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.
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.
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:
- Administration of State Assessments. While the USDOE’s March 12, 2020 Fact Sheet on Assessments and Accountability guidance requires states to administer the assessments, NYSED will apply for such waivers for schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances associated with COVID-19 to the greatest extent permitted by federal law. NYSED will apply for assessment waivers for schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances associated with COVID-19 to the greatest extent permitted by federal law.
- State Testing Makeup Windows. NYSED is extending as much as is feasible the make-up windows for the administration of the Grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Mathematics Tests as well as the scoring windows.
- 180-Day Requirements. Governor Executive Order No. 202.1 Through this order, the Governor has removed the obligation of schools to meet the requirement that public schools are in session for at least 180 days in the school year, where a health emergency keeps them from doing so. http://www.p12.nysed.gov/sss/schoolhealth/schoolhealthservices/coronavirus/nysed-covid-19-second-guidance-3-13-20.pdf
- Open Meetings Law Flexibility. Flexibility has been provided for meetings subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law such that meetings by telephone are permitted during the crisis.
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.
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:
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.
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.