordinary situations PSBA will participate as an amicus directly at the trial court or administrative agency level. Other local government associations or advocacy groups often are part of a coalition led by PSBA attorneys.
- PSBA initiates court cases in its own name or as class actions, or may initiate them on behalf of public school entity plaintiffs whose situations exemplify the particular legal concerns. These cases involve challenges to laws or commonwealth agency regulations, policies, practices or decisions believed to be unconstitutional, unlawful or harmful to the interests of local public school entities.
- PSBA provides consultation to local counsel representing school entities in court or administrative cases at the trial and appellate level. PSBA provides similar assistance to commonwealth agencies or other local government associations in litigation supported by PSBA.
Choosing the battles
Budget and staffing limitations don’t permit PSBA to become involved in every appeal involving public schools. To be cost effective, PSBA carefully selects cases appropriate for amicus participation based on which cases have the most statewide impact.
October 2014 Judicial Advocacy Report – A summary of current PSBA activity
How members help
Early alerts from local solicitors about developing cases are critical to success, and opportunities for amicus participation may be lost due to a lack of timely information about procedural deadlines. To request that PSBA consider participating as an amicus, a school entity’s solicitor or other counsel should send the PSBA Legal Services team a written request by email providing:
- A summary of the issues presented and why they are of statewide significance
- The procedural status including known filing deadlines
- Copies of pleadings, court opinion or agency adjudication being appealed
Special Counsel Legal Services
Although PSBA staff attorneys do not seek or accept appointment as a school district’s solicitor, they may be retained as special counsel (on an hourly fee basis) to assist member school districts in a variety of situations, normally on the recommendation of the solicitor. •School board hearings – In local agency hearings before school boards in matters such as employee discipline, demotions, furloughs and student expulsion hearings, constitutional due process requirements can require that the prosecution role be handled by an attorney who is separate and independent from the attorney serving as hearing officer or advisor to the school board. PSBA attorneys are available as outside counsel for either of these roles as needed or desired and at any stage, from early investigation and preparation up through preparation of adjudications and defense of court appeals.
- Administrative agency proceedings - Assistance and/or representation in matters pending before agencies such as the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, Human Relations Commission and Department of Education, involving discrimination complaints, professional licensure issues, unfair labor practice complaints, etc.
- Arbitration proceedings - Assistance in analyzing grievance issues, developing presentations and representing the district before labor arbitrators.
- Litigation assistance - Assistance in representing the district in both trial courts and appellate courts in Local Agency Law and Right-to-Know Law appeals, Sunshine Act challenges and other kinds of court cases.
- Research and legal opinions - PSBA staff can provide research assistance on local legal issues and questions requiring preparation of research memoranda or legal opinions. PSBA staff attorneys can provide expertise, subject matter resources and time not always available at the local level
- Contingency coverage - Temporary on-call attorney coverage for board meetings and other matters can be provided when the regular solicitor is unavailable due to vacation, illness or other emergencies, and where other local backup arrangements are not preferred or feasible.
- Investigations - Complete, discreet and sensitive investigation and evaluation of discrimination, sexual harassment, conflict of interest, or other complaints and issues.
- Customized training – Specially designed seminars and in-service training on proper procedures and liability avoidance strategies in areas such as student discipline, personnel actions, anti-drug programs, weapons and school security, sexual harassment prevention and complaint handling, premises safety, equal opportunity, ADA and similar law-related topics.
- Real or perceived conflict situations - Despite best efforts, actual or potential conflict situations can arise unavoidably in the course of legal practice. Ethical rules requiring attorneys to steer clear of even the appearance of impropriety can preclude regular counsel from handling a particular matter. Or, the solicitor may recognize that using outside counsel in a particularly sensitive matter will help avoid permanently damaging working relationships. When these situations arise, PSBA legal services may be the solution.
For further information about available assistance or fees, Stuart L. Knade, Esq., PSBA general counsel, (717) 506-2450, x-3377.