Update on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Considerations Relating to NY Charter Schools

The following Coronavirus (COVID-19) update for New York Charter Schools reflects where things stand as of March 15, 2020 at 10:00 p.m.

NYC CLOSING DISTRICT SCHOOLS

As you may be aware, Mayor De Blasio has just announced that public schools will be closed starting March 16 until at least April 20 if not longer.

https://www.schools.nyc.gov/school-life/health-and-wellness/coronavirus-update

GOVERNOR REQUIRING ALL SCHOOLS IN NYC AND NEARBY COUNTIES TO CLOSE

Governor Cuomo also announced that all schools in NYC, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk must close tomorrow for at least 2 weeks.

 https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-all-new-york-city-westchester-suffolk-and-nassau-public-schools-will

STATE SOFTENS VARIOUS RULES RELATING TO VIRUS

On Friday, the State Education Department issued guidance providing flexibility regarding the handling various elements of state law relating to the coronavirus, including:

SPECIAL EDUCATION GUIDANCE

Late last week the US Department of Education issued guidance on serving students with disabilities during school closures related to the virus.

https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf

Paul O’Neill also drafted a memo put out by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools addressing issues that schools should understand for meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the crisis and suggesting various steps. It incorporates the new federal guidance:

https://www.ncsecs.org/news/covid-19-and-students-with-disabilities/

NOTE ON CHARTER SCHOOLS OFFERING VIRTUAL INSTRUCTION

One outstanding issue related to school closures is that NY’s charter law has a problematic provision that may make engaging in purely online instruction tricky under that law. It states that,

“An education corporation operating a charter school shall be authorized to operate more than one school or house any grade at more than one site, provided that a charter must be issued for each such additional school or site…” (Section 2853(1)(b-1).

This has been interpreted by the State Education Department and SUNY in the past as limiting the ability of NY charter schools to offer a purely online program, since it could be argued that students accessing it are based in lots of places and therefore are “housed at more than one site” with no additional charter issuing. As of last week, our conversations with relevant authorities suggest that this has yet to be fully worked out, but all relevant authorities want schools to do all they can to meet student needs in the face of the crisis and are not getting in the way of charter schools offering online instruction during a building closure. In a crisis there are often ambiguities and this is one that may simply have to be endured.

If you have any questions about these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact any of the below members of Barton Gilman’s New York education practice. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Paul O’Neill at poneill@bglaw.com or 212.792.6246

Jaime Fernand at jfernand@bglaw.com or 212.792.6246

Lisa Holtzmuller at lholtzmuller@bglaw.com or 617.654.8200

About Barton Gilman

Barton Gilman provides the full scope of legal services to education clients – including traditional and non-traditional public schools, charter schools, charter management organizations, private schools, education advocacy organizations and other education-related organizations – throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. For more information, please click here.