Q: We have a record number of failing students in our remote learning program, and attendance by virtual students is at an all-time low. We would like to discontinue remote learning and offer in-person learning only. Is that possible?
A: Yes. The Commissioner of Education recently announced procedures that must be followed if a District decides to discontinue its remote instruction program, including advance notice to parents.
As part of the Strong Start initiative developed by TEA, Texas school districts were given the option of providing remote instruction to students, in addition to regular in-person learning programs. A majority of districts began the school year with both at-home and in-person learning; however, many have seen low attendance and poor performance by virtual students, in addition to other concerns. During the weekly Superintendent’s conference call with the Commissioner of Education on October 15, 2020, TEA provided guidance clarifying that schools could discontinue their remote learning program mid-year, and updated the SY 20-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ to reflect this clarification.
To discontinue an existing remote instruction program, a district must give 14 days’ notice to parents and notify parents of the option to transfer to another district to continue their child’s remote learning. Districts who already discontinued remote learning (prior to TEA’s clarification) were advised to “ensure parents are aware of their options” to continue virtual learning at another school district. The decision to discontinue remote learning does not require board approval, although some districts have brought the matter before the board in order to gain input and community buy-in prior to announcing the decision to discontinue virtual learning. It is also not necessary to update or amend your Asynchronous Plan previously submitted to TEA for approval if discontinuing virtual learning.
We recommend that the required 14-day notice to parents be disseminated in multiple formats – for example, a letter mailed home to all parents, an automated telephone alert, and an announcement on the District’s website/social media. The notice must contain a clear explanation of the parent’s right to transfer their child to another school district in order to continue remote learning.
Some districts have inquired as to whether remote instruction can be restricted from certain groups of students, such as disallowing virtual learning for students who are failing. TEA expressly prohibits this practice, clarifying in their guidance document that if a school district offers remote learning it must be available to all students. The only exceptions to this general rule include allowing remote instruction for:
Students who are sick or quarantining (students who have a positive COVID-19 test/diagnosis, COVID-19 symptoms, or close contact with a COVID-19 positive person)
A specific grade “band” (e.g., remote learning for all third grade students due to an outbreak or likely spread in a particular age group)
Special Education/Section 504 students on a case-by-case basis
It is advised that you consult your school district’s legal counsel if discontinuing remote learning to ensure that your required notice is sufficient and that any subsequent virtual learning offered is in compliance with TEA guidelines.