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Illinois Schools Have Discretion to Define the Instructional Day

K-12 Education Publications

Although months have passed since a new law addressing public education funding in Illinois was signed, confusion lingers over the impact of the law on an instructional day for students. Public Act 100-0465, or the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, removed Section 18-8.05 of the Illinois School Code, which stated that an instructional day must be a minimum of five hours to be considered a day of attendance. This change has the potential to significantly impact school districts, which can be penalized in the provision of their general state aid for failing to provide 176 days of attendance in a school year or if individual student absentee rates cross a certain threshold. No replacement was included in the new law, meaning that schools now have the discretion to define the instructional day necessary to meet that 176-day minimum. What does this mean for your school district?

As the title of one national news story pointed out, something more than zero hours of student attendance is required. A recent guidance document from the Illinois State Board of Education states that school districts should work with their boards and unions to define an instructional day, guided by what will best improve outcomes for students.

A notable change identified in the ISBE guidance is that instruction need not be classroom-based to count as a day of attendance. “Districts may define student engagement and student learning in any number or combination of ways: classroom instruction, online instruction, independent research projects, work-based learning, and internships, to name a few.” This means that “e-learning days,” during which students complete coursework at home on school computers, will likely graduate from pilot mode to a norm for many Illinois students.

Online and other virtual methods of learning may also be used for individual students, including those experiencing school refusal or medical issues, particularly as a short-term way to ensure that students do not fall behind. IEP teams and Section 504 teams should consider whether alternative learning locations and methods are appropriate for individual students as well as how their IEPs and 504 plans will be implemented in the event of an “e-learning day.”