COVID-19 and Public Education in New York
Some Frequently Asked Questions - Last Updated: April 8, 2020
On March 7, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a State disaster emergency in response to the then impending threat posed by COVID-19. Not long thereafter the Governor ordered that all schools in the State of New York be closed, initially for a period of two weeks since extended a number of times and currently in effect through April 29, 2020.
Both the emergency declaration and the statewide closure of schools have had a direct impact in every school community throughout New York. Students and their parents and school boards and their staff have had to transition to a new realm in which teaching and learning is taking place remotely, away from the conventional familiarity of a physical school building environment.
The changes required to successfully manage that transition have been challenging, but throughout boards of education and their staff have been singular in their focus – to serve the students entrusted to them and provide opportunities that enable all students to continue their education through these unprecedented times.
Likewise, NYSSBA is singularly focused in its commitment to help boards of education navigate effectively the challenges before them. This document is just one of the many ways in which NYSSBA is sharing with its member’s information that is critical to that effort.
The questions answered in this document address some of the more recurring areas of inquiry received by NYSSBA. The answers are based on information gathered from various sources including, but not limited to:
- COVID-19 Executive Orders issued by the Governor accessible at governor.ny.gov
- Regulatory action taken by the NYS Board of Regents accessible at nysed.gov
- Materials issued by the NYS Education Department accessible through its COVID-19 webpage at nysed.gov
- Materials issued by the U.S. Department of Education accessible at ed.gov
- Conversations between NYSSBA and officials at the Governor’s office and the State Education Department
NYSSBA intends to update this Frequently Asked Questions document on a regular basis as another means of sharing continuously evolving information with its members.
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Will New York State schools remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year as a result of the COVID-19 virus?
On each occasion, the Governor has indicated the State will reassess the need for an extension prior to the expiration of the closure period then in effect.
Will school districts lose state aid if they are unable to provide 180 days of instruction during the 2019-2020 school year as a result of the COVID-19 virus?
Pursuant to several COVID-19 related Executive Orders, schools will not be subject to a diminution in school aid due to a failure to meet the 180 instructional day requirement because of:
- A properly executed declaration of a local state of emergency, or
- Being directed to close by a state or local health official, or
- Following a properly executed declaration of a statewide emergency.
Unless one of these three conditions is met, nothing else in the language of the applicable COVID-19 Executive Orders definitively protects school districts from the loss of school aid.
Recent amendments to commissioner’s regulations adopted by the Board of Regents at their April 6, 2020 meeting permit schools to operate for less than 180 days for any day closed pursuant to an Executive Order that waives the 180 instructional day requirement.
Are there any limitations to the COVID-19 exemption from the 180 instructional day requirement?
In addition, schools that exceed the closure period directed by a Governor’s Executive Order will not be exempted from the 180 instructional day requirement.
Would snow days or vacation days still have to be used if it results in an extension of the contractual calendar for teachers who would have to work more days than scheduled in the contract?
Has there been an adjustment to the number of required instructional hours along with the 180 instructional day exemption?
Pursuant to recent amendments to commissioner’s regulations adopted by the Board of Regents at their April 6, 2020 meeting, missed instructional hours for any day that a school is closed and the 180 instructional day requirement is waived by a COVID-19 Executive Order count towards the minimum annual instructional hour requirements.
Does the COVID-19 waiver of the 180 instructional day requirement apply to special act school districts?
- Special act school districts,
- State approved private schools,
- State-supported and state-operated schools, and
Does the COVID-19 waiver of the 180 instructional day requirement apply to the 180-day and 90-day requirements for prekindergarten programs?
2020 Spring Break
Can school districts close operations during the time period that would have been covered by the 2020 school spring break?
Must school districts continue their operations on Passover, Holy Thursday and Good Friday, which occur during the current period of school closures now extended through April 29, 2020?
Can school district staff and students take time off to observe Passover, Holy Thursday and Good Friday?
School districts are advised to consult with their school attorney regarding any issues that might arise regarding this matter before taking action regarding the same.
How should school districts address collective bargaining issues that might arise out of the loss of a spring break?
Continuity of Learning
What does continuity of learning mean?
Pursuant to State Education Department guidance, instructional and course design and plans for support must be aligned to the skill level of age groups and abilities, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners to the greatest extent possible. Furthermore, in contrast to high school students who are likely more capable independent learners, school districts educating students at the elementary and middle-school level might have to consider creating instructional materials for both students and parents.
How can a school district implement an at home virtual learning model when most of its students do not have access to computers or Wi-Fi and it is unable to provide the needed technology to all of its students?
- Printed materials
- Communication Tools
- Teacher/Student Interface
- Recorded instruction
- Online materials or other aligned content
- Online learning courses
Where can school districts and teachers learn more about continuity of learning tools and modalities that help to advance and maintain learning?
Among other resources, the website offers lists of digital content to enhance distance learning in a dozen subject areas including:
- Early learning
- English Language Arts (ELA)
- Physical Education
- Social Studies
- Special Education.
Are school districts supposed to be teaching new content remotely?
What happens if students are unable to complete unit of study requirements as a result of COVID-19 school closures?
The same exemption applies when students are unable to complete units of study leading to units of credit for a diploma. Likewise, career and technical education students may be exempted from unit of study and/or work-based learning experience requirements if they otherwise achieve the learning outcomes for the portion of such unit of study and/or work-based learning requirement(s) completed.
Where can school districts and teachers learn more about how to engage students being instructed remotely?
Continuity of Learning – Students with Disabilities
What are the expectations regarding the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities during COVID-19 school closures?
In addition, care must be taken to ensure that school digital learning platforms are free of barriers that make accessing content and materials for some students with disabilities, including English Language Learners with disabilities. For students with an individualized education program (IEP) that includes the use of assistive technology in school and home, it would be appropriate to continue to utilize assistive technology as part of continuity of learning.
How can school districts provide remote special education and related services required to continue the provision of a free appropriate education (FAPE) to students with disabilities?
For students with an individualized education program (IEP) that includes the use of assistive technology in school and home, it would be appropriate to continue to use assistive technology as part of continuity of learning.
In addition, many disability-related modifications and services can be effectively provided online, including extension of times for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.
How can school districts address remotely the needs of students with disabilities who do not benefit from distance learning as well as others?
Can a school district deliver special education and related services remotely even if a student’s individualized education plan (IEP) does not provide for it?
As such, school districts should consider telepractice as an alternative option for the delivery of related services, including bilingual related services.
Overall, school districts and parents are encouraged to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with disabilities. They should consider the use of practices such as:
- Distance instruction
- Tele-therapy and Tele-intervention
- Digital platform meetings
- Secure online options for data tracking
- Low-tech strategies that can provide for an exchange of curriculum-based resources, instructional packets, projects, and written assignments.
Are students with disabilities enrolled by their parents in a nonpublic school entitled to special education services during COVID-19 school closures?
What remedies will be available for students with disabilities who do not receive services for an extended period of time or who do not benefit as much as others from remote learning?
Is there guidance on the provision of services to preschool students with disabilities?
Students with Disabilities – Compliance with IDEA Timelines
Questions have come up regarding what flexibility, if any, is available to school districts during COVID-19 school closures with respect to the timelines set by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the conduct of evaluations and reevaluations, annual reviews, resolution sessions and due process hearings. Below are some answers. Overall, however, both federal and state guidance encourage school districts work with parents to reach mutually agreeable extensions of time, as appropriate.
Evaluations and Reevaluations
The State Education Department recommends that school districts exceeding timelines for initial evaluations and reevaluations create a template document to assist staff in documenting decisions made, why timelines were exceeded, and documentation of parent participation and consent through temporary alternate methods such as email or notes.
Program and Service Arrangements
Pursuant to recent amendments to commissioner’s regulations adopted by the Board of Regents at their April 6, 2020 meeting, those 60 school day periods will not include any day(s) that the school is closed pursuant to a COVID-19 Executive Order.
In a similar fashion, school boards traditionally have 30 school days from receipt of a recommendation from the committee on special education to place a student in an approved private school to arrange for such a placement. Pursuant to recent amendments to commissioner’s regulations adopted by the Board of Regents at their April 6, 2020 meeting, the 30 school day period will not include any day(s) that the school is closed pursuant to a COVID-19 Executive Order.
Committee on special education (CSE) annual review meetings
Due process hearings
- Conduct special education due process hearings by video conference, and
- Grant extensions beyond the customary 30 days for the length of time schools are closed but not more than 60 days.
English Language Learners
Unit of study requirements
English language proficiency assessment
Compliance with Part 154 timelines
- The English Language Learner identification process
- Parental notification and information
- English as a New Language/Bilingual Education placement
Will the Grades 3-8 state assessments be administered during the 2019-2020 school year?
- NYS Grades 3-8 English Language Arts Tests
- NYS Grades 3-8 Mathematics Tests
- NYS Grade 4 Elementary-Level Science Test
- NYS Grade 8 Intermediate-Level Science Test
- NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSESLAT) in Grades K-12
- NYS Alternate Assessment (NYSAA) for students with severe cognitive disabilities in Grades 3-8 and high school
Will Regents exams be administered during the June 2020 examination period?
Diploma and Graduation Requirements
What measures will be used to award high school diplomas during the 2019-2020 school year?
According to State Education Department guidance, the modifications apply to all students enrolled in grades 7-12 during the 2019-2020 school year who were intending to participate in one or more of the June 2020 Regents Examinations.
What are the modified requirements that students must meet to earn a high school diploma?
- The student is currently enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and will have earned credit in such course of study by the end of the 2019-20 school year; or
- The student is in grade 7, is enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and will have passed such course of study by the end of the 2019-20 school year; or
- The student is currently enrolled in a course of study culminating in a Regents examination and has failed to earn credit by the end of the school year. Such student returns for summer instruction to make up the failed course and earn the course credit and is subsequently granted diploma credit in August 2020; or
- The student was previously enrolled in the course of study leading to an applicable Regents examination, has achieved course credit, and has not yet passed the associated Regents examination but intended to take the test in June 2020 to achieve a passing score.
According to a State Education Department fact sheet, the exemption from examination satisfies the assessment requirements for any diploma type, including a local, Regents or Regents with advanced designation diploma.
More detailed information on how the Regents examination exemption applies in the context of graduation pathway assessments, career development and occupational studies (CDOS) credential, the use of safety nets, and diploma endorsements including honors, mastery and CTE technical endorsements, can be found in a State Education Department fact sheet on “Regents Examination and Graduation Requirements Questions Related to COVID-19 Closure”. That fact sheet issued April 7, 2020 is available at the Department’s COVID-19 website.
How can students participating in remote learning during COVID-19 school closures earn diploma credit?
In addition, recent amendments to commissioner’s regulations adopted by the Board of Regents at their April 6, 2020 meeting provide that a student may be exempted from any requirement(s) for units of study leading to units of credit for a diploma if he or she is unable to meet such unit of study requirement due to school closures directed by a COVID-19 Executive Order, provided the student otherwise achieves the learning outcomes for the portion of such unit of study completed.
What should school districts that include Regents examination scores in the final course grade calculation do to determine whether a student has achieved the learning outcomes for the course?
Are students eligible for an exemption from a science Regents exam if they were unable to complete the hours of laboratory experience required for admission to such exam due to COVID-19?
Must school districts keep a record of the exemptions from Regent examination graduation requirements?
In addition, student transcripts should not reflect an examination score for any examination for which the student is exempted.
Emotional Support for Students
How can school districts help support students as they transition to the realities of remote learning?
To that end, Department guidance recommends that school districts should consider offering explicit online SEL or mental health education lessons, or incorporate opportunities to practice SEL competencies within academic subject areas.
How can school leaders help support students with COVID-19 afflicted individuals at home?
How can school districts provide support for student families?
In addition, using virtual community circles, districts could offer all adults and students an opportunity to be heard, and to voice their experience and concerns.
Are there any student privacy concerns that school districts need to be mindful of with respect to the use of online learning platforms?
What constitutes personally identifiable information?
In what ways do federal and state laws protect student personally identifiable information?
New York’s Education Law § 2-d permits the use or disclosure of a student’s personally identifiable information for an administrative purpose authorized or required by law by a person acting exclusively in the capacity of an educational agency employee. However, the information disclosed must be limited to what is necessary to comply with the law’s requirements. According to State Education Department guidance, school districts should ensure that requests for personally identifiable information be in writing, the identity of the person requesting the information is reasonably verified, maintain a record of the request, and that they retain the information disclosed.
What are some examples of measures that school districts using online learning platforms can take to protect student privacy?
- De-identifying data to prevent the public disclosure of student personally identifiable information, and
- Using encryption or an equivalent technical control that renders personally identifiable information unusable, unreadable or indecipherable to unauthorized persons when transmitted electronically.
To protect student privacy, it is recommended that school districts allow only the use of online learning platforms that have been previously approved by the district in accordance with applicable law and regulations.
School Performance Accountability
Will there be any adjustment to the performance levels expected from schools, school districts and students for federal accountability purposes under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)?
- Commissioner will not conduct school and school district performance reviews using 2019-20 school year results
- Accountability status of public schools and school districts for 2020-21 school year will be the same as for the 2019-2020 school year
- 2018-2019 school year results will be used in instances where 2019-2020 results would have been used.
In addition, upon a finding of good cause, the commissioner may modify for the 2019-2020 through 2021-2022 school years any timelines pertaining to required notifications, plans, reports, or implementation of activities.
School Elections and Budget Votes
Will there be school board elections in 2020?
In addition, the Order indicates that such elections and budget votes are subject to further directives as to the timing, location or manner of voting.
What should school board candidates do regarding the collection of nominating petition signatures?
Prior to the Order, NYSSBA had issued a statement discouraging the in-person collection of nominating petition signatures as a health safety precaution to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
School Construction Projects
Pursuant to COVID-19 Executive Order 202.6, all employers were directed to reduce their in-person workforce. Any essential business or entity providing essential services or functions are not subject to this in-person restriction including, in part, construction. The Empire State Development Corporation was designated to make determinations as to whether businesses other than those specifically listed in the Order may be deemed essential. Questions arose regarding the application of the Order to school construction projects. Following are some basic answers.
Can school construction projects continue during school closures or must they be shut down?
What is considered an essential construction project?
APPR and tenure decisions
Questions have come up regarding the incapacity to finalize the APPR evaluation process for the 2019-2020 school year due to an inability to complete all the required observations as a result of the COVID-19 school closures, and the lack of state test scores that affect other components of the APPR process. Additional questions concern how to make tenure determinations without the availability of final APPR ratings.
While answers to these questions remain pending at the time this FAQ document is being release, the State Education Department has been working on possible solutions. However, resolution of these issues involves modifications to statutory provisions which would need to be suspended by an Executive Order.
There has been some confusion regarding this matter because at their April 6, 2020 meeting, the Board of Regents adopted amendments to the APPR regulations. However, those amendments were adopted in response to legislative changes enacted by the 2019-2020 State Budget. Furthermore, in the item presented to the Board of Regents at the April 6 meeting, interim commissioner Shannon Tahoe expressly stated that:
Due to the closure of schools declared by the Governor pursuant to Executive Order(s) for the COVID-19 crisis, the Department recognizes that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for districts to implement their annual professional performance reviews in the 2019-2020 school year since State assessments have been suspended this year and many observations may not be able to be conducted before the end of the school year. As a result, the Department will be seeking an Executive Order from the Governor to waive the requirements of Education Law 3012-d.
NYSSBA will continue to monitor developments and provide you with answers as soon as they become available.
Continued payment to employees
The answer to these questions could depend on interpretations of provisions within applicable collective bargaining agreements. In addition, pursuant to Section 18006 of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act school districts receiving funds under the Education Stabilization Fund shall “to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees…during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.” The Act, however, fails to define the meaning of “to the greatest extent practicable”.
Therefore, school districts are advised to consult with their school attorneys on how to proceed.
Questions have come up regarding how COVID-19 school closures affect school district service contracts. For example, do districts have to continue to pay transportation contractors while schools are closed?
The answer could depend on interpretations of the language of the service contract itself. In addition, pursuant to Section 18006 of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act school districts receiving funds under the Education Stabilization Fund shall “to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its…contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.” The Act, however, fails to define the meaning of “to the greatest extent practicable”.
The answer also could depend on whether continuing to pay contractors while schools are closed is deemed to constitute a violation of the state’s prohibition against gifts of public funds.
Therefore, school districts are advised to consult with their school attorneys on how to proceed.