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    What’s in your toolbox? A legal guide to K-12 instructional delivery options for 2020–2021

    As fall creeps closer, and COVID-19 remains a part of our lives, staff members and families are asking how students will engage in learning. While no one has the perfect or complete answer, we do know what tools districts have available to them. Ideally, students will start (and remain) in school settings. However, there is a variety of legal options for schools to consider if districts are unable to maintain that “ideal” scenario, whether due to student needs or potential outbreaks. The tools schools will want to consider are summarized below.

    Remote learning

    Remote learning is a new tool created by the recently-enacted Am.Sub. H.B. 164. The legislation does not define “remote learning.” So, schools are afforded the flexibility to decide what remote learning looks like to meet the needs of each community. Remote learning may be offered all school year or shorter periods of time, for all students or just some students, or some other variation in between. In addition, there is no required online component, so schools that struggle with student internet access may be more creative in serving students. Flexibility and creativity are only confined by the following six criteria, which must be addressed in a school’s remote learning plan:

    1. A description of how student instructional needs will be determined and documented
    2. The method to be used for determining competency, granting credit and promoting students to a higher grade level
    3. The school's attendance requirements, including how the school will document participation in learning opportunities
    4. A statement describing how student progress will be monitored
    5. A description as to how equitable access to quality instruction will be ensured
    6. A description of the professional development activities that will be offered to teachers

    Currently, remote learning plans must be approved by the board of education and submitted to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) by July 31. However, this deadline may be extended by ODE. If a school elects to use a remote learning plan, the school is deemed to have met hours and state funding payment obligations. 

    Blended learning

    Before H.B. 164 became law, most administrators were busy preparing “blended learning” plans under existing authority. A blended learning plan requires a combination of time in a supervised physical location and “online delivery.” There is no mandate in terms of the percentage of each component. However, there is also no provision for any other type of remote learning besides online. A blended learning plan must include the following:

    1. Means of personalization of student centered learning models to meet the needs of each student
    2. The evaluation and review of the quality of online curriculum delivered to students
    3. Assessment of each participating student's progress through the curriculum
    4. The assignment of a sufficient number of teachers to ensure a student has an appropriate level of interaction to meet the student's personal learning goals
    5. The method by which each participating student will have access to the digital learning tools necessary to access the online or digital content
    6. The means by which each school shall use a filtering device or install filtering software that protects against internet access to materials that are harmful
    7. The means by which the school will ensure that teachers have appropriate training

    Given the challenge of internet access that some students face, blended learning may be the inferior option to remote learning, which can include online, paper or other provisions for instruction.

    Schools may implement a blended learning plan by submitting notice, using the Blended Learning Declaration, to ODE by November 1 (extended from July 1). If a school submitted a Blended Learning Declaration before H.B. 164 became effective, and now prefers to use remote learning, the school should follow guidance from ODE regarding whether additional action needs to be taken. 

    Other options

    Ohio law provides other, less comprehensive, legal options that schools may need to consider as part of their 2020–2021 plans. 

    Alternative schools

    Alternative schools, designed to serve a specific student population, provide an opportunity to incorporate technology, partner with other districts, and form small learning communities or clusters.

    Online/blizzard bags

    Online/blizzard bags provide the opportunity for students to access and complete lessons posted on the school’s web portal or through packets for a period of up to three days. Districts must adopt such plans by August 1, and teachers must prepare lesson plans by November 1.

    Credit flex

    While credit flex has historically been used to extend educational opportunities, schools may approve credit flex opportunities in response to COVID-19. Schools must work with parents and students to develop a learning plan, subject to district approval, and a school must monitor student progress. There is no limitation on the courses or credits that a student may take under the credit flex option.

    Home instruction

    Home instruction is limited to students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 22 who are unable to attend school. While hours requirements still apply, five hours of home instruction are considered equivalent to attending five school days.

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