COVID-19 Resources for Charter Schools

Information From The 2019-20 School Year

 

PA Schools Will Remain Closed for the Remainder of the 2019-20 School Year

On April 9, Governor Wolf and Secretary Rivera announced that all PA schools will remain CLOSED for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. You can find the press release from the Governor HERE. Please Note: Schools may continue serving students and families meals as they have been doing for the past several weeks.

The Governor has made it clear that, though schools will remain physically closed, schools should continue providing continuity of education to all students. We would like to remind our schools that their Continuity of Education Plans should be submitted to the PA Department of Education ASAP. You can find more information about drafting and submitting these plans below.

Though the 180-day requirement for schools has been waived under Act 13 of 2020, PCPCS recommends that our members adhere to the 2019-20 school calendar approved by each of their boards. We are recommending that nothing change in the number of school days you have planned between now and your scheduled last day.


Emergency School Code Law

The Governor signed Senate Bill 751 into law (now Act 13 of 2020) which includes emergency School Code language addressing the COVID-19 shut down. Act 13 of 2020 provides for the following:

  • Ensures that no school will see any loss in subsidies, reimbursements, allocations, tuition or other payments from PDE or another school entity as a result of actions taken by the Secretary
    • Charter schools will not receive more or less per-student tuition payments then they otherwise would have been entitled to had the pandemic-related school closures not occurred. Tuition payments will be based upon the students enrolled as of the initial date of the closure (March 13, 2020).
  • Waives the 180-day requirement for all schools
  • Waives the minimum number of days of pre-kindergarten instruction required
  • Allows PDE to increase the allowable number of Flexible Instructional Days
  • Gives the Secretary the power to waive career and technical education program hours, the use of performance data in professional employee evaluation systems, and the 12-week student teacher preparation program requirement
  • No employee of any school entity (school district, IU, career and technical school, charter school, cyber charter school or regional charter school) can receive more or less compensation because of the pandemic
  • School entity employees will experience no loss of retirement benefits due to the pandemic of 2020
  • School entities are required to provide written notice to the parents of each special education student of their plan for ensuring each student receives a Free Appropriate Public Education (**Note: PCPCS recommends that this notice includes if the school plans to employ Planned Instruction, Enrichment or No Instruction as part of their Continuity of Education Plan. We encourage you to consult with your legal advisors regarding this requirement.)
  • Each school entity must make a good faith effort to provide for continuity of education during the closure, submit that plan to the Department of Education, and post it on their website
  • PDE must apply to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver of testing requirements
  • Professional educator’s continuing education compliance period is extended by one year
  • Nonpublic schools do not need to meet the minimum instruction time and do not need to administer standardized achievement tests

Continuity of Education

UPDATE: Secretary Rivera issued a new message for schools in which he stated that PDE expects that every school “offer planned instruction at every grade level for all students” for the remainder of the school year. This is different than PDE’s previous guidance which said that Continuity of Education Plans could include planned instruction, and/or enrichment and review. The message goes on to say that if any LEA has already submitted their Plan to PDE and it did not include planned instruction for every student in each grade level, they should update their plan and resubmit using the following email address: RA-EDCONTINUITYOFED@pa.gov. You can find the Secretary’s full message HERE.

Continuity of Education: Continuity of Education is the overall term for any educational practices that occur in the event of a prolonged school closure. It is important that students have the opportunity to maintain and develop skills while away from the customary school environment.

  • Planned Instruction: Planned Instruction is formal teaching and learning similar to that which occurs in a classroom setting. Within this process, teachers use planned courses of instruction of new concepts/skills aligned to grade level standards. Teachers assess the learning of their students and make adjustments to instruction based upon student progress. In order to receive grade and credit, students must attend regularly and complete the course requirements.

Every school (including brick-and-mortar and cyber charters) must submit a Continuity of Education Plan to the PA Department of Education and post the plan on their publicly accessible website. This was a requirement included in the emergency School Code bill signed into law over the weekend by Governor Wolf.

UPDATE: PDE has verified that this is the template that schools should use. PDE has not created or posted a template for schools to use in drafting their Continuity of Education Plans. However, several intermediate units have shared this “PDE-approved” template for their schools to use and provided their schools with this guidance document.

We have heard that the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) is requiring charters to submit their Continuity of Education Plans to them for approval. We asked PDE if they were aware of this and to clarify if charters need to get their plans approved by their authorizer. Here is the response we received: “My understanding is that this is not the case; however, SDP, as an authorizer, may wish to receive copies of these plans—we see that as a local matter (but also a good practice). We would have concerns if an authorizer was seeking to issue formal approval of charter schools’ plans, since the priority should be timely implementation of continuity of education.”

We also asked PDE if charter schools need to gain approval of their Continuity of Education Plans from their own Boards of Trustees: “PDE encourages all schools—both traditional and charter—to seek board approval of these plans, which will need to be: a) publicly posted; and b) filed with PDE per Act 13. Again, we’d emphasize the importance of timely implementation.”

REMINDER: School entities are required to provide written notice to the parents of each special education student of their plan for ensuring each student receives a Free Appropriate Public Education. The Allegheny IU has provided two example letters that we wanted to share (letter 1 and letter 2). **Note: PCPCS encourages you to consult with your legal advisors regarding this requirement.

Secretary Rivera posted a message for PA’s K-12 schools announcing that PDE had published voluntary resources for schools working on their Continuity of Education Plans. Included in his message was the following:

  • Online Learning Platforms– Beginning today, March 31, schools interested in establishing new course offerings or supplementing existing continuity of education programs can subscribe to the online learning platforms Odysseyware and Edgenuity. These platforms provide online access to coursework in English Language Arts, math, and many other subjects for students in grades K-5 and 6-12, respectively. There is no cost to schools to use these resources. If your school is interested in pursuing any of these resources, please complete and submit the survey you will receive from your local intermediate unit by noon on Friday, April 3.If you do not receive the survey, please contact the executive director of your local intermediate unit.
  • Public Broadcasting Partnership– Additionally, PDE has partnered in recent weeks with the statewide leads for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) to offer communities with limited internet access use of instructional programming that is being broadcast by all of Pennsylvania’s PBS affiliates. Each PBS affiliate is providing instructional blocks of programming targeted to different grade spans, varying by region, and began March 30. You can find more information HERE.

For specific information about Continuity of Education Plan resources, PDE has created a new webpage HERE. In addition, the PA Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) has provided a toolkit for schools to use in preparing their Continuity of Education Plans.


Enrollment/Attendance

UPDATED: In contrast to what has previously been communicated to LEAs, PDE has posted guidance on their website that during the closure of schools for the 2019-20 school year LEAs are required to enroll students and provide them with continuity of education. PDE’s guidance goes on to say “enrollment should not be delayed due to failure to provide prior school records or special education documents, or an LEA’s difficulty in determining a child’s placement.”

The following is specific guidance for charter schools:
Do the enrollment requirements outlined in this guidance pertain to charter schools? Yes. All LEAs, which includes charter schools, are accountable for enrolling students upon receipt of proof of residency, with two notes:

  • A charter school must enroll students consistent with requirements set forth in Section 1723-A of the School Code.  In addition, a charter school that has an enrollment cap or similar parameter in its charter must enroll students consistent with that parameter.  Any students placed on a charter school waiting list should remain in their current school placements until such time as they can be enrolled and provided instruction.
  • Given the unique statewide nature of cyber charter enrollment, any cyber charter school receiving requests for enrollment that exceed their staffing or technical capacity should contact PDE to explore remedies.

For more details, we encourage you to review PDE’s main FAQ page HERE and the Student Enrollment and Attendance FAQ page HERE.


Graduation/Seniors

PDE has released a guidance document about graduation, which can be found HERE. PDE’s FAQs have also been updated but we encourage you to read the document because it contains more specific information.


Federal Programs

PDE has updated the Federal Programs FAQ webpage. You can find the new information HERE.


Flexible Instructional Days

PDE has updated their guidance on the Flexible Instructional Day program and reopened the application window for both the 2019-20 school year and the 2020-21 school year. You can find more information HERE.


Mandated Reporting

HERE is guidance on mandatory reporting requirements during the COVID-19 school closure.


Child Accounting Reporting

PDE has updated their Student Enrollment and Attendance FAQ page to include additional information about child accounting for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.


Professional Employee Evaluations

During COVID-19 school closures, local education agencies (LEAs) continue to have a responsibility, under Act 82 of 2012 (Act 82), to complete professional employee evaluations for the 2019-20 school year. However, for the 2019-20 school year, Secretary Rivera has waived the requirement for LEAs to include performance data otherwise required under section 1123(b)(1)(ii) for a professional employee’s performance rating under section 1123. HERE is a guidance document on educator evaluations.


Work Permits for Minors

PDE and the Department of Labor & Industry have temporarily modified the process for applying for a work permit to enable them to be issued during school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. PDE has created an FAQ webpage dedicated to this topic on their website, which can be found HERE.


Charter Board Meetings

We have heard many of you voice concerns about holding upcoming board meetings. PCPCS wants to encourage all of our schools to continue holding regular board meetings and make every effort to ensure these meetings are held in a transparent manner. During Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home order, charters will need to consider holding virtual meetings which come with their own set of challenges. I encourage you to check out the following resources:

The FBI has issued the following guidance on how to protect from teleconferencing threats:

As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called “Zoom-bombing”) are emerging nationwide. The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.

The following steps can be taken to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats:

  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.
  • Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
  • Manage screensharing options. In Zoom, change screensharing to “Host Only.”
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications. In January 2020, Zoom updated their software. In their security update, the teleconference software provider added passwords by default for meetings and disabled the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.
  • Lastly, ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security.

If you were a victim of a teleconference hijacking, or any cyber-crime for that matter, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.


CARES Act – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund

UPDATE: The Department announced that the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has approved Pennsylvania’s application to receive its share of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Beginning today, Wednesday, May 13, school districts and charter schools may begin applying for ESSER funds via eGrantsThe process will involve a streamlined application and prompt action by PDE to move complete applications through the federally required approval process. Additional resources will soon be available on PDE’s CARES Act webpagePDE estimates that school districts and charter schools will begin to receive funds in June. When planning for local use, remember that CARES Act funding is one-time, emergency aid. Accordingly, consider how this funding interacts with your other federal funding, and the role of enhanced funding flexibilities, to ensure strategic and sustainable use. You can find the Secretary’s message about this HERE.

Some public charter schools are eligible for financial support through the recent federal stimulus bill (the CARES Act), including access to loans through the Small Business Administration available to nonprofit entities. Click here to read our guidance for Charter Schools Receiving PPP Loans.

We have received several questions about CARES Act funding so we wanted to address your questions/concerns: There are two pots of CARES Act funding flowing to PA for K-12 schools – – the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
Previously, we shared a spreadsheet with estimates that each LEA (school districts and charters) would receive, from the approximately $471 million allocation, as part of the federal CARES Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. An LEA’s share of this money is based on their most recent Title I, Part A funding and a list of eligible uses can be found in the spreadsheet. PCPCS received confirmation from PDE yesterday that this money will flow directly from PDE to charter schools.

  • We want to make it clear that this is NOT part of the Continuity of Education Equity Grants (CEEG).
  • These dollar amounts are just estimates and subject to change.
  • Secretary DeVos made these funds available to states but there is no timeline for when LEAs will see this money.

Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund
This is approximately $104 million in funds that can be allocated at Governor Wolf’s discretion to the hardest hit education entities, including school districts, charter schools and private schools. PCPCS will be launching an advocacy effort to pressure the Governor to assign a portion of these funds to PA’s public charter schools. We will keep you posted on how your school and your families can get involved.


Update from the National Alliance on the CARES Act

UPDATE: The Small Business Administration (SBA), in consultation with the Treasury Department, released new FAQs regarding SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program loans. Question #31, in particular, reinforces the concept of making a good faith certification concerning immediate financial need. We recommend that schools consult with their attorneys regarding how this new guidance may impact their specific circumstances.

As schools continue to adjust to the disruptions caused by the new coronavirus, Congress and the Administration have responded with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This $2 trillion law includes $13.5 billion for K-12 schools and another $3 billion in aid that governors can use at their discretion to support education in their states. Billions of additional dollars will support the nutrition and health needs of students, teachers, and families. Importantly, the bill ensures that charter school LEAs receive their appropriate share of funding and that waivers that apply to district-operated schools also apply to charter schools.

Provisions for small business relief may help charter schools and networks that have IRS 501(c)(3) designations, as well as for-profit charter management organizations.

We have more information about the CARES Act and small business provisions below. This is a large and complex piece of legislation and it will take some time to sort out the full implications. On Friday, the National Alliance hosted a webinar examining what the CARES Act means for charter schools. The recording and PowerPoint presentation are available online. We should have more information from the National Alliance in days and weeks ahead.

Federal Relief Measures Provide Low or No Cost Lending to Nonprofits and Small Businesses

This month’s federal relief packages make two low- or no-cost lending programs available through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Charter schools that have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS and for-profit education management companies with fewer than 500 employees may be able to apply for the following programs:

SBA 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program: Under the CARES Act stimulus bill, you can access a loan valued at up to two-and-a-half months of payroll expenses. The loan can be used to meet payroll and associated costs such as health insurance premiums, facilities, and debt servicing. Much of the loan is forgivable if the organization keeps staff on payroll during the loan period. This, in essence, turns a portion of the loan into a grant. The total loan fund is $349 billion, and loans will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis. If you are interested, you will have to move fast, as we estimate that there are over 4 million eligible organizations. Application details are expected on the SBA website early this week. The Department of Treasury has announced that loans would be available for this program starting April 3.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster (EID) Loans: As a result of the first COVID-19 relief bill, EID loans of up to $2 million in assistance are now available to help overcome temporary loss in revenue caused by COVID-19. The interest rate is 2.75% for nonprofits and 3.75% for for-profits, with repayment terms of up to 30 years. The application is straightforward and can be completed online. However, please note that, unlike the 7(a) program, the EID loan does not include a forgiveness provision. Organizations may receive both loans, but the loan applications must for different purposes (i.e. personnel and rent costs for 7(a) and other operating expenses for EIDL). 


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