Catherine Sandoval, Patricia Cain, Jean Love, Stephen Diamond, Stephen Smith & Allen Hammond (Santa Clara), Legal Education in the Era of COVID-19: Putting Health, Safety and Equity First:
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the traditional academic model of gathering people into physical classes into a high-risk activity. Legal education is a Critical Infrastructure sector that supports democratic access to the legal system and trains students to become ethical members of the legal profession and society. Debates about whether legal education should be delivered in person, online, or through a hybrid model highlight the safety culture gap in American legal education. This Article proposes an ethical framework that values safety, recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, and centers diversity and inclusion as the foundation for effective educational dialogue, to recommend online legal education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Article’s interdisciplinary team analyzes scientific studies on COVID-19 available to date, the virus’s mutation which promotes infection, and the limits of mitigation measures in indoor classrooms where people gather for more than an hour at a time to discuss educational material and develop legal skills. It examines the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, older Americans, and those with certain underlying health conditions that would foreseeably lead members of those groups to participate in class online. Those participating in person in a hybrid educational model are likely to be younger and less diverse. The hybrid classroom model cleaves students and faculty by race, ethnicity, tribe, age, and health, undermining commitments to diversity and inclusion that support educational dialogue and first amendment values. In person classes may drive viral mutation and endanger health and safety as people under 45, the largest age cohort for American law students, lead the surge in COVID-19 infection. The Internet’s development creates the opportunity to deliver effective, synchronous, inclusive, ethical legal education. This Article concludes that legal education should be conducted online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conclusion: Online Legal Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic Promotes Health, Safety, Equity, and Educational Excellence
Law Schools must recognize that COVID-19’s infectiousness and limited effectiveness of mitigation measures render classes convened in-person or through a hybrid model a high-risk activity. Risks of serious and persistent illness or death from COVID-19, the variety of conditions that increase risks of COVID-19 illness, and the disproportionate effects of COVID19 on many communities of color call for rejecting the in-person or hybrid legal education model during this pandemic. We recommend that Law Schools focus on training faculty and students to increase the effectiveness of online teaching and learning, and address Internet and computer access issues and ISP policies that undercut educational equity.
Peter Huang [Colorado] and Debra Austin [Denver] emphasize that the “well-being of students staff, and faculty is irreplaceable. Death is irreversible. During COVID-19, online higher education is socially responsible higher education.” [Unsafe at Any Campus: Don’t Let Colleges Become the Next Cruise Ships, Nursing Homes, and Food Processing Plants, 95 Ind. L..J. Supp. 25 (2020)] Law Schools must develop a safety culture that prioritizes health, safety, and well-being, respects the dignity and worth of every person, and values diversity and inclusion that supports robust education. This Article urges Law Schools to provide ethical and effective legal education online during the COVID-19 pandemic.