Education Decisions in the Wake of COVID-19

By Jen Story

Fellow advocates,

I write to provide a few updates and red flags regarding plans for the upcoming school year in light of ongoing coronavirus spikes.

These updates are directly relevant to any education clients you currently have in your offices, and also to any other clients who may have school-aged children in the home.

 

  1. Gov. Cooper has announced that the default plan for schools will be “Plan B,” which requires a hybrid in-person/remote plan to be created locally. This plan will enable districts and charter schools to operate at no more than 50% capacity whenever in-person instruction occurs.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, July 14, Gov. Cooper announced that the default school reopening plan for N.C. would be “Plan B.” Under Plan B, districts and charter schools are directed to provide a hybrid of remote and in-person learning options for students, with physical school buildings operating at a maximum of 50% capacity and schools implementing social distancing and mask requirements throughout school buildings and on transportation. More information about the specific requirements that districts and charter schools must follow in compliance with Plan B can be found in this guidance document, “Lighting the Way,” from North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina State Board of Education.

School districts/charter schools have full discretion in how they design their hybrid plans, as long as their plans adhere to the key social distancing and capacity requirements. Below are some examples of how various districts are approaching their hybrid plans:

  • Durham Public Schools is requiring that all high school students attend remotely, while K-8 students will be educated in-person in smaller classes spread out across all district schools (elementary, middle, and high).
  • Wake County Public Schools has split students at all levels into three cohorts and will be rotating those students through a schedule that includes one week in school followed by two weeks of remote learning.
  • Chapel Hill-Carrboro Public Schools will be rotating students across levels into and out of schools on a schedule that has one group attending on Monday and Tuesday, another attending Thursday and Friday, and everyone being remote on Wednesdays, so that schools can be cleaned.

To find out more about your district’s Plan B framework, you should check the school’s main website and social media platform.  If you have trouble locating that information or have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my colleagues at ACS for assistance.

While Plan B is the default option, individual districts/charter schools may still opt to move forward with Plan C, which requires that all schooling be carried out remotely.  (“School districts will have the option of Plan C—all remote learning—if that’s best for them.”) Note that Schools districts may not opt for Plan A, which would bring students back to schools operating at full or near-full capacity.  Individual school districts and charter schools have significant discretion to determine whether to opt for a fully remote option under Plan C, however. To that end, if your families and community groups with whom you are working have strong preferences about the need for districts to operate fully remotely, they should convey those to school district leadership as soon as possible.

Finally, Gov. Cooper also stressed that the default plan for the state is subject to change and that, if metrics worsen, the plan may need to be changed to Plan C.

  1. Students should be able to voluntarily access remote options regardless of their district’s base plan, and in many districts, the enrollment deadline for remote options is coming up soon.

In the press briefing, Gov. Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen also repeatedly noted that, regardless of the base hybrid plan, districts should still continue to offer fully remote options to any student who wants to choose that option. (“As a part of this plan, we want local school districts to provide a remote learning option for any child who chooses it.”) At this point, it is unclear whether that was a strongly worded recommendation or a mandate. However, given the fact that it was repeated multiple times, I would strongly encourage parents to zealously request an online option for their child if one hasn’t yet been offered, and they deem that to be the most appropriate.

Many districts have already created an online-only option along with an application process for that option. Many of those have deadlines coming up very soon (e.g., in Durham, the deadline is July 22, and in Wake, the deadline is July 20). Parents should look to their school and district website as soon as possible. Parents should also reach out to district leadership to learn more about online options and deadlines and to meet any upcoming deadlines. In some districts, virtual “open houses” are being held in the coming days to provide parents with more information about what the online programs will entail (see, e.g., Durham).

If you need support tracking down whether your district has a plan to offer remote instruction to any student who wants it, and if you want help drafting language that a parent can use to request an online option, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my colleagues at ACS for support. As we get more guidance re: the voluntary versus mandatory nature of the optional remote option described by the governor, we will go ahead and draft some stock language that can be utilized, if that would be helpful.

  1. Special Education students’ rights are still in effect: They must continue to receive the services required under their IEP to the greatest extent possible.

All special education rights remain intact, regardless of whether students will attend school in-person or through virtual means.  For more information about students’ special education rights and advocacy tips and tools, check out the following resources that ACS has created in recent months for parents and advocates:

Parent/Advocate Toolkit – Coronavirus and Special Education (English toolkit/Spanish toolkit): This toolkit provides summaries and tips related to special education rights during the coronavirus crisis. The toolkit answers common questions that students with disabilities may face during school closures. The toolkit also includes a sample letter/email for families to use to communicate with the school, and a sample special education service delivery tracker that can be copied and used every day to keep track of the services that a student with an IEP did and did not receive.

Parent Resource – Sample Email to Request an IEP Meeting or Phone Call (English version/Spanish version): This is a stand-alone, editable version of the sample letter/email for families of students with IEPs to use to communicate with their school.

Parent Resource – Sample Form to Track Your Student’s Special Education Services (English version/Spanish version): This is a stand-alone, editable version of the special education service delivery tracker for families of students with IEPs.

Video Resources for Parents and Advocates (These videos largely track the information included in the toolkits above, but are designed to be more accessible to a wider audience)

Know Your Rights in NC Public SchoolsCoronavirus and Special Education (English)

Know Your Rights in NC Public SchoolsCoronavirus and Special Education (Spanish) 

I hope that some of this will be helpful in your advocacy. Again, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or need assistance!

Email: JenR@LegalAidNC.org