As independent schools prosper and develop, ensuring compliance with best practices becomes a higher priority. As fiduciaries responsible for fiscal resources, schools have begun to thoroughly assess their operations as they relate to legal issues. When conducting such reviews, it is imperative that the school act consistently with its culture and mission to achieve sustainability by building best practices. The Independent School Law Practice at Venable is well versed in the operations of educational institutions. We stay apprised of federal and state laws that apply to independent schools and help schools create strategies that limit liability and exposure to legal challenges.

Venable's Independent School Law Practice offers a review of the school's policies, procedures, and practices known as the "School Law Report Card." The objective of the School Law Report Card is to determine whether the school's operations are in compliance with federal and state law and best practice in the independent school industry. We create the Report Card by collecting information through interviews and review of documentation at an on-campus visit. After we have assembled the necessary information, we evaluate and draft our findings and recommendations in a written document.

When designing the Report Card document we find it helpful to create a list of actions to be taken, organized by priority, along with a timeline for completing the work. Since time and funds are not unlimited, these two factors must be calculated into the timeline for completing the proposed projects. Not only does this allow for a more effective and thoughtful process, but it avoids the "shock" that sometimes occurs with change. Since policies and practices do not become out of date overnight, they should not be updated overnight. If the goal is to ensure that the school is meeting best practices, this can be achieved only if changes are made in a thoughtful and integrated manner, with careful attention to all details.

After we have obtained the necessary information, we will provide a Report Card, which is an evaluation of where current policies stand with respect to legal compliance and best practices. We would then work with the members of your team to design a strategy that specifically addresses the needs of your school. The strategic plan would be designed with consideration of the areas of weakness that are identified during our assessment, the priorities and needs of the school, future goals of the school, budget, and timing. Our recommendation would also be mindful of the fact that certain documents and policies interact and build upon one another, and require attention at different times of the academic year. For example, while an updated employee handbook is a crucial document, it is often wise to roll out the new handbook in conjunction with a training session on new policies and workplace conduct. Likewise, if the existing teacher contracts incorporate certain provisions of an existing handbook, timing may affect implementation of new policies.

School Law Report Card Checklist


  • Bylaws, Charter and Article of Incorporation Review
  • Audit Committee Creation
  • Conflict of Interest and Codes of Conduct
  • Gift Receipt Policies
  • Governance Best Practice and Board Consultation
  • Whistleblower Policies
  • Policy and Process Procedures for Board
  • Creation of Committee Descriptions and Design of Best Practice
  • Training and Presentations for Proper Governance
  • Intermediate Sanctions Compliance
  • Minutes and Maintenance of Board Documents
  • Proper Procedures and Practices During Board Meetings

Insurance Coverage

  • Review Insurance Coverage for Adequate Coverage Amounts
  • Review Insurance Coverage for Adequate Language Inclusion
  • Review Insurance Coverage for Adequate Policies

Executive Support

  • Head Contract Review
  • Deferred Compensation Advice
  • Comparable Salary Assessment
  • Intermediate Sanctions and Rebuttable Presumption Compliance
  • Tuition Remission
  • Housing Compliance Issues

Document Compliance, Maintenance, and Retention

  • Document Retention/Destruction Policy
  • Review of Sarbanes-Oxley Act Compliance
  • I-9 Records
  • Individual Personnel Files Maintenance
  • Contents Review
  • Length of Time Retained
  • Payroll Information
  • Recruitment, Application, and Hiring Process Records
  • Employee Benefit Plan Records
  • Affirmative Action Plan Compliance Records
  • Workplace Injury Records
  • Termination and COBRA Compliance Records

Information Gathering

  • Description of Any Pending Employment-Related Litigation, Including Allegations
  • Total Number of Employees, Full-time, Part-time, Faculty, Staff
  • Total Number of Students

The Hiring Process and Related Issues

  • Review of Recruitment
  • Employment Application
  • The Interview Process
  • Is There a Written Hiring and Interview Procedure?
  • Is There a Standard Applicant Evaluation Form?
  • Are Colleagues Trained on Interviewing Skills?
  • What Records are Maintained That Identify the Sex, Race, Age, National Origin, Disability, or Other Protected Status?
  • A Review of Pre-Employment Inquiries That May Appear Benign, but Implicate Legal Issues
  • I-9 Employment Verification Process
  • Review of any Testing Done as Part of the Hiring Process
  • Aptitude or Skill Testing
  • Polygraph
  • Drug/Alcohol Testing for Bus Drivers
  • Reference Checking Procedure
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act Compliance
  • Criminal Background Checks
  • Offers and Rejections of Employment
  • Review of Employment Agreements
  • New Hire Reporting Requirements
  • New Hire Orientation Process

Performance Evaluations and Training for Supervisors on Conducting Evaluations

Discipline and Discharge

  • Review of Policy and Process
  • Review Discipline Forms

Compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

  • Review Job Descriptions
  • Review Process for Determining Reasonable
  • Accommodation
  • Review Available Leave Policies to Ensure
  • Compliance with ADA

Compliance with Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

  • Review FMLA Notice Letter
  • Review Procedure for Designating Leave as FMLA
  • Review Procedure for Requesting Medical Certification, Re-certification, and Fitness for Duty
  • Coordination of FMLA, Workers' Compensation, Short-term Disability, and Other Leave Policies

Review of Employee Handbook/Faculty and Staff Policies

  • Review for Compliance with Applicable Federal, State, and Local Laws
  • Ensure that Handbook Reflects School's Practices, Policies, and Culture
  • Review At-Will Employment Language
  • Review Acknowledgment Form
  • Acceptable Use Policies and Use of Technology

Compliance with USERRA

Determine Applicability of HIPAA and Review Compliance

Review of Any Other Benefits Offered to Employees

  • Tuition Reimbursement/Remission
  • Child Care
  • Attendance at Conferences and Seminars
  • Credit Union
  • Moving Expenses
  • Food Services, Meals
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Relocation Assistance
  • Employee Referral Bonuses

Assessment of Handling of Internal Employee Complaints

  • Complaint Procedure
  • Communication of Procedure to Employees
  • Investigation Process
  • Resolution of Complaint
  • Action Plan to Prevent Recurrence

Wage and Hour Practices

  • Exemption Status and Overtime Calculation
  • Identification of All Positions Treated as "Exempt" from Overtime Obligations under the FLSA
  • Review Lawful Basis for Treatment as Exempt
  • Review of any Salary Deductions of Exempt Employees, and Any Other Deviation from Compensation
  • Review any Additional Types of Payment Provided to Exempt Colleagues
  • Review the Method of Overtime Computation for Non-exempt Colleagues
  • Review Calculation of Non-exempt Employees' Regular Rate of Pay
  • Review of Any Bonuses, and Their Treatment in the Computation of Overtime Payments to Hourly Employees
  • Review of the Method Used to Track Hours Worked and Breaks Taken by Non¬exempt Employees
  • Review of the Method of Calculation Utilized to Determine Overtime Compensation for a Colleague Working More Than One Job or Shift at Different Rates of Pay
  • Review of the Method of Calculation Used to Determine Overtime for Colleagues Who Work on the Sixth or Seventh Day of the Week
  • Review of Procedures for Overtime Authorization, and for Payment of Overtime Work Not Authorized
  • Review of Payment Policies for Travel Time, Time Spent On-call, and Time That Non-exempt Employees Are Required to Be on the Premises during Hours They Are Not Regularly Scheduled to Work

Other Key Wage Issues

  • Review of the Pay Period and Pay Dates Following Close of Pay Period
  • Review of any Independent Contractors Utilized by the School, Including the Nature of Any Agreement Used with Independent Contractors That Set Forth the Relationship
  • Identify Any Positions Where Male Colleagues Receive Pay Different from That of Female Colleagues for Reasons Other Than Seniority, Merit, or a System

Measuring Productivity

  • Review of the Method Used for the Payment of Final Wages to an Employee Separated from Employment by Termination or Resignation (Including Any Deductions from Final Paychecks and the Timing of Payment)
  • Review of the Policy Regarding the Payment of Earned but Unused Vacation and Sick Leave upon Termination, Whether Compensatory Time Off Is Offered
  • Identify and Assess All Reasons for the Docking of Amounts from Paychecks
  • Review Whether Colleagues Receive an Itemized Statement of Deductions
  • Review Whether Direct Deposit Is Offered

Separation from Employment

  • Review of Written Termination Policy and Procedure
  • Termination Process
  • Use of Releases and Separation Agreements
  • Employment Reference Policy
  • Policy and Process of Payments to Terminated and Resigning Employees
  • Severance Pay Policy
  • Exit Interview and Procedures Policy
  • Procedures for Return of School Property

Student Issues

  • Student Handbook Policies
  • Admissions Document Review and Revisions
  • Enrollment Contracts
  • Disciplinary and Honor Code Policies
  • Permission Slip and Emergency Forms
  • Due Process (Honor Code Procedures) Prior to
  • Suspension or Discipline
  • Academic Dishonesty
  • Theft Investigations
  • Internet and Email Policies
  • Appropriate Role of School in Custody and Domestic Issues
  • Drug and Alcohol Policies and Discipline
  • Accommodation of Learning Disabilities
  • Acceptable Use Policies and the Proper Use of
  • Technology
  • Reporting Requirements for Abuse

Benefits Review

  • 403(b) Plans
  • 457(b) or (f) Plans
  • Cafeteria Plans
  • Tuition Remission Plans
  • Education Assistance Plans

International Students and Home Stays

  • Review Process for Selecting, Enrolling, and Housing International Students
  • Review of All Forms, Materials, and Related Documentation, Including Third-party Agreements

International Travel

  • Review Practices and Procedures Related to Establishment of International Travel Program
  • Review of Permission Slips and All Related Documents
  • Review of Agreements with Third Party
  • Review of International Home Stay Arrangements

Student Injury and Concussion Plans

  • Review Practices and Procedures Related to Establishment of Concussion Plans, Response and Obtaining Baseline Assessments
  • Review of Policy Related to Responding to Emergency Situations, Including during Sports Events, during the School Day, and on Trips