As more schools turn to distance learning to reduce transmission of COVID-19, increasingly families are searching for other options to assist with educating their children. For many families, “podding” with other families may seem like a reasonable alternative to handling distance learning on an individual basis.
In a pod set-up, families join together and hire a caregiver or educator to oversee distance learning or to structure curriculum for a small group. Before jumping into this type of arrangement, it’s important to carefully consider the structure of the pod and make sure everyone joins the pod with the same expectations.
Finding the Right Candidate
If you are intending to hire an individual to assist with your pod, it is important to set clear expectations for the position. Will your candidate be overseeing the online learning led by your local school district or will the candidate be actually developing curriculum for a small group of students? Or, if the candidate is developing a curriculum for the students, the families involved in the pod should first agree on priorities (i.e., following a particular curriculum? Additional outside time?) and goals that they can clearly communicate as a group to a teacher.
Importantly, regardless of the expectations for the position itself, you’ll need to make sure your educator is properly classified under applicable employment laws. An individual hired to oversee distance learning may be construed as a household employee for tax and liability purposes, and you may be required to become a household employer and pay wages to the instructor in accordance with federal and state laws. Other arrangements may involve educators providing services to various families as a contractor and invoicing for services provided.
Families also should agree on items such as sick leave or PTO for the instructor, as well as any background checks or other terms of employment prior to beginning the search for an instructor.
Location, Location, Location
After determining what type of instructor will best fit your pod’s needs, families should discuss where the pod will meet. Whether you will be rotating houses or meeting at one set location, it will be important to set the expectations for the location and the host families. Families should discuss issues such as whether the host family will disinfect the areas where students are meeting; whether guests will be present during pod hours; whether the children will be restricted to certain areas of the host home; what hazardous substances or items are present in the host home, etc. If you are intending to host a pod at your home, you should confirm your insurance covers any potential liability associated with the pod and that you are not prohibited from conducting the pod at your home by either a lease or other restrictions (HOA, condo rules, etc.).
Each pod also should have a COVID-19 plan in place that addresses items such as daily symptom checks, comfort levels with non-pod related activities, and obligations to disclose any exposure. If exposure does occur, what is the pod’s expectation of the instructor during quarantine, and how long should a quarantine last?
Communication Is Key
Finally, everyone involved in the pod needs to be on the same page about the fundamental structure of the pod. If one family wishes to leave the pod, will they be required to continue paying the instructor for the duration of the school year? If there is no obligation to continue payment through the school year, will the instructor be permitted to leave the pod if one or more families pull out? Will the parents have to jointly determine whether the instructor should be terminated for cause? What happens if the families need to put a COVID-19 quarantine plan in place? If one child is disruptive, can the other members of the pod request that the child be removed?
It will be essential to answer these questions as a group before jumping into a pod, and even more important, to enter into a contract that clearly defines the needs and expectations of your group. If everyone understands their obligations and how to address any problems that may arise, a pod set up can be a great way to begin the unprecedented Fall 2020 school year.