Monthly Archives:' March 2020

CDE and HHS Release Guidance on Distance Learning, School Meals, Child Care, and Student Supervision

Author: Eric Stevens

The California Department of Education released guidance on March 17 for local educational agencies (“LEAs”) regarding educating students through distance learning and providing school meals to students during school closures due to COVID-19.  Health and Human Services, in consultation with CDE, simultaneously released guidance on child care and providing student supervision during the current public health emergency.  All of this guidance is available on CDE’s website.  The guidance contains numerous links to other resources to support LEAs.

The guidance is issued in response to Executive Order N-26-20 which provides that even if LEAs close campuses due to COVID-19, the LEAs will continue to receive funding for those days so that they may:

  • Continue delivering high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible through, among other options, distance learning and/or independent study;
  • Provide school meals in non-congregate settings through the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, consistent with the requirements of the California Department of Education and U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • Arrange for, to the extent practicable, supervision for students during ordinary school hours; and
  • Continue to pay employees.

Distance Learning

Distance learning includes any instruction in which a student and teacher are in different physical locations.  This may include any combination of video or audio instruction, communication by phone or computer, print materials incorporating assignments that are reviewed by the teacher, and check-in time with the supervising teacher.

LEAs “should immediately begin developing a plan for distance learning for their students and providing training and professional development for their teachers to implement the adopted distance learning strategy as effectively as possible.”  CDE suggests key elements that a distance learning plan might cover and encourages LEAs to consider what is feasible in the short-term and what may be possible if a longer-term closure (more than two weeks) becomes necessary.

An LEA will need to assess its ability to deliver instruction online, through the delivery of paper materials, and in-person in light of the availability of devices and high-speed internet in the community and the LEA’s ability to provide devices and internet access to students in need.  CDE’s guidance stresses that “we cannot lose track of our most disadvantaged students” and that LEAs need to ensure equitable access to curriculum and, if online learning is used, devices and internet access.

CDE provides a continuum of delivery strategies from a purely online approach to in-person instruction:

  • Teacher interaction and assistance through on-line learning platforms.
  • Online curriculum for students to work on at home.
  • Online curriculum in a computer lab or classroom, consistent with social distancing guidelines.
  • Paper packets of instruction materials for students to work on at home.
  • In-person instruction, consistent with social distancing guidelines.

CDE highlights different school districts and charter schools as examples of some of these strategies in practice.

LEAs should also consider ways to re-purpose and redirect resources to support distance learning, especially resources that may not be used to capacity during campus closures like student transportation and transportation staff.  CDE points out that vehicles and transportation staff can be redirected to distribute meals to students most in need, instructional packets, and wireless equipment and devices.

Distance Learning, Special Education, and English Learners

CDE acknowledges that, at this time, the federal government has not waived federal requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).  Accordingly, federally mandated timelines continue to apply.  CDE is convening a workgroup of practitioners and experts in special education to assess various models for effectively serving students with disabilities in a distance learning environment and provide additional guidance to LEAs.

The unique learning needs of English learners should be considered and addressed in a distance learning plan.  When campuses reopen, an English learner’s progress should be evaluated to determine whether the student needs additional services and supports to account for how distance learning may have impacted the student’s progress toward proficiency.

School Meals

Federal child nutrition meal programs have provided flexibility to CDE and LEAs during COVID-19 campus closures.

For LEAs that already have approval to operate the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (“SSO”) or the Summer Food Service Program (“SFSP”), CDE can provide authority to offer non-congregate meals under SSO or SFSP during a COVID-19 campus closure.  Requests may be submitted to SNPINFO@cde.ca.gov and CDE’s guidance identifies the information to include in such a request.  LEAs can also request permission to offer shelf-stable meals for multiple days and USDA is expected to provide additional guidance soon on applicable heightened monitoring requirements.

LEAs are encouraged to consider various means of delivering meals, including:

  • Distributing meals using a school food truck.
  • Sending a box or bag meal(s) home with students for multiple days.
  • Keeping some school sites open to allow students to receive a meal.
  • Partnering with local libraries that remain open to serve meals.
  • Setting up a drive through system in the parking lot to minimize contact. Families can drive through and pick up a meal for all children in the vehicle.

However, CDE notes that it is not permissible to provide meals to children who are not present when meals are distributed.

LEAs should consider multiple communication strategies and use multiple languages to reach families and students with information about the availability of meals, including messaging through community partners.

Child Care and Student Supervision

HHS released broad guidance for families with children during COVID-19 campus closures.

For LEAs specifically, CDE reminds them that Executive Order N-26-20 directs LEAs “to the extent practicable” to arrange for supervision of students during ordinary school hours.  CDE states that LEAs should:

  • Develop a plan for ensuring that students are supervised during school hours.
  • Consider allowing their school sites for use as critical pop-up childcare programs for working families in need of care for their children.
  • Partner with their local resource and referral agency to connect families in need of care. The R&R can help link them to available care facilities in their area.
  • Inform families that they can call the statewide consumer education hotline at 1-800-KIDS-793 or go to the website at https://rrnetwork.org/ and https://rrnetwork.org/family-services/find-child-care for additional information.
  • Provide families with a list of known local programs that remain open for services.
  • Collaborate with their Local Planning Council and other local childcare entities to ensure continuity of services to families in need of childcare.
  • Work with the regional Community Care Licensing office, which may have a list of facilities that are open, to identify providers that can serve children at this time.

CDE directs LEAs to consider a list of multiple factors when developing a plan for student supervision:

  • Family needs.
  • Early learning and care programs operating on an LEA’s campus.
  • LEA facilities as a community resource.
  • Working with community partners.
  • Child age.
  • Collaborating with other state and local government entities.
  • CDC guidance for school closures.

For further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at Girard, Edwards, Stevens & Tucker LLP.

Emergency Legislation Passed by the State Legislature and Office of Administrative Hearings to Hold Mediations Via Telephone/Videoconference

Author: Heather Edwards

On Monday, March 16, 2020, the California                                          Legislature took unprecedented emergency action and passed Senate Bill 117 to ensure that local educational agencies (“LEAs”) continue to receive funding during the COVID-19 pandemic and provide some flexibility from statutory requirements. The legislation, which takes effect immediately, includes the following:

  • Apportionment – For LEAs that comply with the Governor’s Executive Order N-26-20, the period for reporting ADA for apportionment purposes will only include school months from July 1, 2019 to February 29, 2020. The legislature’s intent is that the current health emergency not impact apportionment to ensure employees and contractors are compensated and paid during school closure.
  • Funding – Provides $100 million to the California Department of Education to be apportioned based on ADA generated by LEAs that provide a classroom-based educational program between March 4, 2020 and June 30, 2020.  The purpose of the funding is to purchase personal protective equipment or pay for supplies and labor related to cleaning school sites. LEAs will receive at least $250 per schoolsite.
  • Instructional Days and Minutes – To prevent the loss of funding due to school closures, statutory minimums for instructional days and minutes are deemed to be met during the period of time a school was closed due to COVID-19. District superintendents, county superintendents, and charter school administrators are required to certify in writing to the California Department of Education that school was closed due to COVID-19.
  • Charter Schools – Authorizes charter schools to offer independent study or distance learning programs without the need to submit a request to materially revise its charter petition to its chartering authority.
  • Assessments – Extends time to assess pupils for English language proficiency by 45 days, unless the California Department of Education determines otherwise.  Extends the length of time for the testing window for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) and physical performance tests by the length of time a school is closed due to COVID-19, or until the end of the testing window, whichever comes first.
  • Uniform Complaint Procedures – Extends timelines established in the uniform complaint procedures by the length of time a school is closed due to COVID-19.
  • Suspension of Certain Special Education Timelines – Suspends only the following state statutory timelines for schools closed due to COVID-19:
  1. Providing proposed assessment plans within 15 days of referral; and
  2. Providing parents access/copies of student records (5 business days) and/or sending student records upon a request for another LEA (5 working days).

The suspension of these timelines applies to all LEAs, even if an LEA continues to offer educational opportunities through distance learning, or independent study, or both, during the closure due to COVID-19. In addition, the bill “encourages” LEAs to respond as expeditiously as possible to requests from parents or guardians received during the period of time a school is closed due to COVID–19. Finally, the bill expressly provides that it does not waive any federal requirements imposed under the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act. (Note: a majority of the timelines in special education are governed by federal law which the state legislature cannot override.)

  • Funding for the After School Education and Safety Program – Program grantees that closed schools due to COVID-19 will be credited with the ADA that the grantee would have received if it had been able to operate its entire program during the period of school closure.
  • Childcare and Child Development Programs – Attendance and reporting requirements imposed on childcare and development programs are waived subject to additional guidance from the California Department of Education.

Office of Administrative Hearings to Hold Mediations Via Telephone/Videoconference

The Special Education Division of the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”), the agency that provides mediations and hearings for special education disputes between parents and LEAs, will be moving to telephonic/videoconference mediations beginning Thursday, March 19, 2020.  Currently the plan is to mediate exclusively through this method until the end of the month.  OAH is developing the protocols for these mediations and will post the information required to participate on March 18, 2020, at 1 pm.  As of today, due process hearings will go forward as scheduled unless a continuance is granted, or the case is dismissed by the filing party.

U.S. Department of Education Issues Guidance on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Author:  Heather Edwards 

On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Question and Answers document outlining local educational agencies’ responsibilities to address how, what, and when services should be provided to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 outbreak. The U.S. Department of Education advises, among other things, that:

  1. If an LEA closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then an LEA would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time.
  2. IEP and Section 504 teams would need to make an individualized determination as to whether compensatory services are needed under applicable standards and requirements.
  3. If a child with a disability is absent for an extended period of time because of a COVID-19 infection and the school remains open, then the IEP team must determine whether the child is available for instruction and could benefit from homebound services such as online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities, to the extent available.

For further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at Girard, Edwards, Stevens & Tucker LLP.

Governor's Executive Order Relaxes Statutes Regulating Board Meetings To Encourage Teleconferencing In Response To COVID-19

Author:  Omer Khan

Governor Gavin Newsom issued a new executive order on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The executive order expands public agencies’ ability to use teleconferencing for governing board meetings to promote a new policy of “social distancing.”

All public agencies are “urged to use sound discretion and to make reasonable efforts to adhere as closely as possible” to the laws governing open and public board meetings like the Brown Act.  Laws requiring advanced notice, posted agendas, and public opportunity for comment are still in effect:

  • Public agencies must still give advanced notice of each regular or special governing board meeting by publicly posting meeting agendas.
  • Public agencies must still provide at least one publicly accessible location from which members of the public can observe and offer public comment during governing board meetings, even if no board members are physically present at that location.

However, numerous restrictions on teleconferencing and requirements for board meeting quorums are suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, meaning that:

  • Board members’ teleconference locations do not need to be disclosed and publicly noticed.
  • Board members’ teleconference locations do not need to be accessible to the public.
  • Agendas do not need to be posted at all teleconference locations.
  • No board members are required to be physically present at the publicly noticed location where the public can observe the board meeting and offer public comment.

It is not necessary that a quorum of board members participates from locations within the public agency’s boundaries; however, a quorum of board members is still required, whether they are in person or teleconferencing, to hold a board meeting.

Governance teams should consider how best to use this new flexibility, if at all.  The Executive Order provides broad flexibility, but a primary effect is that board members can participate in board meetings by phone or over the internet from their own homes without the usual requirement to publicly disclose their home addresses and open their homes to the public.

“Social distancing” – maintaining six feet of separation between individuals and avoiding large in-person gatherings – is still highly recommended by the Governor and public health experts.  Even if board members do not wish to take advantage of the loosened restrictions on teleconferencing, public agencies may wish to space out seating in board rooms and offer live broadcasts of meetings.

For further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at Girard, Edwards, Stevens & Tucker LLP.