New CSBA webinar series brings members up to speed on governing during COVID-19

Guidance aimed to help members navigate challenges caused by the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the daily lives of students, families, teachers and staff, governance teams have been forced to make decisions based on rapidly evolving information from health officials and state and federal leadership that significantly affect their communities.

CSBA is hosting a series of webinars to help local educational agencies best navigate the uncertainty of school closures caused by the novel coronavirus as it relates to state and federal waivers, special education, distance learning and numerous other topics vital to its members.

Kicking off the series April 27 with an examination of state and federal guidance related to COVID-19, CSBA experts provided attendees with an overview of grading, testing, child care and emergency federal funding, as well as waivers granted thus far. Most importantly, panelists explained how all these changes impact LEAs and the role of district and county office governance teams.

An overview of executive orders

Executive Order N-56-20, issued April 23 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, waives required physical education minutes and annual physical fitness testing that require on-site instruction, and made changes to Local Control and Accountability Plan submissions to accommodate the current climate.

The executive order extends this budget year’s LCAP from July 1, 2020, to Dec. 15, 2020; waives certain timeline requirements for county and state review of LCAPs and budget expenditures for this year; and requires a written report explaining changes to program offerings made in response to the major impacts of COVID-19 on students and families. That report, to be published for local communities by July 1, 2020, must include descriptions of how the needs of unduplicated pupils are being met.

This should come as a welcome announcement for districts and county offices of education, said Dennis Meyers, Assistant Executive Director of Governmental Relations, noting that it clears some tasks off the plate of administrators for now so they can address critical, immediate needs of students and families. “This is intended to provide relief during this difficult time,” Meyers said. “But then in addition to that, is to at least provide some transparency immediately for your parents and for your community.”

Other executive orders relevant to LEAs include:

  • Executive Order N-26-20: continues funding and requires services to continue
  • Executive Order N-30-20: suspension of testing
  • Executive Order N-45-20: provision of child care to essential workers
  • Executive Order N-47-20: clarification of services to special populations

Board members should expect to see the list grow as the state begins to shift toward reopening businesses and schools and identify new needs and challenges.

“I think you’re going to see more executive orders through this next season, especially as the Governor starts looking at reopening the economy,” Meyers said. “There’s going to be things that he recognizes will have to be implemented quickly with regard to reopening businesses and provision of protective gear. Some of that will trickle down to schools.”

Special education services and distance learning

Among the most common and pressing concerns expressed by LEAs have been the delivery of special education services, considering the social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders in place throughout California. State and federal education department officials have said that they do not want regulations to stand in the way of good faith efforts to provide distance learning to students with disabilities, but that has not assuaged many concerns that LEAs have related to legal requirements they have to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

LEAs should focus on serving each and every student through distance learning while continuing to protect the health and safety of students and staff, said Kathryn Meola, CSBA General Counsel and Director of the Education Legal Alliance. While doing so may include providing services online or by telephone, it is important that schools identify when technology itself imposes a barrier and provide equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students.

Student Individualized Education Programs remain in effect during the current closures and services offered by a child’s IEP should be continued “to the greatest extent possible,” Meola said, but, when necessary, schools must work with families and gain written consent via a Prior Written Notice to amend a student’s IEP if services are unable to be provided in the same manner as they were prior to school closures.

Advocacy at the state and federal level

Despite an April 27 announcement from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declaring that her office would not seek congressional waivers to FAPE or least restrictive environment requirements of IDEA, CSBA Legislative Advocate Erika Hoffman said CSBA will continue to push for relief for LEAs.

CSBA had submitted to DeVos’ office waivers that districts and county offices would need to best continue providing educational services to all students. “One of the big ones that we’ve also got other state and national organizations in support of is holding school districts harmless for the issue of FAPE, and making sure that as long as districts put in a good faith effort that they would not be pulled into court or sued on the issue of not providing FAPE during school closures,” Hoffman said.

“There is also a push currently within Congress to include within the next big COVID bill funding for the E-rate program — about $2 billion. CSBA is pushing that,” she said. “There was legislation introduced by Rep. Meng out of New York, and we submitted under our federal partnership with the Association of California School Administrators a letter in support of this.”

At the state level, education funding is expected to dip significantly in response to the economic impact of COVID-19. CSBA will continue to advocate for funding for everything from technology to infrastructure to the additional cleaning supplies schools will need when they reopen.

Rather than rely on what is likely to be a reduced minimum allotment under Proposition 98, CSBA will be calling for a reallocation of the one-time funding for new programs included in Gov. Newsom’s January budget proposal to provide schools some flexibility as they adjust to new rules surrounding social distancing in schools and other challenges related to COVID-19, added Meyers.

“Our strategy is to really push the Legislature and the Governor to fund schools based on what you’re experiencing now through the COVID-19 crisis — not only what you’ve experienced since March 1, but  what you’re going to need to finish out this fiscal year and then reopen in the fall — and we know your costs are going to be a lot higher than they are right now,” Meyers explained.