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Summary Of Key Points:
- PTAs and PTOs must follow numerous laws and regulations in order to stay compliant with their governments and school districts.
- Some major areas where PTAs and PTOs need to pay attention to compliance include privacy, financial, safety, and ethical laws.
- Privacy laws such as FERPA, COPPA, and the CAN-SPAM act are particularly important for PTAs and PTOs, as these govern the collection and use of student personal information and the legality of sending online communications to students or their families.
- Financial compliance requires careful recording and reporting of transactions, as well as budgeting and expense reimbursement.
- Safety compliance pertains largely to facilities, equipment, and emergency procedures your PTA or PTO is responsible for.
- Ethical compliance has to do with licenses and permits, labor laws, tax laws, and accessibility laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
- FutureFund’s all-in-one PTA and PTO management platform is built to be compliant with major legislation in all of the above areas, while streamlining essential tasks for these organizations.
Compliance ensures that your PTA (Parent Teacher Association) or PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) operates within the legal and ethical boundaries set out by your government and school district. Since your organization is responsible for raising school funds and organizing events, compliance is vital for making sure the money is being used properly and that all activities are safe for the students and the community.
We designed our all-in-one PTA and PTO management platform to help you stay compliant when conducting these activities, so we know all about the different areas of compliance your organization needs to be aware of and the risks of overlooking them. Below, you’ll find an overview of how to ensure compliance in the following areas:
As a disclaimer, the information contained in this article is not intended as a replacement for legal counsel, and we strongly recommend reading the legislation named in this post fully to ensure compliance. You should also review and update your organization’s policies and procedures regularly to ensure your compliance stays up to date if laws change.
As a non-profit organization, your PTA or PTO has a responsibility to comply with privacy laws and regulations that apply to your operations. This includes ensuring that you handle the personal information of individuals, such as students, parents, and staff, in a legal and ethical manner.
Numerous pieces of legislation govern privacy laws in the US, which your organization will need to be aware of to remain sufficiently compliant. The major ones are as follows:
FERPA (Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act)
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. It applies to all schools that receive funding from the US Department of Education and gives parents and students the right to access and control their education records.
Essentially, FERPA means your organization has to be extremely careful about the personal information you collect from students and how it is stored or used. Your organization should read the act to familiarize yourself with its provisions in detail—but you can start by doing the following:
- Limit access to student education records: ensure that access to these records is limited to authorized school officials who have a legitimate educational interest in them.
- Obtain written consent before disclosing student education records: get written consent from the student’s parents or guardians before disclosing any personally identifiable information from their education records.
- Maintain records: keep accurate and complete records of all disclosures of student personal information, including the names of the parties who received the information and the purpose for which it was disclosed.
- Notify parents and eligible students of their rights: notify parents and eligible students of their rights under FERPA—including their right to inspect and review their education records, and the organization’s policy for disclosing these records.
- Follow the school district’s FERPA policies: your school district may have additional policies and procedures related to FERPA, which you’ll need to follow.
COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Act)
COPPA is a federal law regulating the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information from children under the age of 13. If your PTA or PTO collects personal information from children (such as names, addresses, and email addresses) you have an obligation to comply with COPPA.
In addition to reading COPPA in full, we recommend the following steps to improve your compliance with the law:
- Get parental consent: obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13.
- Give notice: provide notice to parents and children about the organization’s information practices, including the types of information collected, how it will be used, and who it will be shared with.
- Keep records: keep records of the verifiable parental consent obtained and make them available to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) upon request.
- Limit data collection: only collect personal information from children that is reasonably necessary for the intended purpose.
- Improve security: implement reasonable security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure.
The Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act of 2003 regulates the sending of commercial electronic messages, such as email, text messages, and instant messages. As PTAs and PTOs often communicate with members and the community through electronic means, your organization has an obligation to comply with these laws as well.
Here are some steps you can take to improve your compliance with the CAN-SPAM act:
- Obtain consent: get consent from recipients before sending commercial electronic messages (such as email, text messages, and instant messages).
- Include accurate sender information: make sure any sender info in your messages is accurate, including a valid physical postal address.
- Include clear and conspicuous opt-out mechanisms: always include an unsubscribe link or an email address that allows recipients to opt-out of receiving future messages.
- Honor opt-out requests promptly: follow-through on opt-out requests within 10 business days of receiving them and stop sending messages to recipients who opt out.
- Monitor and enforce compliance: routinely audit your third-party service providers, such as email marketing providers that you use to send commercial electronic messages.
PTAs and PTOs need to maintain financial compliance to ensure funds are used appropriately and in accordance with state and federal laws (like the Internal Revenue Code, state nonprofit corporation laws, and state charitable solicitation laws). This includes ensuring that funds are used for the purposes for which they were raised, maintaining accurate financial records, and properly reporting financial information to the appropriate authorities.
To help maintain financial compliance, your PTA or PTO can implement the following best practices:
- Have a clear and detailed budget: keep a document that outlines the organization’s income and expenses. FutureFund’s free budget template can help with this.
- Keep accurate records: maintain accurate and complete financial records of all transactions, including receipts, invoices, and bank statements.
- Regularly review: reviewing and reconciling financial statements regularly ensures that they are accurate and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.
- Track and report donations: have a system in place for tracking and reporting donations to ensure that they are properly cataloged and disclosed. FutureFund’s built-in financial reporting tools make this easy.
- Reimburse expenses: have a system in place for expense reimbursement that ensures that reimbursement requests are properly documented and that expenses are reasonable and necessary.
Safety compliance ensures the well-being of the students, staff, and volunteers your organization is responsible for. This includes ensuring that facilities and equipment are safe, that emergency procedures are in place and practiced, and that you follow laws and regulations related to child safety in your area.
To help maintain safety compliance, your PTA or PTO can:
- Conduct audits: perform regular safety audits of facilities and equipment to identify and address potential hazards.
- Develop emergency plans: outline procedures for responding to different types of emergencies and practice them regularly.
- Train staff and volunteers: provide training on emergency procedures, accident prevention, and other safety-related topics.
- Screen volunteers: carefully vet all volunteers, including background checks as required by law.
- Follow child safety laws and regulations: pay close attention to transportation and supervision during events to ensure these are conducted legally.
- Have an emergency contact list: include the names and contact information for all staff, volunteers, and parents/guardians.
- Report incidents: have a system in place for incident reporting that ensures that incidents are reported promptly and that appropriate follow-up action is taken.
Maintaining ethical compliance helps ensure that your PTA or PTO is operating with integrity and fairness, and makes it easier to avoid legal or reputational risks. This includes complying with laws and regulations related to licenses and permits, labor laws, tax laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Here are some suggestions for maintaining ethical compliance:
- Obtain necessary licenses and permits: always research and acquire the permissions you’ll need before hosting events such as fundraisers or off-campus activities.
- Follow labor laws: pay special attention to your state’s laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, and employee classification.
- Comply with all tax laws: follow all laws pertaining to tax-exempt status and make sure to file your organization’s tax returns promptly and accurately.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act contains laws related to accessibility and accommodations for individuals with disabilities. These laws require organizations to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, in order to provide equal access and opportunities.
Best practices for complying with the ADA include:
- Conducting self-evaluations: audit your organization’s facilities, programs, and services to identify and remove any barriers for individuals with disabilities.
- Disability training: Train staff and volunteers on the requirements of the ADA and how to interact with individuals with disabilities.
- Providing alternative formats: alternative formats of materials, such as large print, audio, or electronic formats, can assist individuals with disabilities.
- Have an accessibility policy: communicate this policy to all members, staff, and volunteers.
The ADA also has specific requirements pertaining to the websites and online services offered by PTAs and PTOs. All websites must be accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those who use assistive technologies such as screen readers and other technologies. Staying compliant with the ADA therefore requires you to:
- Provide alternative text for images and other non-text content, so that it can be understood by assistive technologies
- Use clear and concise language and avoiding jargon or complex language
- Provide clear and descriptive headings and labels for all content
- Ensure that all links and buttons can be easily accessed and used with a keyboard or other assistive device
- Provide captions and transcripts for audio and video content
Making Compliance Easier with FutureFund
FutureFund was designed to help you manage your PTA or PTO while avoiding many common compliance issues. Our platform is designed to be accessible and highly secure, while including powerful tools for financial reporting, fundraising, event planning, and more.
To learn more about powering your PTA or PTO, get started with FutureFund now. Our free trial is the best way to experience the difference for yourself and help your organization run more efficiently.