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ISBE Revises Guidance for Schools on COVID-19

Coronavirus K-12 Education

As we discuss in our COVID-19 Guide for Illinois Schools, the Illinois State Board of Education issued guidance on March 10, 2020, addressing school responses to the coronavirus pandemic. ISBE intends to update this document on a regular basis. An update was made on March 12, 2020, including a number of changes.

First, ISBE added language saying that it strongly encourages every school district to “develop a contingency plan to ensure students continue to receive some access to instructional resources in the event of a school closure due to COVID-19.” ISBE recommends that school districts “work in collaboration with the local collective bargaining unit when developing the contingency plan for either home learning or e-learning to make the plan work for each student, to contemplate teachers’ work hours, and to discuss how school support personnel can support students’ learning.” (Question 2).

Regarding e-learning, ISBE updated its guidance to state that it is working to obtain the following flexibility regarding the current requirements for e-learning plans:

  • Remove the limit on the number of e-learning days a district may use during the state disaster proclamation.
  • Allow district superintendents to adopt the plan without board approval.
  • Remove the requirement that school boards hold a public hearing on the plan.
  • Remove the Sept. 1 plan approval deadline.
  • Remove the 30-day parental notification requirement.
  • Allow ROEs/ISCs not to deny plan approval based solely on the 300-minute instructional requirement, if the ROE/ISC determines that the plan provides substantial student learning opportunities.

ISBE states that it “strongly encourages those districts that are able to engage in e-learning that do not have approved plans to submit [their] e-learning plans to [their] ROEs/ISCs for approval as soon as possible, in preparation for the potential need to close school buildings. E-learning plans must still include the requirements outlined in subsection (d) of Section 10- 20.56 of the School Code, with the exception of (d)(10). E-learning plans must account for providing appropriate learning opportunities to English Learners and students with disabilities and must account for students without access to technology at home.” The updated guidance includes e-learning plans from three school districts that have shared their plans as a resource.  ISBE stated that it will keep school districts updated on its progress in amending the law. (Question 11).

The updated guidance also includes a new question regarding how districts should treat students for whom e-learning is not a reasonable method to learn. The answer provided is:

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is awaiting guidance from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) on this issue.  Because of the changing nature of this situation, ISBE requests that districts consult this guidance frequently for updates.  ISBE recognizes that there are certain students for whom e-learning will not meet the student’s right to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Nonetheless, every district must consider students’ absolute right to a FAPE when making determinations regarding implementation of e-learning.  For any students who are identified as unable to access e-learning for their receipt of FAPE, districts must take all efforts to ensure that their needs continue to be met, including through alternate means which may include, but should not be limited to, at-home 1:1 instruction or consideration of compensatory education.

(Question 12).

The updated guidance also includes a revised answer regarding what school districts should do if they do not have an e-learning plan. The revised guidance states that ISBE encourages schools to consider activities that students can complete at home even if e-learning is not possible, and provides a number of specific examples. (Question 13).

The revised guidance includes a new answer regarding the provision of free meals by school during a shut down. (Question 17).

Finally, the guidance addresses a recent recommendation by the IDPH that “large gatherings” not be held for the foreseeable future. ISBE includes a new question in the guidance defining “large gatherings” using the CDC guidelines, which means gatherings of more than 250 people. (Question 25)

We will continue to monitor additional changes to this guidance so that you do not have to. For any questions, contact the authors of this post or any other Franczek attorney.