Virtual learning poses new questions

On Behalf of | Oct 22, 2020 | Education Law |

American classrooms have clear rules governing discipline, attire, and offensive behavior. But schools are struggling to apply their standards and education law to teachers and students attending virtual school in their homes during the pandemic.


Extending routine classroom discipline into students’ homes presents difficulties. Administrators are addressing issues such as whether students can wear clothes at home that are prohibited in classrooms or display racist or offensive posters in the background when they are online. Teachers are trying to figure out how to deal with students who make rude, threatening, or inappropriate comments.

Parents and teachers have used social media to ridicule virtual classroom rules about wearing shoes, keeping pets out of view, or eating and drinking. There were complaints that school administrators in Colorado, Maryland and Pennsylvania overreacted by asking police to investigate incidents involving toy and BB guns and a suspected rifle on video feeds from the students’ homes.

A Florida school district said that there would be an investigation over allegations that a high school student shouted racial slurs during a virtual class. A teacher in Texas was placed on leave after parents noticed that her virtual classroom had virtual posters supporting LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.


School around the country using virtual learning have taking numerous approaches. Some developed new policies. Others are continuing to enforce dress codes and other existing rules.

An education expert from Loyola University recommends that school policies should address behavior that only disrupts learning. Also, discipline should be addressed in a private one-on-one setting.

A high school statistics teacher in Chicago informed her students that they were expected to participate in class activities, but she would not require that their video cameras stay on. She reassured her students that school uniforms are not required.


Many advocates are concerned that schools will rely on suspensions or expulsions. Instead, teacher can use technology allowing them to turn off a disruptive student’s video or audio while allowing them to have access to their lesson.

Suspensions or expulsions may be disproportionately harmful for Black and Latino students who have historically faced more frequent discipline for violating rules.  Advocacy groups in Texas have asked for a ban on suspensions and expulsions during the pandemic.

An attorney can help advice you on the rights that students, including those with special needs, have in a virtual learning environment. They can also help represent their interests in disciplinary hearings.