What If Your District Shuts Down and Cannot Meet the 180 School Day Minimum for Instruction?
Empty Classroom

As you are all aware, a basic educational requirement in the State of Connecticut is that each school district must make a minimum of 180 days of instruction available to students each school year.  The COVID-19 situation is unprecedented, and it is expected that many, if not all, school districts will close down for some period of time.  In recognition of this, the Governor issued an Executive Order on March 12 waiving the 180 days as long as certain conditions are met.  Additionally, districts may want to use some type of distance or alternative learning if there ends up being a longer shutdown.  In order for those days to count as days of instruction, districts must still receive a waiver from the State Department of Education. 

What did the Governor’s Executive Order do?  It immediately suspended the statutory provisions requiring a minimum of 180 days and 900 hours of instruction for schools that are closed for a period of time due to COVID-19 risks as long as upon reopening the school holds school sessions through June 30, 2020.

The Executive Order further provides that in the alternative, districts may satisfy the 180 days/900 hours requirement by “distance learning or other alternatives approved by the Commissioner of Education.”  The Executive Order goes on to state that “The Commissioner shall approve any such alternatives if they are filed with the State Department of Education on or before June 1, 2020 and consist of an attestation by the Superintendent or school leadership official, and signed by the Chair of the local or regional board of education, stating that the alternative methods comply with all legal and regulatory requirements.” The Executive Order can be found here:  https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Office-of-the-Governor/Executive-Orders/Lamont-Executive-Orders/Executive-Order-No-7.pdf

Guidance on distance learning has been issued by both the CT SDE and the US Department of Education (DOE).  Per CT SDE guidance, districts that intend to use distance learning must provide a signed statement attesting to the following:

  1. The district has considered all risks and factors, and
  • The district is complying with applicable state and federal laws and policies, including but not limited to employment laws, collective bargaining agreements and special education.

Districts must also consider equity in access to distance learning opportunities.  The SDE is not currently requiring districts who are considering distance learning to submit their planning documents to the SDE.  The waiver form and directions as to how to submit it can be found here:  https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Office-of-the-Governor/News/20200310-Connecticut-SDE-180-Day-Waiver-Form.pdf?la=en

The US DOE issued a Question and Answer guidance regarding the provision of special education services to students with disabilities during a shutdown.  The DOE directs that if school districts provide educational opportunities, such as distance learning, to general student populations during a shutdown, “the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE.”  It further directs that districts “must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504.” The US DOE guidance can be found here:  https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf 

Those with questions regarding a request for waiver or the many implications of such waivers, including but not limited to how it would affect existing union contracts and the delivery of special education services, should feel free to contact any of the attorneys in our office.

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Alerts, commentary, and insights from the attorneys of Pullman & Comley’s School Law practice on federal and Connecticut law as it pertains to educational institutions, whether those institutions be public school districts, private K-12 schools, or post-secondary colleges and universities.

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