On December 31, 2021, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE”) issued a memorandum updating guidance to school districts regarding the use of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic (the “Remote Learning Memorandum”).  The Remote Learning Memorandum changes certain important aspects of the CSDE’s July 2021 Guidance Regarding Future of Remote Learning in Connecticut Schools (the “July Guidance”) and related November 2021 Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Remote Learning (the “November FAQ”), including:

  • permitting school districts to count students who are learning remotely “in attendance” in any of four “very limited” circumstances, provided that remote learning or equivalent out-of-school instruction for such students equals at least half the school day;
  • eliminating prior guidance related to the use of remote learning to address “localized outbreaks” of COVID-19; and
  • clarifying that districts may determine that pandemic-related school closures may be needed, but remote learning is not permitted to count as a school day for such closures except in the four circumstances described in the Remote Learning Memorandum.

Prior Guidance Regarding Remote Learning

The July Guidance and November FAQ had encouraged school districts to develop policies and procedures addressing continuity of instruction, including the possible use of remote learning:

  • for students who must be in isolation due to a confirmed COVID-19 infection, or who must quarantine due to close contact with a confirmed case;
  • to address localized outbreaks in a specific classroom, school, or district; and
  • in rare and individualized circumstances, for students with live-in family members who have documented an unusual vulnerability to COVID-19.

The Remote Learning Memorandum updates those previous communications and specifically supersedes Question Five in the November FAQ which had addressed the permissibility of remote learning in individualized circumstances due to health or safety concerns.  The Remote Learning Memorandum reiterates that remote learning “is generally not permitted during the 2021-22 school year on a district-wide, school-wide, or individual student basis,” and outlines four “limited circumstances” in which school districts may offer remote learning as an official school day.

Four Limited Circumstances

The Remote Learning Memorandum sets forth four “limited circumstances” in which districts may offer remote learning and have students learning remotely counted as “in attendance”:

  • due to isolation or quarantine of individual students due to COVID-19 infection or close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case;
  • in “rare and individualized circumstances” for a student with live-in family members who have unusual vulnerability to COVID-19;
  • in the “rare” case in which a student’s Individualized Education Program recommends instruction in the home as the least restrictive environment for the student; or
  • “should there be an order issued at some point during the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year that requires school or district closures pursuant to an emergency declaration,” provided that such declaration may only be issued pursuant to the authority of the legislature or Governor Lamont.

The Remote Learning Memorandum emphasizes that local health districts do not possess the authority to issue emergency declarations under (4) above.  Further, the Remote Learning Memorandum no longer refers to remote learning to address localized outbreaks in a specific classroom, school, or district.  The Remote Learning Memorandum requires that decisions regarding isolation, quarantine, and remote instruction (the limited circumstances described above) must be based on CSDE guidance, with input from the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Requirements for Educational Opportunities During Remote Learning

The Remote Learning Memorandum does not mandate the type of specific educational opportunities that must be offered during remote learning.  However, at a minimum, districts offering remote learning in one of the four limited circumstances described above “must offer educational opportunities that equal at least half the school day” so that the student learning remotely can be considered “in attendance.”

Pandemic-Related School/District Closures

The Remote Learning Memorandum clarifies that districts are permitted to close one or more schools if necessary due to issues such as pandemic-related staffing shortages.  However, days on which school is closed for reasons unrelated to the four limited circumstances described above must be made up in order to satisfy the 180-school day requirement.