Note: The following article originally appeared in the BASA AdminiScope.
Navigating Different Forms of Learning Opportunities for the 2020-2021 School Year
By: Natalie N. Rothenbuecher, Esq., Pepple & Waggoner, Ltd.
As districts prepare for the next school year, COVID-19 is requiring administrators to re-examine alternative learning opportunities that must be approved before the school year begins, such as “blended learning” and “blizzard bags.”
Although used colloquially during the pandemic, “blended learning” is defined in R.C. 3301.079 as “the delivery of instruction in a combination of time in a supervised physical location away from home and online delivery whereby the student has some element of control over time, place, path, or pace of learning.” If a school district wants to begin using a blended learning model for 2020-2021, it must notify the Department of Education by July 1. While H.B. 197 permits the State Superintendent to extend or waive this deadline, as of May 15, 2020 no extension has been granted.
If a school district adopts a blended learning model, Ohio law requires it to adopt specific policies and procedures implementing blended learning. Among other things, the procedures must address student advancement through the curriculum based on demonstrated competency/mastery of the material and the method by which each student will have access to the digital learning tools necessary to access the content. Significantly, if blended learning is made available to all district students, Ohio law exempts the school district from statutory school year hourly requirements.
Districts should also determine whether a blended learning model conflicts with their negotiated agreements. Blizzard Bags “Blizzard bags” are another option available to districts. Under R.C. 3313.482, Boards must approve these plans by August 1 of each school year. As with blended learning, the deadline may be waived by the State Superintendent. You’ll also want to note that H.B. 197’s expansion of the number of distance learning days expires at the end of the 2019-2020 school year as of May 15, 2020, and that it will take additional legislative action to re-institute that expansion.