In early 2020, the coronavirus pandemic completely altered the educational landscape in the United States. Suddenly, schools were forced to transition from in-person to online instruction: a change necessary to preserve the physical safety of faculty, students, and administrators. However, the switch to online learning has created new impediments to student safety. These include exposure to inappropriate online content, cyberbullying, and an increased risk of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Thankfully, the recently passed CARES Act provides schools with funding to help preserve students’ physical, mental, and emotional health.

What Is the CARES Act?

On March 26th, 2020, Congress passed The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, otherwise known as the CARES Act. The CARES act is a $2 trillion dollar stimulus package to provide economic relief during the Coronavirus pandemic. In order to support schools and students nationwide, the CARES act includes $31 billion in emergency funding for education.

Emergency Education Funding in The CARES Act

An Education Stabilization Fund created by the CARES Act sets aside money to shore up K-12 schools as well as universities and colleges. Totaling approximately $31 billion, the Fund directs money into three pools: K-12 funding, higher education funding, and state governors. Congress earmarked $13.2 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund. This money will be distributed to each state’s public education system for help in dealing with the Coronavirus.

Additionally, the CARES Act includes $100 million in grants under Project School Emergency Response to Violence, or Project SERV. Project SERV helps school districts and post-secondary institutions recover from “a violent or traumatic event that disrupts learning.” That pot of money can support distance learning as well as mental health counseling and disinfecting schools.

Allowable Uses of CARES Act Funding

The Act lists twelve allowable uses of the money earmarked for K-12 education. For example, the CARES Act provides funding that can be used to close the digital divide. This ensures that students in remote areas or disadvantaged communities are able to engage in distance learning during the lockdown. However, it is not enough that students have access to distance learning. Students must have access to safe distance learning, regardless of economic circumstances. With cases continuing to climb as well as an expected rebound of the virus in the fall, schools must provide protection for students learning on their computers from home and in the classroom.

Ensuring Student Safety During Distance Learning

Filters and internet blockers are insufficient. While all schools have filtering technology that blocks access to certain internet sites, filters can only go so far in preventing exposure to inappropriate content. Also, filters don’t protect students from risky behavior. Filters do not pick up on a student’s mindset or nuance. Filters can’t detect bullying, a threat to harm oneself or others, and similar incidents. Schools closures sparked a spike in depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues among students. Therefore, in order to ensure student safety, schools must actively monitor students on their computers.

What Will School Look Like in the Fall?

It is very likely that a best-case scenario for this coming school year is a hybrid model of students learning online and in the classroom on a rotating basis. Several states plan to go back to full capacity, giving parents the option to keep their child at home. Regardless, it’s clear that schools will have to rely on distance learning until the picture is clearer on the course of the coronavirus. Monitoring software like LearnSafe helps schools maintain a safe learning environment online and in the classroom. LearnSafe alerts administrators of signs of cyberbullying, depression, and at-risk behavior, keeping students safe no matter where they’re learning.

“COVID-19 and the Unintended Consequences of Distance Learning” Webinar

Looking for more information about the CARES Act, COVID-19, and distance learning? Mickes O’Toole Attorneys at Law, in conjunction with Slate XP, the makers of LearnSafe, are pleased to sponsor an online seminar that will focus on the issues schools need to consider with respect to student safety and liability during distance learning.

Featuring Thomas A. Mickes, a leading education law attorney, this webinar will take place on Tuesday, July 21rst, at 10:00 am CST via Zoom. You can register in advance at this link. Dr. Mickes will draw from his experience as an education law attorney and a former educator and administrator to discuss the liability issues distance learning creates, including:

  1. Where does a school’s liability start and end?
  2. How can a school control liability, and why that is important?
  3. How does a school maximize its CARES Act allocation?

This Zoom webinar will be highly beneficial for superintendents, principals, technology directors, school board attorneys, and school board members.


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