PDE Issues CARES Act Funds Guidance in Light of USDE Rule Change (July 7, 2020)

Pennsylvania has received $523.8 million in emergency, one-time federal CARES funds to help schools respond to COVID-19 impacts. PDE recommended a calculation for distribution of funds to private schools that differs from the non-binding guidance issued by USDE in April. In issuing its own guidance, PDE noted that the federal guidance advised that funds must be reserved to provide equitable services to all private schools, regardless of income. PDE suggested this is inconsistent with the CARES Act goal of ensuring that the emergency funds reach the most vulnerable students.
With the new interim final rule now effective, PDE is looking at the next steps necessary.  PDE’s current guidance expressly challenges and disagrees with the USDE interpretation of how the CARES Act directs equitable services proportions to be calculated. However, PDE has not yet updated that guidance in response to the USDE interim final rule. School districts should watch for updated PDE guidance in the near future, which it is anticipated will explain the legal basis for any continuing disagreement with the interpretations reflected in the USDOE interim final rule. Although in the view of PSBA the interpretation reflected in PDE’s current guidance more closely tracks the text of the CARES Act, at this point it is unknown whether such disagreements will lead to legal challenges in court or how such challenges are likely to be resolved. It is advised that districts put off committing to a particular approach to calculating equitable services at least until updated PDE guidance is available.

Sincere thanks to PSBA for the information provided herein.

PDE Allows Flexibility in Meeting Instructional Time Requirements (July 7, 2020)

On July 6, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) issued new guidance addressing instructional time obligations under the law, providing flexibility for schools to meet the 180-day, 900/990-hour requirements while using remote learning during the 2020-21 school year. According to PDE, Section 520.1 of the School Code authorizes the implementation of temporary operations by school districts during times of certain emergency. PDE considers the COVID-19 pandemic such an emergency. Section 520.1 states that, during times of emergency when a school district may be unable to provide for the attendance of all pupils or usual hours of classes, the school board may, with the approval of the secretary of education, put into operation temporary provisions. The temporary provisions may remain in effect for up to four years. In addition, the board may decide the days and number of days per week to operate and may reduce the length of time of daily instruction for various courses and classes.

A school district that chooses to operate under a temporary operating plan will not lose state subsidies.

Any school entity that enacts temporary provisions provided in Section 520.1 must submit the following to the secretary of education for approval: 

  • Board meeting minutes demonstrating approval of the temporary provisions.
  • The temporary provisions adopted, including the district’s proposed calendar and academic schedule.

The information shall be submitted with or as an amended component of the school entity’s Health and Safety Plan at RA-EDContinuityofED@pa.gov.

PDE reminds school districts that instruction time for students must be under the direction of certified school employees in synchronous or asynchronous formats delivered either in the classroom or remotely unless otherwise permitted.

Hechinger Report Focuses on the Students the Pandemic Hit Hardest (July 6, 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and launched a national experiment in remote learning that has been chaotic and stressful for millions of American families. But in some households, the shift to homeschool was particularly catastrophic. This report profiles vulnerable children whose education was already precarious and how the disease has exacerbated gaps in opportunities and resources for communities already on the edge.

To read the report, click here.

PDH Requires All PA Residents to Wear Masks in Public (July 5, 2020)

Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order Wednesday requiring Pennsylvanians to wear face-covering masks whenever they leave home. The order expands on the business safety order signed by Levine in April that requires the wearing of masks in businesses. Wednesday’s order, signed under Levine’s authority under the Disease Prevention and Control Act, takes that a step further, goes into effect immediately, and will remain in place until further notice.

Dr. Levine’s order states that Pennsylvanians must wear a face covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, loops, or straps over the ears or is wrapped around the lower face when they are:

  • Outdoors and unable to maintain a consistent distance of six feet from individuals who are not members of their household;
  • In any indoor location where members of the public are generally permitted;
  • Waiting for, riding on, or are operating public transportation or paratransit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle;
  • Obtaining services in a healthcare sector including, but not limited to, a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank; and/or
  • Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when interacting in-person with any member of the public, working in any space visited by members of the public, working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others, working in or walking through common areas, or any room or enclosed area where other people, except for members of the person’s own household or residence, are present when unable to physically distance.

The order has limited exceptions to the face-covering requirement, including:

  • Those who have medical conditions that impede breathing, mental health conditions, or disabilities;
  • Those for whom wearing a mask would create an unsafe working condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task as determined by local, state, or federal workplace safety guidelines;
  • Those who would be unable to remove a mask without assistance
  • Individuals under 2 years of age; and/or
  • Individuals who are communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired or has some other disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication.

ASCA and NASP Release School Re-entry Considerations (June 26, 2020)

Local education agencies and individual schools planning for students and staff to return following COVID-19 closures must prioritize efforts to address social and emotional learning and mental and behavioral health needs. Equally important is ensuring staff feel their physical and mental health needs are supported. Schools should also ensure all policies or recommendations are culturally sensitive and ensure equity and access for all youth. To that end, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) have jointly released a document titled Reentry Considerations: Supporting Student Social and Emotional Learning and Mental and Behavioral Health Amidst COVID-19.

To access the document, click here or go to: https://schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Publications/SchoolReentry.pdf