In response to anxiety about young children returning to preschool, Learning pods (aka pandemic pods, micro-schools) are popping up all over the country. Preschool learning pods are small, in-person groups of children learning and socializing together in a private home with the help of an in-person tutor or teacher.
The logistics of starting a learning pod are daunting and beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that finding likeminded families, identifying a qualified teacher and agreeing on a schedule are not simple tasks.
In addition to figuring out logistics, families with preschoolers who want to start a learning pod need to keep in mind potential legal pitfalls. Below are some tips for managing your legal risk.
Limit Your Liability
The law broadly protects traditional schools from liability for mishaps that occur on school property. Learning pods don’t have the same protections. Teachers and families must take steps to protect themselves.
Families should discuss the “what-ifs” and agree on the risks that everyone is willing to take. What if a child gets hurt? What if someone gets sick? What if there is an emergency?
Liability waivers are a good idea, particularly for the host family. By signing waivers, pod members agree to give up their right to sue other family members under most circumstances. For example, a waiver could state that each family “assumes the risk” of their child potentially getting injured by another child or contracting COVID or another illness. Waiver protection is particularly important for the host family, where children will likely be running up (and falling down) the stairs in your home.
Forming and LLC or Corporation can also provide a layer of liability protection. We spoke with a group of founders in St Pete who formed an LLC to operate their learning pod. Forming an LLC is akin to starting a business. Ideally, the business, not the pod members, is liable for legal claims related to the learning pod. Keep in mind that simply forming an LLC does not automatically create a bubble of liability protection. Learning pod LLCs must formally operate like a business by doing things such as maintaining a separate bank account and having appropriate contracts in place with the host family and teacher.
Pod members should explore what insurance products might be available to protect them. The host family should discuss options with their homeowner’s insurance provider. Individual pod members may also be able to find insurance to protect against legal claims related to their participation in the learning pod.
The learning pod is a new concept, unfamiliar to the insurance industry. It may be difficult to find an insurance product that is flexible enough to provide adequate protection. Companies like SchoolHouse and PodSkool are trying to bridge the gap, but the effectiveness of their products has yet to be tested.
Get it in Writing
Learning pod members should have a written agreement to establish rules and requirements. Among other things, the pod agreement should cover health and safety requirements, how pod decisions will be made, how supplies and equipment will be purchased, payment obligations and how the pod will respond to illnesses and infections. If the pod forms and LLC, certain matters could be addressed in an operating agreement.
The pod should also have an agreement with the teacher. The teacher agreement should establish the pay rate, schedule and performance expectations, and require the teacher to waive liability and indemnify the pod and its members. The agreement could also include curriculum guidelines, minimum qualifications and other requirements important to the pod members.
It is consequential to determine whether the teacher should be classified as an employee or independent contractor. Many factors go into this determination and getting it wrong can create unanticipated legal consequences.
These are just a few of the legal considerations that all aspiring learning pods need to consider. You must comply with state homeschooling requirements if your pod includes school age children. In addition, state and local regulations for home-based daycares may come into play.
Despite the legal and practical hurdles, many families utilize learning pods to bridge the gap between our current reality and the educational and social experience we want for our children. Please share your experience in the comments.