The General Assembly voted to get our educators back to doing what they love: Teaching our children despite the closure of school buildings.

To ensure students are able to learn during the difficult COVID-19 pandemic, the House and Senate unanimously approved changes to the School Code under Senate Bill 751

The original intent of the bill was to revise the educator evaluation system. It was amended to include emergency provisions to deal with education-related issues resulting from school closures.  These provisions are only applicable to the 2019-20 school year and as a result of the pandemic of 2020.   

Specifically, the bill: 
Eliminates the 180-day instruction requirement on all public and non-public schools. 
Allows the secretary of Education to increase the number of allowable flexible instruction days and waive the timeline regarding those days. 
Ensures there will be no loss of school subsidies, including for charter schools.
Keeps public school staff compensation as it is – no more and no less than would have been received without the school closures. 
Seeks to address school bus contractors to ensure that once the current crisis has ended, school buses are ready to provide service.


Questions & Answers

How will this impact the 2019-20 school year?
Eliminates the 180-day requirement for all public and nonpublic schools.
 
How will this impact school employees?

-  No school employee employed by a school entity as of March 13, 2020, shall receive more or less compensation.  PSERS contributions are the same.  
-  School cleaning staff must be provided appropriate cleaning materials and protective clothing/gear as recommended by the CDC.
-  Extends continuing education credit compliance period by one year.  
  
Do closed school entities need to provide education to students? 
-  School entities must make good faith effort to develop a plan to offer continuity of education using alternative means during period of school closure. 
-  PDE must provide guidance; IUs can provide technical assistance. 
-  Plans must be submitted to PDE and school entities must post on their website.

Do schools need to make special arrangements for special education students? 
-  Federal law requires school entities to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students receiving special education services. Additional guidance from US. Department of Education on special education: 
-   Questions and answers on providing services to children with disabilities during the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak 
-      Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities  
-  This legislation simply requires that notice be given to all parents of special education students a plan for ensuring FAPE as required by federal law. 

How does this impact funding to schools? 
-  No loss in any school subsidies, reimbursements, or other payments from the Commonwealth or another school entity. 
-  Charter schools paid same tuition based upon enrollment on March 13, 2020.  
-  School entities will keep paying private schools where they have placed students as long as those students are being offered continuing education during closure.  Private rehabilitation centers will also continue to get their funding from school entities/Commonwealth.  

What about school bus transportation contracts?  
-  School districts may renegotiate with their school bus contractors to continue paying them during school closure for employee costs and other fixed costs such as administration and equipment.  School bus contractors must submit proof that they are continuing to pay their personnel (at their complement levels on March 13, 2020) in order to receive payments.  
-  State reimbursement is available to school districts at the same level they would have received if the schools had not shut down.  

What impact does this have on home education programs (homeschool)?

-  Waives the 180-day requirement; no required standardized tests or evaluation. 

Does this cancel statewide assessments for this year?
-  Secretary must apply to the U.S. Department of Education for testing waivers to permit cancellation of assessments.  The secretary already applied and the waiver was granted:

What additional powers does the secretary of Education have? 
-  Order the closure of all public schools. 
-  Increase the number of allowable flexible instruction days and waive applicable timelines to apply to participate in flexible instruction days
-  Waive career and technical education program hours. 
-  Waive performance data used in teacher evaluation system. 
-  Waive Pre-K Counts hours. 
-  Waive 12-week student teacher requirement. 
-  Waive NOCTI/NIMS assessments (for career and technical education). 
-  Catchall waiver process: School entity may apply to secretary for waiver of any other provision of the School Code, regulations, or standards as a result of the pandemic.  

What is a school entity? 

-  A school district, charter school, regional charter school, cyber charter school, intermediate unit, and career and technical center.


Coronavirus-related provisions – in depth

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has put schools throughout the state (and nation) in unprecedented territory. The governor announced all public schools will be closed at least through April 6, which has raised many questions and created uncertainty for students, parents and school employees.

This legislation creates a special provision of the School Code applicable only to the 2019-20 school year to address some of this uncertainty.
It eliminates the 180-day requirement for all public and nonpublic schools.
It also allows the secretary of Education to increase the number of allowable flexible instruction days and waive timelines.
The secretary may also waive:
- Career and technical education program hours and testing 
Using performance data in the teacher evaluation system
Pre-K counts hours
12-week student teacher requirement
School entities can apply to the secretary for additional relief from statutory or regulatory burdens resulting from closures


There are several provisions to protect school employees from circumstances outside their control. The amendment provides that:
No school employee shall receive more or  less compensation because of school closures or shortened school year.
No loss in PSERS credit.
School cleaning staff must be provided appropriate cleaning materials and protective clothing/gear as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Extends continuing education credit compliance period by one year.

Good faith:
Many have expressed concerns over what our schools are doing to educate students during the closure. This legislation requires all schools to make a good faith effort to develop a plan to offer continuing education during closure.
These plans are to be developed with guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and with technical assistance from the Intermediate Units.
The plans must be submitted to PDE and posted on the school entity's website.

Special education:
The U.S. Department of Education released guidance on federal requirements related to special education during school closures. Each school needs to make sure it has planned accordingly to ensure students are receiving the special education services they are entitled to under federal law. These plans should be communicated to parents.
Notice must be given to all parents of special education students a plan for ensuring students are receiving FAPE (free appropriate public education).

Payments to school entities:
No loss in any school subsidies or reimbursements, including charter schools. Charter school tuition will be paid based upon the enrollment of the charter school at the time of the school closure.
If students are placed by school entities in private schools, that tuition must continue to be paid if those private schools are offering continuing education.  This also includes private rehabilitation centers.  

Assessments:
This provision would require the Secretary of Education to apply to the U.S. Department of Education for testing waivers to permit cancellation of assessments for the 2019-20 school year. (Which he already has done)

School bus contractors:
One of the most significant issues we've heard is the concern over school bus contractors. Many schools contract out their transportation and there is already a shortage of bus drivers. We need to ensure that there will be school bus contractors when this pandemic ends.
This provision permits school entities to renegotiate with school bus contractors to continue to pay for personnel and other fixed costs such as administrative and equipment costs. School bus contractors would be required to show proof that they are paying their employees.
If schools do this, the state would then continue to reimburse schools based upon the estimated payments they would have received if schools had not  closed.

Home education (homeschool): 
Homeschoolers don’t need to meet the 180 day requirements.  
They also do not need to administer standardized tests or have evaluations this year.