State releases updated guidance on in-person, small group instruction

On Friday, Sept. 4, the California Department of  Public Health unveiled updated guidance on providing in-person instruction to small groups of students. The release, which came on the eve of Labor Day weekend, modified guidance introduced on Aug. 25. Among other, more modest changes, the new guidance adjusts criteria in two critical areas that have particular impact on special education, childcare and early education.

  • The new guidance states that, “Cohorts must be limited to no more than 14 children and youth and no more than two supervising adults, or a configuration of no more than 16 individuals total (children and youth or adults) in the cohort” (emphasis added). This clarifies the original definition of an acceptable cohort, which limited the number of adults to two per cohort. After reviewing the Aug. 25 guidance, it was argued that the initial restriction of two adults per cohort posed problems for special education as it allowed for fewer adults than needed to provide instruction and support in some special education settings, particularly those designed for students with more severe disabilities. The new guidance accounts for that by permitting more adults to be in the cohort as long as the total number of individuals in the group does not exceed 16. For example, under the new guidance, a cohort could include seven students and seven aides, and a teacher for a total of eight adults — six more adults than would have been allowed under the August guidance.
  • The updated guidance also offers more flexibility on instruction in childcare centers and preschools by revising the language so that one adult can work with multiple cohorts on the same day — if the students in the cohort are no older than five. Although LEAs are advised to avoid changing staff assignments “to the extent practicable,” the revised guidance provides some leeway on this point. Under the new guidance, “adults should be assigned to one cohort and must work solely with that cohort, unless serving children five years of age and younger in which case an adult may be assigned to no more than 2 cohorts” (emphasis added). This exemption does not apply to substitutes who are covering for short‐term staff absences as the substitutes are restricted to one cohort of children per day.

The complete, updated guidance also addresses measures for preventing cohort interaction and maintaining physical distance measures while on campus. The California Department of Education will review the new guidance in a webinar on Wednesday, September 9, from 9:30–10:30 a.m. Confirmed speakers include State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond; Ben Chida, Chief Deputy Cabinet Secretary, Office of the California Governor; and Dr. Erica Pan, California State Epidemiologist and the Acting State Health Officer at the CDPH. Register here.