This document provides a summary of the March 17, 2020 California Department of Education (CDE) Guidance (COVID-19 Guidance for K-12 Schools), information from the United States Department of Education (USDOE), federal Office for Civil Rights March 16, 2020 Fact Sheet, a brief summary of pertinent parts of California Senate Bill (SB) 117, and a discussion about Question A-1 from the USDOE March 12, 2020 FAQ (Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak). We also provide some takeaways to consider in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic school closures.
I. Summary of March 17, 2020 CDE Guidance on Distance Learning
On March 17, 2020, CDE issued COVID-19 Guidance for K-12 Schools (Guidance) that provides information in a number of areas related to the current school closures, including for distance learning. This Guidance is related to the Governor's Executive Order (EO) N-26-20, which addressed, in part, the physical closure of schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. EO N-26-20 assured school districts that state funding would continue during school closures to support the delivery of "high-quality educational opportunities," to the extent feasible, through options such as distance learning and/or independent studies.
The Guidance further provides considerations for school districts to weigh with regard to distance learning plans, equity and access issues, students with disabilities and English learners. Likewise, it provides an array of internet links and examples of distance learning models from several school districts. Although we provide a summary below, we encourage all school districts to carefully review the Guidance, as well as the many resources it references to assist in setting up and implementing a distance learning plan. (The Guidance further addressed the provision of school meals and child care and supervision, which will be addressed in a separate document.)
Definition of Distance Learning
The Guidance defines "distance learning" as instruction in which the student and instructor are in different locations, and may include video or audio instruction using a variety of communication (e.g. on-line interaction, television, video, telecourses, and telephone). It may also include printed instructional materials "that are the subject of written or oral feedback," (e.g. written packets provided to a student and graded by teacher) With this definition, it appears that the CDE contemplates distance learning to include both high and low tech methods of delivering learning opportunities, and that there will be teacher interaction with students during these learning opportunities.
Development of a Distance Learning Plan, Equity and Ways to Deliver Instruction
Development of a distance learning plan and ensuring student access to that plan are key aspects of the Guidance. In developing a distance learning plan, a school district should assess its ability to provide both high and low tech instruction and train staff to implement the adopted plan. Elements of the distance learning plan mentioned in the Guidance include assisting and training teachers to analyze the content and standards of a course and how to deliver instruction so courses can be completed, providing a continuum of delivery options for various grades, and a continuum of delivery methods, including on-line learning platforms with teacher interaction, online curriculum for student to access at home, online curriculum in labs and classrooms consistent with social distancing, paper packets, and in person settings with social distancing.
School districts must also take into consideration that not all students will have access to the technology needed for online instruction. At the same time, the Guidance makes clear that the California Constitution prohibits school districts from requiring that students purchase or use their own devices to access instruction. This means that whatever distance learning plan that a school district devises must take into account its student population, existing and available resources to transition to distance learning, and student access to technology. Moreover, the plan devised must be free of any fee or charge to students.
Note, however, that the Guidance indicates that equitable access does not mean a school district has to abandon an online model because some students may not have access to the online model. Rather, it means that the plan should include "an analysis of alternate deliveries of comparable educational content." In short, to ensure equitable access, the distance learning plan should contemplate different ways of providing comparable educational content. "Most schools will need to offer multiple options and a combination of strategies to students, depending on accessibility to devices and the internet," and distance learning plans should focus on delivering "content to students across all platforms and delivery methods."
Distance Learning for Students with Disabilities
Regarding students with disabilities, the Guidance does not provide significant clarification above and beyond the March 12, 2020 USDOE Guidance. (Question A-1 of this March 12, 2020 guidance is discussed below.) Instead, it reminds school districts that they must continue to serve students with disabilities by tailoring distance learning to their individual needs such that it provides educational benefit "to the greatest extent practicable under the circumstances." CDE will be creating a workgroup to develop models and strategies for serving students with disabilities in California and additional guidance is forthcoming.
Considerations for English Learners
Districts must develop a plan for serving English learners in alignment with the school district's language acquisition program. A school district's distance learning program must include instruction and services geared towards English learners. School districts should also be prepared to assess a student's progress in language acquisition once in-school instruction resumes and provide extra supports and services as needed to address any lack of expected progress.
Using Transportation Services to Support Distance Learning
CDE encourages school districts to get creative in how their existing transportation services can facilitate distance learning for their student populations. This potentially includes distributing meals to students, delivering wireless hot spot equipment, and bringing instructional packets to students who may not have online access. Again, always make sure any such transportation practices comport with local and state public health guidance.
II. DOE Office for Civil Rights March 16, 2020 Fact Sheet and SB 117
The USDOE Office for Civil Rights (OCR), through its March 16, 2020 Fact Sheet, and the state legislature, through Senate Bill (SB) 117, have provided some guidance regarding meeting the procedural requirements under the IDEA.
III. Question A-1 Services to Students During School Closure (Q&A on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak)
The USDOE issued guidance related to serving students with disabilities during this COVID-19 outbreak, which will assist school districts as they navigate issues related to COVID-19, including school closures and serving students with disabilities. Below only addresses Question A-1 of this guidance.
In Question A-1, the USDOE makes clear that if a school district closes and does not provide educational services to its general education population, then the school district is not required to provide services to students with disabilities. Although some districts may want to choose this option, from the language of the EO N-26-20, and the CDE guidance issued as a result of the EO, it appears that school districts should provide some level of educational services during COVID-19 school closures in order to continue to receive state funding. That said, if a school district decided not to provide any education, which we do not advise given the EO and CDE guidance, A-1 makes clear that in such a situation, a district would need to consider whether compensatory education is needed when school resumes.
The USDOE makes clear in its answer to Question A-1 that "[i]f an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general education population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE." However, as explained by the USDOE, school districts, in this situation, "must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student's IEP developed under the IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504." (emphasis added.) Thus, although there is a direct reference to compliance with the IDEA and Section 504, the USDOE, in using the language to the greatest extent possible does provide some hope that these highly unusual and difficult times will be considered when determining whether students with disabilities were served appropriately during a COVID-19 school closure.
NOTE: IEP Team Meetings: To date, federal and state guidance has been largely silent on the impact COVID-19 closures will have on IEP meeting timelines other than for IEP meetings related to assessments, other than noting that IEP meetings do not have to be conducted in person. To follow current best practices, school districts should continue to conduct IEP meetings in accordance with IDEA and state law timelines, and in accordance with public health recommendations, including utilizing telephone and video conference options and practicing appropriate social distancing. All statutorily required team members, however, should participate in the meeting in order for the meetings to meet requirements for legal compliance.
IV. Takeaways on Developing Distance Learning
Takeaways for Distance Learning for Students with Disabilities
Takeaways for English Learners