The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently issued a FAQ in its continuing effort to address civil rights issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new guidance focused on disability accommodations, Title IX, and harassment issues.
On April 3, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights continued its guidance on how institutions can implement distance learning while complying with federal civil rights laws. This guidance is timely because distance learning due to COVID-19 is redefining how most educational institutions operate. When all levels of academic institutions had to close their doors due to stay-at-home orders, many of them opened the proverbial window by turning to online education. Despite its increasing popularity over the past decade or so, distance learning remains an emerging landscape for many institutions as they navigate purchasing/installing new technology, implementing new methods of teaching, and ensuring connectivity with students. OCR’s guidance provides a roadmap to this new territory.
On April 9, 2020, the Secretary of Education announced the availability of more than $6 billion for immediate distribution to colleges and universities to provide direct emergency cash grants to college students through the authority of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the CARES Act.
On April 1, the U.S. Department of Education (“USDE”) published a long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Distance Education and Innovation in the Federal Register. The proposed regulations are the final part of the consensus negotiated rulemaking that occurred in 2019. This regulation comes at an important time as institutions across the country are transitioning to varying forms of distance education due to COVID-19, albeit temporary or longer term.
On April 8, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education published a Q&A that answers questions related to use of Department grant funds during the novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) with respect to compensation, travel, and conference costs that are otherwise allowable costs under applicable program statutes and regulations.
Late on Friday, April 3, the Department posted updated guidance for institutions that recognizes the regulatory flexibilities authorized by Congress in the CARES Act, but also addresses other areas including Clery Act, Distance Education, Foreign Schools and FERPA, among other issues relevant to the COVID-19 interruption.
The CARES Act appropriates $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund available through September 30, 2021, to assist governors and postsecondary institutions with preventing, preparing for and responding to COVID-19. The Act also includes important student relief and temporary regulatory flexibilities.
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In response to pressing questions from institutions, on March 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) offered guidance permitting temporary flexibility and clarifying how higher education institutions whose activities are impacted by COVID-19 can continue to comply with Title IV of the Higher Education Act and its implementing regulations (“Title IV”) . Read our client alert on the guidance.
Governor Newsom’s Stay-at-Home Order requires “all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of the federal critical infrastructure sectors.” The Order exempted “16 critical infrastructure sectors whose . . . incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, economic security, public health, or any combination thereof.”
We all intuitively know academic institutions fit this description, and the Order agrees: “Government Facilities” are included as one of those 16 critical infrastructure sectors, and the cited-to guidance in the Order confirms that this includes an “Education Facilities Subsector [that] covers pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools, institutions of higher education, and business and trade schools. The subsector includes facilities that are owned by both government and private sector entities.”
Due to the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that institutions of higher education consider postponing or canceling upcoming study abroad or foreign exchange programs. However, this advice has raised pressing questions about how this would affect Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) federal financial aid and a student’s ability to finish the term if a program is interrupted or canceled. In response, on March 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) offered guidance permitting temporary flexibility and clarifying how higher education institutions can continue to comply with Title IV regulations for students whose activities are impacted by COVID-19.
To read the full text of this Duane Morris Alert, please visit the firm website.