Remote Learning Redux
UPDATE: On September 7, 2021, ISBE passed a resolution supporting a change to the Superintendent’s declaration related to remote learning. The resolution states: Beginning with the 2021-22 school year, all schools must resume fully in-person learning for all student attendance days, provided that, pursuant to 105 ILCS 5/10-30 and 105 ILCS 5/34-18.66, remote instruction must be made available for students who are excluded by a school pursuant to 77 Ill. Admin. Code 690.30, or students who are under isolation, quarantine, or adaptive pause consistent with guidance or requirements from a local health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health. At the brief board meeting, members discussed that the new reference to 77 Ill. Admin. Code 690.30 is intended to remind districts – and those challenging districts – that school districts already had the authority to exclude students and staff suspected of being infected with a reportable infectious disease for which isolation is required.
Last week, ISBE published long-awaited guidance related to remote learning for the 2021-2022 school year. We have been anticipating this guidance since early in the summer when ISBE announced that school would, with limited exceptions, operate fully in-person this year. The guidance reviews the remote learning requirements, as well as information related to other laws and policies that may provide options for at-home learning. The most critical development is the requirement that remote learning must include 5 hours per day of instruction and school work and is available to students under quarantine or excluded consistent with public health guidance as well as all students during an adaptive pause.
With respect to remote learning, the new guidance clarifies and expands when schools must offer remote instruction to students. While earlier guidance required remote instruction for unvaccinated students quarantining consistent with guidance from a local health department or IDPH, the new guidance no longer limits remote instruction to students who are unvaccinated and expands remote instruction to students who are “excluded” in accordance with public health guidance. The changes thus clarify that a student who must isolate due to COVID-19 symptoms or infection must also be provided remote instruction. The new guidance additionally expands remote instruction to include students who are not attending in-person due to an adaptive pause by the district in consultation with the local health department. The guidance does not, however, explain the criteria to determine when an adaptive pause is warranted or link to any IDPH guidance on the topic.
In the absence of ISBE guidance, districts made their own plans for the brief and hopefully sporadic remote learning that would be required when students quarantine. Now, ISBE has announced specific requirements for remote learning, including 5 clock hours per day of instruction and schoolwork with a strong recommendation that at least 2.5 of those hours are synchronous learning with interaction between students and teachers.
Districts can (but are not required to) establish Remote Education Programs by board policy and resolution. Districts who do so can provide remote instruction to students when the district and parent determine that the student meets the program’s criteria and the program will best serve the student’s individual needs. The criteria for participation must be outlined in the district’s policy and must include consideration of a student’s prior attendance, discipline record, and academic history; criteria can include consideration of the medical needs of the student or someone in the student’s household. The guidance also reminds districts that the requirements for home/hospital instruction remain the same and links to an FAQ on the topic from before the pandemic.
Finally, the guidance explains that districts can (but are not required to) adopt an e-learning program such that up to 5 e-learning days can be used in lieu of emergency days. With respect to whether e-learning days can be used in the event of COVID-related emergency conditions, the guidance equates such a closure to an adaptive pause, which must be determined in consultation with the local health department, and during which remote instruction must be provided.
The guidance does not address any special considerations for students with disabilities or other special populations, but districts should plan to meet the needs of all learners in the event of quarantine, exclusion, or an adaptive pause. ISBE concludes with a chart comparing the requirements and applicability of disaster proclamation remote learning, remote education programs, home/hospital services, and e-learning. Please reach out with questions about implementation in your district and stay tuned for our next COVID webinar.