Newsroom Article

Coronavirus and Schools: New Online Curriculum Options from PDE


Posted on in Press Releases and Announcements

Assuming we use PDE’s new online learning programs as means of offering “continuity of education,” can we remain on the informal “enrichment” end of the “continuity of education” continuum if we give students the option to proceed through these programs at their own pace and simply provide informal feedback (no grading, no requirements, etc.)?

The concern here, of course, is that the more your “continuity of education” functions like instruction of new skills and content, the more you will have to adhere to the FAPE mandate in offering comparable new skills instruction to students with disabilities. If your “continuity of education” consists largely of optional activities that are extracurricular in nature, your obligation to students with disabilities will be limited to ensuring accessibility—ensuring that the activities are geared to a range of educational and functional levels. (Although remember that the less you do now, the more you might have to do in the form of “compensatory education” later.)

We have suggested that determining whether your “continuity of education” plans look more like new instruction or more like extracurricular enrichment requires consideration of four factors:

  1. Does your continuity of education include planned instruction designed to introduce new learning, or does it consist, rather, of activities and resources that are not tied to curricular outcomes and that are designed to provide enrichment, structure, and engagement to students during days of school closure?
  2. Is participation in your continuity of education plan mandatory (students must log in or otherwise demonstrate “attendance”) or purely voluntary or optional?
  3. Are you intending to grade, assess, or credit participation or student performance?
  4. For students in high school, will completion of the instruction or activities you are offering be credited as high school course work for graduation, or are you simply accepting course completion as of March 13 as satisfactory completion of creditable course requirements?

Not all of these factors, however, have equal weight. Of the four, the first is most important. In almost every case, any plan that includes new learning will engage the full FAPE mandate—most importantly, the obligation to offer new instruction geared to the unique learning levels and needs of the individual child with a disability. If you are offering your general population the opportunity for new instruction, even on an optional and ungraded basis, you are most likely triggering the FAPE mandate and the obligation to make “good faith efforts” to comply with it. We don’t mean to suggest that the other factors are irrelevant. Your plan, for example, might involve only optional enrichment activities, but if you intend to grade the completion of those activities and award high school credit for them, you are also likely triggering the FAPE mandate—arguably the obligation to offer the opportunity for students with disabilities to pursue goal-driven specially-designed instruction that could likewise earn high school credit.

The on-line curricula that PDE is now offering on its Website would involve new learning. It thus meets the first factor. Although we concede that the question you raise is a close call, we believe that use of these curricula trigger the obligation to offer specially designed instruction targeting academic and functional outcomes appropriate to students with disabilities, even if participation in that instruction is optional and ungraded.