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COVID-19 Instructional Guidance for Colorado Schools and Districts

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Overview

The Governor's Executive Order D 2020-041 (PDF) directed that all P-12 school districts and the Charter School Institute (CSI) close buildings for normal in-person instruction through the end of the school year 2020. The governor, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) and districts want to make sure efforts are made to bridge as much learning as possible during these unique circumstances through alternative learning opportunities through the end of the scheduled school year.

The Executive Order also directed CDE to issue guidance concerning the department's waiver of teacher-pupil instruction hours and teacher-pupil contact hours and concerning district plans for assisting families and students in accessing alternative learning during this time. The guidance below provides instructions for how to obtain a waiver from instructional time requirements, considerations for alternative learning plans, and information about possible approaches and resources.

CDE recognizes that the situation is continuously evolving, and accordingly, this guidance may change in the future, if the context changes (e.g. if the state or select communities are under more stringent stay at home orders).

As we have listened to the recent challenges of communities, families, students and educators, several important themes have come up that should guide decisions during this unprecedented time:

  • Recognize the severe disruption and thus anxiety many people, including staff and students, are feeling at this time. This will impact teaching and learning.
  • Families have different circumstances that will impact their ability to guide learning of students (work obligations, child care concerns, internet connectivity, access to devices, etc.)
  • During this time, recognize the importance of local decision making to serve very diverse local needs.
  • Emphasize relationships and support of one another in this new environment.
  • Focus on essential learning and engagement for students; less is more.
  • Be flexible and try to adapt when needs arise.
  • Do your best to support all populations of students and spend more time focusing on students who will need educators most in this unprecedented time.
  • Support and proactively communicate with teachers and staff as they navigate new methods and platforms for teaching students.
  • Extend grace to all in these unique and trying times, especially as we work together to figure out the best ways forward.

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How can districts obtain a waiver from instructional time requirements?

CDE will be providing a statewide waiver from instructional hours and days requirements (C.R.S. 22-32-109(1)(n)) with the expectation that every district communicates to CDE their plans to support learning through the scheduled end of the school year if in-person instruction does not resume. CDE wants to make this as easy as possible, so in order to minimize time spent on reporting to CDE, each district will simply need to submit a copy of one example of communications that the district has shared, or will share, with students and families regarding their alternative learning plan.  If your district is struggling to keep alternative learning opportunities going through the end of the year, please contact your Field Services or Turnaround support manager.

By sharing an example of communications with students and families, CDE can help make connections across districts, understand the diverse landscape of learning needs, offer more targeted supports, gather best practices and anticipate future policy decisions. Districts are not required to submit every communication; submissions should reflect districts' most representative communication regarding alternative learning plans. If district communications to students and families do not address district charter schools, districts may attach individual communications from charter schools.

CDE will not be requiring a submission or tracking of attendance for individual students. With that in mind, we believe attendance or participation information will be helpful for districts in identifying possible areas of need to ensure all students are able to stay actively engaged in remote learning. CDE will be leaving decisions on grades and grade-level promotion to local districts.

CDE is requesting that districts email a copy of their most representative communication(s) to CDE Chief Operating Officer, Jennifer Okes, at okes_j@cde.state.co.us by April 17, 2020. Please let Jennifer know if you anticipate any challenge in being able to share this information by that time and we can work with you on that.

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What should districts consider in developing plans for alternative learning?

CDE acknowledges how challenging and evolving these circumstances are and how varied our districts are in their resources and capabilities. When school cannot be conducted in-person, we know that it is not possible to provide the same educational experience. We know it will take creativity, ingenuity and flexibility to provide alternative learning opportunities for students and that those will differ based on local contexts and individual student needs.

The information below reflects our best knowledge at this point in time, based on guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (USDoE). CDE is eager to support schools' and districts' best efforts to continue to engage students in learning.

Equitable Access:

Educational services should strive to include equitable access to instruction for all students. Equitable access does not require that all students receive instruction in the same format (e.g., online instruction). Districts should consider the individual learning needs of students in determining how to best meet individual needs.

Appropriate Special Education and Related Services:

Schools must make every effort to provide appropriate special education and related services for students with disabilities. Districts may be flexible in determining how to provide these services and may determine other ways to meet the needs of students with disabilities based on the nature of a student's disability and individual needs of the student.

The USDoE released guidance to districts to ensure students with disabilities continue to receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the event of a school closure. You can find that guidance here (PDF). The USDoE subsequently released an additional fact sheet (PDF) on March 23rd that includes the following:

  • The USDoE recognizes that exceptional circumstances may affect how special education and related services and supports are provided to students with disabilities, and the Department will offer flexibility.
  • School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities, and the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services that can be provided via computer, internet, or phone.
  • Although online learning must be accessible to students with disabilities, federal law does not mandate the specific methodologies by which distance education must be provided.
  • In instances where technology is not accessible or where educational materials are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students.

CDE continues to work with the USDoE to understand any new guidance and/or flexibility schools may have in serving all our students. We will provide any updates in guidance as it becomes available. CDE has been communicating regularly with superintendents and special education directors about how to accommodate all students if or when e-learning is a central component of a district's alternative learning plan. For questions, please contact foster_p@cde.state.co.us.

At this time, CDE is not recommending that Administrative Units (AUs) issue prior written notices (PWNs) or complete Individualized Education Plan (IEP) amendments as a result of school closures related to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, depending on future guidance from the USDoE and the duration of school closures, additional guidance regarding special education placements may be forthcoming.

To support students with identified IEP-related services who may have a disruption in services, school districts have flexibility for the remainder of the school year to provide alternative services or delay services in coordination with the student's parents and IEP team. AUs may also consider, on an individualized basis, whether any gap in access to the curriculum or delay in services may be addressed with compensatory services in the future.

We know that these decisions may have costs associated with them; CDE continues to work with both the state and federal government in discussing whether additional resources will become available to districts. We do not have clear answers on this yet.

Supports for English Learners:

Schools must make every effort to provide support to English learners to allow them to access academic content. English language development is a part of universal instruction. Grade level content needs to be provided with adequate scaffolds and supports that English learners need to access the grade level content being provided by online/virtual programming.

Districts and schools that have agreements with the Department of Justice and/or Office for Civil Rights related to English learners and programming for this group of students should work directly with those agencies to determine the appropriate instructional program to provide.

CDE is awaiting responses to questions and associated guidance from the Office for Civil Rights and the US Department of Education related to educational programming and requirements for English learners and will make updates and communicate accordingly.

Student and Staff Well-being:

Especially in light of the psychological toll that this event will take on students, families, staff, and local communities, if in alignment with local policies and priorities, districts may want to consider ways to address these needs. We do know that community and a sense of belonging are crucial for all of us. We encourage schools to think about how to creatively continue to build community remotely. Additional resources on learning at home are available on the CDE website.

Data Privacy and Online Learning Platforms:

Districts should be mindful of how any eLearning platforms handle student data and personally identifiable information (PII). Both the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Colorado's Student Data Privacy and Transparency Act outline protections related to student PII and how districts engage with online service providers.

In addition and if applicable, districts should consider their ability to filter online content in accordance with the Children's Internet Protection Act. For support or questions, please contact Marcia Bohannon (bohannon_m@cde.state.co.us).

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In addition to the considerations above, what approaches and resources are available for districts to explore during this time?

Approaches and resources for students with online and computer access:

  • Purchasing or accessing free online materials from public and private providers. The Office of Standards and Instructional Support at CDE is reviewing instructional resources and will post them on the Learning at Home webpages to assist parents and educators in their efforts to keep students academically engaged during this time when school routines have been disrupted. This page will also include a list of best practices for educating students at home. The Office of Standards and Instructional support staff may also be available to support districts with their remote learning plans, in regards to alignment to the state standards, with daily office hours from 10-11;
  • Using web-based platforms (Zoom, Adobe Connect, WebEx, etc.) to allow teachers to provide direct, real-time instruction and pre-recording sessions or facilitate online chats, discussion boards, wikis, Google Classroom, etc. while considering student data privacy requirements;
  • Conducting office hours online, including one on one and small group time for targeted coaching and consulting on learning resources or support with troubleshooting technology. If applicable in your district, a tech support team could be on-hand to support students and staff or the vendors may be able to provide services;
  • Establishing partnerships with online platform providers to support the IT components of online learning, allowing teachers to focus on content and pedagogy; and/or
  • Sharing teachers who are exceptionally capable of providing online instruction or creating avenues for these teachers to share best practices, so that teachers do not have to become immediate experts in every aspect of remote learning.

Approaches and resources for students with limited technology or online capabilities, or who will struggle to access instruction in an online environment:

  • Providing paper packets or other physical materials to students and families, including through the use of pick up and drop off points, per the current social distancing and other guidance from the public health department;
  • Identifying project-based learning that can occur with resources families have at home and ways to use everyday activities as learning opportunities;
  • Conducting check-ins, either one-on-one or in groups via phone or text; and/or
  • Establishing a hotline for students to use in connecting with school personnel who can help troubleshoot or identify options.
  • For students with smartphone access:
    • Delivering instruction via podcast; and/or
    • Sending or uploading student video recordings of presentations or performances to teachers for feedback.

For students with online access, but no devices:

  • Distributing resources across schools within a district, or across districts, if additional devices are available;
  • Applying to the Colorado COVID-19 Relief Fund (CCRF). CCRF's purpose is to raise funds and coordinate the allocation of contributions to support unmet needs of communities and agencies impacted by COVID-19 in both response and recovery. The fund will not provide direct assistance to individuals but to organizations providing direct assistance. Sign up under the “Organization in Need of Funding” section at Help Colorado Now to receive notification when the application becomes available; and/or
  • Using the school building to allow limited numbers of students (no more than 10 and with proper social distancing) to attend in person, if approved by the public health department, and staff are properly supported given the public health guidance.
  • CDE is working to determine if there are other sources and resources for providing devices to families

For students with access to devices, but not the internet:

  • Using the school building to allow limited numbers of students (no more than 10 and with proper social distancing) to attend in person and access the internet, or other resources, if approved by the health department, and staff are properly supported given the public health guidance.
  • Using the school building (or other community buildings) as wi-fi hot spots, where families can access the internet while sitting safely in a car in the parking lot; and/or
  • Accessing low or no cost internet resources, available through:
    1. Internet Essentials - Comcast
    2. EmpowerED 2.0 - T-Mobile

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Where can I find further information?

As noted above, this document reflects the most recent information we have (as of April 10, 2020). As circumstances related to COVID-19 evolve and information becomes available about what that means for our schools, CDE will do its best to share this information quickly.

There are several topics that CDE is gathering information about and working to address, including additional or re-purposed sources of federal and state funding and requirements around federal and state end-of-year reporting.

As new guidance becomes available, CDE will share that through the special CDE Updates to superintendents and will post these communications on CDE's COVID-19 policy guidance for schools webpage.

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