New law regarding distance learning in California
On June 29, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 98 (SB 98), which is primarily a public education funding bill for the 2020-2021 school year. SB 98 adds sections 43500 through 43504 to the Education Code, containing requirements regarding instruction during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The intent of SB 98, and the revisions to the Education Code, is to provide flexibility for school districts, county offices of education and public charter schools (collectively called local education agencies or LEAs), to provide instruction in a way that reflects state and local public health needs and respects the specific circumstances of individual students during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Although SB 98 contains language that expresses a strong preference for in-person instruction, LEAs have substantial flexibility in offering distance learning. SB 98 specifically states that distance learning is allowed as a result of a public health order or guidance and for students who are medically fragile and those students who would be put at risk or are self-quarantining.
SB 98 is intended to give LEAs the discretion to adopt a distance learning and mixed delivery models of instruction to ensure public safety, taking into account the needs of students and staff and available infrastructure, provided the model adheres to applicable public health orders and guidance. “The intent is to allow LEAs to offer distance learning based on the unique circumstances of each student.”
Distance Learning Requirements
When an LEA provides distance learning, under Education Code section 43503, it must include:
access to adequate connectivity and devices to participate in the educational program and complete assigned work,
content aligned to grade level standards that is provided at a level of quality and intellectual challenge equivalent to in-person instruction;
academic and other supports designed to address the needs of pupils who are performing below grade level, or need support in other areas;
special education, related services, and any other services required by a pupil’s individualized education program;
designated and integrated instruction in English language development; and
daily live interaction with certificated employees and peers for purposes of instruction, progress monitoring, and maintaining school connectedness.
LEAs are to maintain regular contact with students who participate in distance learning and document daily participation for each student for each school day distance learning is provided or there is contact between the LEA and the parent.
LEAs must implement each student’s special education and related services and any other services required by the student’s IEP, with accommodations necessary to ensure the IEP can be executed in a distance learning environment.
LEAs must in a student's initial IEPs or the next regularly scheduled revision of the IEP a description of how the IEP will be provided under emergency conditions, such as during an epidemic, in which instruction or services or both cannot be provided to the student for more than 10 school days. Specifically, the description must include:
special education and related services,
supplementary aids and services,
transition services, if required, and
extended school year services.
Daily Instructional Minutes
SB 98 provides that for the 2020–21 school year, the minimum school day for an LEA shall be as follows, with variances:
180 instructional minutes in kindergarten.
230 instructional minutes in grades 1 to 3, inclusive.
240 instructional minutes in grades 4 to 12, inclusive.
Of note is that LEAs are not required to offer the minimum physical education minutes set forth under the Education Code.
SB 98 provides that LEAs may meet the minimum instructional minute requirement though in-person instruction, distance learning, or using a combination of the two. SB 98 further provides that for in-person instruction, "instructional minutes shall be based on time scheduled under the immediate physical supervision and control of an employee of the LEA who possess a valid certification document." For distance learning, instructional time is to be based on the time value of assignments as determined by a credentialed LEA employee. For combination programs, the LEA would add the time from in-person instruction and distance learning assignments.
Education Attorney Molly Watson
A special education law firm