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Education Update

Below is the current Education Update.  Click here for a list of other recent updates.

March 23, 2020

Coronavirus Update…
Resources –

* School Closure Guidance: Last week the PDE created a web page that will provide continuing guidance and FAQs to school districts on issues related to school closures. Click here to access the information.
* List of Resources: PASA has set up a web page of links to resources concerning the Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparation. This includes a continually updated list of FAQs developed by PASA and seven other education associations in consultation with the PDE as a response to school leader questions and concerns, along with guidance form the PDE and USDE, videos of PASA Daily Briefings and other important updates from the state and federal levels. This page will be updated daily.
Assessments -
* USDE and Assessments: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on Friday students impacted by school closures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. Upon a proper request, the Department will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year. (from a press release, 3/20/20)
* Canceling PA State Assessments: Last week Secretary of Education Rivera announced the cancelation of all PSSA testing and Keystone exams for the 2019-20 school year, including the PA Alternate System of Assessment, as a result of COVID-19. The PDE intends to submit the requisite waivers to the USDE and is monitoring emerging federal guidance and will pursue appropriate waivers to the fullest extent allowable.
Legislation - 
* PA School Code Legislation: Last week Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie), chair of the House Education Committee, and Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford/Cambria/Clearfield), chair of the Senate Education Committee, released cosponsorship memos for School Code bills that would address many of the concerns school leaders have concerning mandated systems, programs and regulations during the coronavirus crisis. The proposed bills would address concerns raised by PASA and seven other education associations and include such issues as the 180-day requirement, FIDs and others. (PASA had asked members to contact their lawmakers on these and other issues.) Click here for the sponsorship memo for the House bill, and click here for information on the Senate bill.
* Emergency Coronavirus Legislation: Last week President Trump signed emergency coronavirus legislation that eases rules for meals schools provide to students, and provides certain leave benefits related to schools. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed the Senate by a vote of 90-8 on Wednesday after passing the House last weekend. The legislation incorporates three House pieces of legislation designed to make it easier for students to access food, including those typically served by schools. Read the rest of the story: “Trump Signs Coronavirus Bill With Provisions on Paid Leave, Student Meals” (from Education Week, 3/18/20).
Providing Special Education Programs & Services – With a pandemic pressing tens of thousands of the nation's school districts into extended closures, special education administrators across the nation are wrestling with a weighty dilemma: how to provide services to students with disabilities. Federal law mandates that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in everything schools provide—including online learning. But a mix of factors—lack of clarity in state laws, unclear guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, and a reluctance to run afoul of federal law—has left some school districts struggling to get their online learning programs off the ground. Uncertainty has handcuffed some districts, forcing them to shut down their online learning operations, at least temporarily. Read the rest of the story: “How Will Schools Provide Special Education During the Coronavirus Crisis?” (from Education Week, 3/19/20).
E-Rate Flexibility – The Federal Communications Commission has announced it is waiving rules for the E-Rate program to allow companies new freedom to provide schools with free services and equipment to improve internet connectivity. The waiver was issued by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, as districts across the country scramble to explore virtual learning amid disruptions caused by the coronavirus. The agency said the waiver will remain in place until Sept. 30. Read the rest of the story: “Feds Give E-Rate Applicants New Flexibility to Get Help From Vendors” (from EdWeek Market Brief, 3/19/20).
AP Testing All in-person Advanced Placement tests have been canceled this year, the College Board announced on Friday. Instead, tests will be offered in 45-minute online exams, and students will have two date options to take each test later this spring. The College Board has also extended the deadlines for portfolios in AP subjects that don't hold in-person tests, to May 26. The announcement is the latest development in a college admissions testing season that has been upended in response to the coronavirus. The College Board has also canceled multiple spring SAT test dates, and the ACT has rescheduled its April testing. The new, modified AP exams will only cover content that most teachers would have covered by early March, according to the announcement. Content that will be covered for each course is listed on the College Board website. (from Education Week, 3/20/20)
Equity Issues –
* Emergency Plans & Equity: Districts' varying responses to the coronavirus pandemic is showing, yet again, how a multitude of disparities in terms of funding, staffing, and support play out for students, a new Education Week survey shows. Among the findings: Half of those surveyed said that their district had an emergency plan that addressed "some aspects" of pandemics or disease outbreaks, but nearly a third said that they either did not have such a plan or the plan did not address pandemics. In addition, the "digital divide" is real and it's starkly playing out as schools close. Read the rest of the story: “It's Not Just a 'Digital Divide': Survey Shows Variations in Districts' Coronavirus Response” (from Education Week, 3/16/20).
* Inequities and Online Instruction: The Philadelphia School District will not offer remote instruction during the coronavirus shutdown, the superintendent announced Wednesday, citing equity concerns in a city where many students lack computers or high-speed internet at home. School districts nationwide have been wrestling with the same issues as they explore ways to keep children engaged as classrooms are shuttered for weeks or longer. In Philadelphia, where some teachers had been offering forms of optional remote instruction on their own, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said at a City Hall news conference that no students will be required to log on to a computer or submit assignments. "If that’s not available to all children, we cannot make it available to some,” Hite said. Read the rest of the story: “Philadelphia Schools, Citing Inequity, Won't Teach Online” (from Education Week, 3/19/20).
Public Schools: An Absolute Necessity – This was the week that American schools across the country closed their doors. It was the week that our public schools—often dismissed as mediocre, inequitable, or bureaucratic—showed just how much they mean to American society by their very absence. The unprecedented shutdown of public and private schools in dozens of states last week has illuminated one easily forgotten truism about schools: They are an absolute necessity for the functioning of civic culture, and even more fundamentally than that, daily life. Read the rest of the story: “When Schools Shut Down, We All Lose” (from Education Week, 3/20/20).
In Legislative News…
Last week both the House and Senate were in session for just one day each, the House on Monday and the Senate on Wednesday.
During the House session, new lawmaker Roni Green from Philadelphia, who recently won a special election, was sworn into office. Although numerous lawmakers were not present, the House did pass a rules change that would provide guidelines for floor voting and committee action remotely during a declared emergency. The chamber did not act on any bills specifically related to the coronavirus emergency, but the new rules will allow the chamber to consider emergency legislation more quickly.
Likewise, the Senate was in session briefly on Wednesday, when they also passed rules changes that will allow for virtual session. Speaking with the press that day, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) stated that their priorities moving forward include school code issues, unemployment compensation, budgeting flexibility, and the Election Code (i.e. primary date).
This week both the House and Senate remain scheduled to be in session. At this point, what we expect the focus to be is moving the state primary from April to June. We believe that the governor and legislative leaders are continuing to negotiating details of a School Code bill and other coronavirus-related legislation.
In State News…
State Board of Education Update – The State Board of Education last week approved course equivalencies and established scores representing alternatives beyond the Keystone Exams by which high school students may demonstrate readiness for postsecondary success, and, as defined in Act 158 of 2018, create additional pathways for meeting state graduation requirements beginning with the Class of 2022. Established scores were approved relevant to two pathways established by Act 158: the Alternative Assessment Pathway (including SAT, PSAT and ACT scores) and the Evidence-Based Pathway (ACT WorkKeys assessment, SAT Subject Test, AP exam and IB exam). In addition to approving the established scores, the Board also approved the list of additional evidence that may be utilized under the Evidence-Based Pathway. Click here to read more.
In Other National News…
Supreme Court Update – The U.S. Supreme Court announced last Monday that it was postponing its upcoming session of oral arguments because of concerns about the coronavirus. The March 23-April 1 sitting was to include oral arguments in an important education case about whether religious schools are exempt from employment discrimination claims brought by lay teachers. Educators have also been awaiting decisions in other cases of interest, including those involving a Montana tax credit program for donations to private school scholarships; cases about whether federal civil rights laws cover gay and transgender employees; and a case about whether President Donald Trump's administration properly rescinded the immigration program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  The announcement did not rule out the issuance of opinions during the postponement period. The court did say that the justices would meet this Friday for a scheduled private conference and would release orders electronically on Monday, March 23. However, "some Justices may participate remotely by telephone.” (from Education Week, 3/16/20)
On the Calendar…
March 26          Women’s Caucus Board meeting (virtual)
April 10             PASA office closed
April 16             Women’s Caucus Board meeting (virtual)
(pdf for printing)