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:
- Providing proposed assessment plans within 15 days of referral; and
- 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.