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To Get Remaining COVID-19 Aid, Schools and States Must Detail In-Person Learning Plans

By Evie Blad — April 21, 2021 3 min read
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To receive remaining COVID-19 aid provided through the American Rescue Plan, states and school districts must detail the extent to which they plan to meet federal recommendations for safe in-person learning, the U.S. Department of Education said Wednesday.

In particular, schools must detail operations plans that show if and how they will address guidance that calls for social distancing, classroom cohorting, and other precautions. States also must detail how they will support schools in adhering to those recommendations, the agency said in interim final regulations.

In a move that may spark some political pushback, those plans must also address whether schools plan to adhere to calls for universal mask-wearing in schools, which several states have rejected, even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified it as a key strategy for reducing the risk of virus transmission.

The American Rescue Plan provided $122 billion in aid to K-12 schools, a huge surge of funds designed to help them offer safe in-person instruction and address concerns presented by more than a year of pandemic-related interruptions.

Citing the urgency of reopening schools and launching summer-learning programs, the Education Department released two-thirds of that funding last month. Before states receive the remaining $41 billion, they must present plans to the department on a variety of issues.

And, as a condition of receiving that aid, school districts must publicize detailed, regularly updated plans for how they intend to operate and use the new funding. Those plans must be made after seeking input from a wide range of groups, including students, parents, educators, and civil rights organizations. They must also focus on addressing inequities that may have been exacerbated by the pandemic, the regulations say.

“The thoughtful and timely use of these funds will have a lasting impact on our Nation’s schools and help to address the inequities in resources, services, and opportunities available to our students,” the Education Department said in the regulation, which is set to publish in the Federal Register Thursday and open for public comment for 30 days.

The requirement for school reopening plans was included in the American Rescue Plan bill, but the regulations provide greater detail about what federal officials will require to meet that expectation.

To aid states in crafting their plans, the Education Department released a template that includes all requirements. In addition to outlining support for in-person instruction, states must explain:

  • Current status and needs: The state must outline successful strategies it has identified; priorities for future spending and the data to support them; and priorities for supporting “underserved students,” including those who are homeless, students with disabilities, and English-language learners.
  • Assessing the pandemic’s impact: States must describe what data and strategies they will use to assess the impact of the pandemic— and resulting lost instructional time— on students’ academics, social and emotional well-being, and mental health. They must also detail how they will measure progress in meeting new goals related to pandemic relief.
  • Tracking operating status: States must explain what data they track on whether schools are operating in-person and on enrollment and attendance. They must also detail, to the extent possible, what instructional model schools in their state plan to use in the 2021-22 school year.
  • Coordinated use of funds: Plans must detail how states and districts have used or plan to use previous relief aid provided through the CARES Act and how they will coordinate it with new aid and other federal funds.
  • Supporting targeted uses: State plans must detail how they will meet the ARP’s requirements to target portions of aid to address lost learning time, to support summer learning and after-school programs, and to address emergency needs.
  • Workforce issues: Plans must explain how funds will be used to support educators, to address teaching shortages, and to hire staff to address students’ social and emotional needs.
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