Last week, ISBE released the highly anticipated advice related to distance education for the 2021-2022 school year. We have been anticipating these guidelines since early summer, when the ISBE announced that the school, with few exceptions, would operate entirely in person this year. The guide reviews distance learning requirements, as well as information about other laws and policies that may offer options for home learning. The most critical development is the requirement that distance learning must include 5 hours per day of teaching and schoolwork and is available to students in quarantine or excluded in accordance with public health guidelines as well as for all students. students during an adaptive break.
Regarding distance learning, the new guidelines clarify and expand when schools should offer distance education to students. While previous advice remote instruction required for unvaccinated students quarantined in accordance with guidelines from a local health department or the IDPH, new guidelines no longer limit distance education to unvaccinated students and extend distance education to “excluded” students in accordance with guidelines public health. The changes specify that a student who must self-isolate due to symptoms or infection with COVID-19 must also receive distance education. The new guidelines further expand distance education to include students who are not attending in person due to an adaptive break by the district in consultation with the local health department. However, the guide does not explain the criteria for determining when an adaptive break is warranted or any link to an IDPH guide on the subject.
In the absence of ISBE guidelines, districts made their own plans for the brief and hopefully sporadic distance learning that would be needed when students were quarantined. Now the ISBE has announced specific requirements for distance learning, including 5 clock hours per day of teaching and schoolwork with a strong recommendation that at least 2.5 of those hours be learning synchronous with interaction between students and teachers.
Districts can (but are not required to) establish distance education programs by policy and council resolution. Districts that do so may provide distance education to students when the district and parents determine that the student meets the criteria for the program and that the program will best meet the student’s individual needs. The criteria for participation should be described in district policy and should include consideration of the student’s past attendance, disciplinary record and academic background; criteria may include consideration of the medical needs of the student or a family member. The guidelines also remind districts that home / hospital education requirements remain the same and refer to a Faq on the subject before the pandemic.
Finally, the guidelines explain that districts can (but are not required to) adopt an e-learning program so that up to 5 e-learning days can be used instead of emergency days. As to whether eLearning Days can be used during COVID-related emergencies, the guidelines equate such a closure to an adaptive break, which should be determined in consultation with the local health department, and during which distance education must provide.
The guidance does not address special considerations for students with disabilities or other special populations, but districts should plan to meet the needs of all learners in the event of a quarantine, exclusion, or adaptive break. The ISBE concludes with a table comparing the requirements and applicability of distance learning of disaster proclamation, distance education programs, home / hospital services and learning in line.