Dear Legal Mailbag:
One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic was the ability we developed on the fly to provide remote instruction to our students. It took some doing to get the technology squared away and our teachers trained to teach our students remotely. But by the middle of last year, our teachers could pivot on a dime from teaching in person to remote instruction and back again. Given this new capability, there is simply no need for another snow day again.
Sadly, my superintendent is a bit of a dinosaur, and she announced in August that we will not be doing remote instruction on snow days this year. Some of the teachers in my building are happy about that, because they like the “magic” of waking up to freshly-fallen snow and then going back to bed on a snow day. But I think that we would all be better off to march through the school year and get out a week early. What can I say to my superintendent to convince her to let us provide remote learning on snow days so we can get out earlier next June?
For a while, we did think that remote learning would be permissible for snow days this year. Last spring, the State Department of Education issued, Interim Guidance for Remote Learning, 2021-2022 School Year (State Department of Education, April 27, 2021). At that time, we read: “The CSDE is actively working with stakeholders on this topic, taking into consideration its possible use for: . . . emergency building-related issues such as an issue with heating, plumbing, or inclement weather (short periods/limited).” But it was not to be.
The General Assembly got into the act later last spring, and it essentially prohibited remote learning for this year, for snow days and otherwise. Effective July 1, 2021, Public Act No. 21-46, as revised by Sections 390 through 393 of June Special Session, Public Act No. 21-2, defines “remote learning” as “instruction by means of one or more Internet-based software platforms as part of a remote learning model.” The new legislation, however, does not require the provision of remote learning in the 2021-2022 school year. Indeed, remote learning is not authorized for the current school year.
Specifically, for the school year beginning July 1, 2022, the Act allows local and regional boards of education to authorize remote learning for students but only for grades nine through twelve, and only on two conditions. First, school districts may provide instruction through remote learning only if such instruction complies with the SDE standards for remote learning that are to be developed by January 1, 2022. Second, school districts must adopt a policy regarding the requirements for student attendance during remote learning. Such attendance policy must comply with SDE attendance guidance and count as “in attendance” any student who spends at least one-half of the school day during such instruction engaged in virtual classes, virtual meetings, activities on time-logged electronic systems, and completing and submitting assignments.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-16 provides that each school district must provide at least one hundred and eighty days of actual school sessions for grades kindergarten through twelve. Section 17 of the Act, as amended by Section 392 of June Special Session, Public Act No. 21-2, amends the statute effective July 1, 2021 to provide that remote learning may be considered an actual school session, but only if such remote learning complies with the remote learning standards to be developed by the Commissioner of Education by January 1, 2022. Accordingly, school districts are not authorized during the 2021-2022 school year to consider remote learning a school session on a snow day or otherwise. More detailed information about the statutory changes related to remote learning is available at Shipman & Goodwin, 2021 Education Legislation Summary at page 5.
The last thing you want is for your teachers to teach remotely on a snow day and then have to come back to make the day up at the end of the school year anyway. Perhaps you should apologize to your superintendent, at least silently in your own mind.
Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.