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ISBE Provides Additional Updates to its School Closure Guidance: Here’s What You Should Know

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The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) updated its Mandatory Statewide School Closure Guidance for Illinois Schools and School Districts yesterday for the fourth time since the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Illinois. Addressing concerns about the inability to count e-learning days during the March 17-30 mandatory school closure, ISBE “strongly encourages” schools to prepare and obtain approval by their Regional Office of Education or ISP for e-learning programs. ISBE has not provided guidance on whether any days beyond March 30 would also be non-instructional Act of God days. With respect to staffing issues, although ISBE’s guidance points to a recent joint statement about schools’ rights to expect teachers and other employees to work during Act of God days, the revised guidance does not address many concerns raised about the statement. The revised guidance continues to assure schools that ISBE is working to try to obtain reimbursement for all transportation costs associated with delivering meals to students, although it has not yet done so. These and many other changes to the ISBE guidance make the document an essential read for school leaders navigating this unprecedented school shutdown.

As we notified you in previous alerts regarding ISBE’s updates on March 12 and March 14, ISBE has been updating its guidance regularly. Additional updates occurred on March 16 and, most recently, on March 18. 

The March 16 version of the guidance addressed the following, among other things:

  • Reassurance that the closure will not impact school year 2019-202 summative designations for state mandated assessments and accountability;
  • A description of the Governor’s Executive Order relaxing OMA requirements—see our alert on the EO here;
  • New flexibilities for school districts seeking approval of their e-learning plans;
  • Confirmation that schools can provide meals for special education students enrolled in the district who are between the ages of 18 and 21;
  • Extends the application deadline for the FY 2021 Early Childhood Block Grant applications until April 15, 2020 at 4 p.m.;
  • Direction that programs that require students to participate in person—such as driver’s education, internships, and experiential learning—as well as extracurricular activities must cease; and
  • Clarification that the recommendation that schools have an administrator on site to ensure the safety of any students who come to school and to make executive decisions on site, is not intended as a child care alternative.

The March 18 versions made a number of changes to the March 16 guidance, including some new additions:

  • Points to the recent Joint Statement regarding employee work during Act of God days—see our alert on that issue for more information—although the ISBE guidance is silent on the issues of timelines for completing evaluations that have not yet been completed during the period of closure (the joint statement simply says all deadlines are still in place);
  • Notified schools that AP exams may occur at home, if needed, but remain scheduled at schools that are still open and provides information about forthcoming resources for students studying for such exams;
  • Removed conditional language about whether Act of God days need to be made up “at this time,” and now simply states that they will not be made up;
  • Added IMRF and CTPF considerations as issues over which bargaining should occur;
  • Reminded schools that there is no need to take attendance;
  • Clarified that work completed during the closure cannot lower a student’s grades or academic standings, although it can be used to increase a grade;
  • Suggests that if schools have insufficient amounts of food, students who receive free/reduced price lunch should be prioritized and recommends planning ahead for increasing demand and working with local food banks;
  • Explains that ISBE will reimburse transportation based on expenditures;
  • Recommends that if school districts enter into agreements with bus companies to make payments during the closure to ensure bus transportation employees will be paid in full, those expenditures “will be reimbursed,” but with the caveat that schools should contact their attorneys before making such agreement. We have prepared a form template for clients; contact one of our attorneys for more information.

We will continue to keep our eye on ISBE’s updates to its guidance and bring you more information as it becomes available. For more information on the guidance or any other issues related to school closures, contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.