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 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.
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.