Editor’s Note: CSDC is offering these Coronavirus-19 updates for public viewing, to members and non-members alike, and in front of our usual member’s only “paywall” as a service to the larger charter school community. We hope nonmembers will consider joining CSDC.
Sacramento, CA —The Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) crisis continues to evolve rapidly, including Governor Newsom’s recent expansion of stay-in-place directives to the entire state and President Trump’s issuing a Major Disaster Declaration for California, allowing for federal support and shared costs pursuant to the Stafford Act. Several key developments since our prior COVID-19 Update (#7) are summarized below.
The California Department of Education (CDE) posted additional guidance regarding attendance accounting and the implementation of the Governor’s executive order regarding school funding and SB 117. These established a streamlined process for schools closed due to COVID-19 to be funded based on their attendance through February. Key points of CDE’s new guidance include the following for closed schools:
CSDC presumes that schools that opt to remain “open” during the crisis (these typically are independent study schools that are able to maintain high levels of engagement notwithstanding the crisis) will continue to compute and report ADA using the “normal” procedures.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on March 20 that the U.S. Department of Education will issue waivers to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the COVID-19 emergency. This should clear the way for California to implement Governor Newsom’s prior executive order* to suspend this spring’s CAASPP testing.
CDE also issued guidance via electronic mail indicating it is doing the following:
The College Board indicates it will offer an online, at-home testing option for AP students affected by COVID-19. “Based on the number and length of school closures, it’s clear that the usual way of AP Exams are given at schools won’t be possible,” according to the Board. The option will offer 45-minute, online (smartphone, computer, or tablet) assessments focusing on what students typically learn through early March. Optional, mobile-friendly review classes will be available starting March 25. For further information, please visit the College Board’s COVID-19 page.
California Department of Education COVID-19 E-Mail Updates
The California Department of Education (CDE) has established a weekly COVID-19 email listserv. Send a blank email to: firstname.lastname@example.org to receive weekly updates from CDE.
The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) issued a “Supplemental Fact Sheet” regarding special education on Saturday, stating that federal law “should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.” As we have noted in our prior updates, some schools and districts have opted to provide zero instructional support during the COVID-19 crisis, fearing that federal laws protecting disabled students prevent them from doing so.
These concerns are well-founded given the strict requirements in federal law to revise individualized education plans (IEPs) when the instruction shifts to online/distance settings and to ensure that the settings and related technology are fully accessible and meet federal requirements to provide free and appropriate education (FAPE) to students with exceptional need.
Prior federal guidance reiterated a strict line on these matters. The new Supplemental Fact Sheet speaks to these concerns, stating that:
. . . some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. [emphasis by underlining in the original]. We remind schools that should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.
While the supplemental guidance presumably conveys helpful intent, it’s cold comfort to front-line practitioners and school leaders who are risking lawsuits, compliance challenges, and costly compensatory services if they remain open without strict adherence to complex federal mandates.
Meanwhile, the CDE posted updated guidance late last week, noting that they are working with federal officials “to determine what flexibilities or waivers might be issued in light of the extraordinary circumstances. Until, and unless, USDOE ultimately provides flexibilities under federal law, LEAs should do their best in adhering to IDEA [federal special education law] requirements, including federally mandated timelines, to the maximum extent possible.” Without stating that CDE will ignore related compliance issues, it hints “the CDE is committed to a reasonable approach to compliance monitoring that accounts for the exceptional circumstances facing the state.” Later parts of CDE’s posting also use similar language, including “to the extent feasible, “to the extent feasible and appropriate,” “seek to comply,” to the greatest extent possible,” etc.
Today, Kristin Wright, CDE’s Director of Special Education issued a letter acknowledging the new federal guidance and reiterating that CDE has formed a workgroup to brainstorm best practices.
The upshot of this guidance is that, short of an act of Congress and the President to waive federal law, federal education officials continue to take a hard line on strict compliance and assert that this is not an “insurmountable” obstacle. California officials are acknowledging the fact that the obstacle is indeed substantial and is tacitly urging schools to continue to provide services as best they can rather than implement hard closures. CSDC is aware of a few charter schools that appear to have successfully amended their IEPs on a rapid track and are indeed continuing to provide services after only a very brief close—stay tuned for details in future updates.
Expanded Federal Family, Medical, and Sick Leave
Congress approved and the President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act last week. This new law provides substantial new family and sick leave rights to employees related to COVID-19. It takes effect on April 2 and governs employers with fewer than 500 employees. Key provisions include the following:
Emergency Family and Medical Leave (E-FMLA)—expands upon existing federal and state family leave requirements, including the following key features:
Emergency Paid Sick Leave (E-Sick Leave)—expands upon existing state sick leave requirements, including the following key features:
The provisions of this new law are very complex, difficult-to-interpret, and seemingly subject to varying interpretation. CSDC provides the above summary not to provide definitive guidance, but instead to alert schools to this new requirement because this additional leave could be extremely disruptive for employers if it allows large numbers of teachers and other vital staff avail themselves of the leave days.
The law does call for offsetting credits against employers’ Social Security (FICA) tax obligations. The Internal Revenue Service has begun to issue guidance on these tax credits, asserting that “employers receive 100% reimbursement for paid leave pursuant to the Act,” and that health insurance costs are also supposed to be covered. The guidance also commits to “fast funds” including “an immediate, dollar-for-dollar tax offset against payroll taxes” and “where a refund is owed (presumably in cases where large numbers of employees take the leaves), the IRS will send the refund as quickly as possible.”
CSDC plans to continue to publish regular updates summarizing key COVID-19 developments from a charter school perspective. If you have questions or concerns regarding charter schools and COVID-19, please let us know.