PDE allows flexibility in meeting instructional time requirements for 2020-21 school year
Today 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. The department notes that 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.
Authorization for flexibility provided under the School Code
In making its determination that time spent in a remote learning environment will count toward instructional time requirements, PDE refers to Section 520.1 of the School Code. The language here 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.
Under Section 520.1, 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 district that chooses to operate under a temporary operating plan will not lose state subsidies.
Enacting temporary provisions for the 2020-21 school year
Accordingly, PDE states that school boards have the authority to enact temporary provisions as set forth in section 520.1 during the period of the pandemic response and should consult their solicitor in this regard. Any school entity that enacts such temporary provisions must submit the following to the secretary of education for approval:
The secretary will review the documents submitted to ensure board approval and that plan accounts for at least 180 days and 990/900 hours of instruction. The recognition of instructional programs that may count towards instructional time requirements is a local decision to be made by each school entity.
- 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.
In making decisions related to the provision of instructional time, districts are reminded they must be cognizant of issues such as: the provision of planned instruction needed to attain the relevant state academic standards; the need to implement systems of tracking attendance and instructional time, especially related to students engaging in remote instruction; the provision of FAPE; and equity in access to instruction for all students.
Additionally, PDE reminds districts that instruction time for students must be under the direction of certified school employees. Although instruction may be provided in synchronous or asynchronous formats to count as instruction, whether in the classroom or remotely, students' instructional activities must be under the direction of a certified school employee unless otherwise permitted.
Any school entity that includes time spent in a remote learning environment toward instructional time requirements must implement a system that accurately tracks out of school instructional time similar to attendance in the school building.
PSBA will continue to keep school leaders updated on important issues regarding reopening.