On March 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education published additional guidance for postsecondary institutions extending and clarifying regulatory flexibilities contained in the CARES Act and related to COVID-19.
Key components of the guidance include:
- Extension of the time frame for authorization by the Department of temporary distance education approval for previously on-ground programs to include payment periods that overlap March 5, 2020, or that begin on or between March 5, 2020, and December 31, 2020.
- Waiver of the Department’s requirement that an institution offering at least 50% of a program by distance education to be accredited for distance education by an accrediting agency that has distance education in the scope of its recognition. The waiver is effective for payment periods that begin on or before December 31, 2020.
- Six month extension of the Title IV financial statement and compliance audit deadlines.
The guidance also includes important new information concerning:
- Accreditation site visit extension flexibilities and requirements.
- Extension by six months of the “materially complete application” requirements following a Title IV change of ownership and control to allow additional time for the institution to remain TItle IV certified while secure state and accreditor approvals as well as the audited same day balance sheet.
- Waiver of MCAT score requirement for foreign graduate medical school admissions for students admitted to medical school during an admissions year in which the MCAT was unavailable to students for some period of time during that year due to COVID-19 related interruptions.
- Additional flexibilities concerning verification of high school (or equivalent) completion status that applies until December 31, 2020, for both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 award years.
- Treatment of the PPP loan forgiveness amount in calculating the institution’s composite score.
- Treatment of student workers when determining the number of employees for PPP loan eligibility.
- Tax treatment of HEERF and emergency financial aid grants to students.
- Clarifications regarding Campus-Based Waivers/Reallocation and FSEOG Emergency Aid Grants.
- Clarifications regarding Leaves of Absence (LOA) flexibilities.
- Return of Title IV Funds (R2T4) guidance and processing detail.
- Clarifications regarding Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) flexibilities.
- Clarifications regarding Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program flexibilities.
Institutions should carefully analyze the full guidance document and related Q&A , available here: https://ifap.ed.gov/electronic-announcements/051520UPDATEDGuidanceInterruptStudyRelCOVID19May2020
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, as we all know, 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 and potentially scary (as well as exciting) 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.
In further response to some institutions declining to use distance learning at all because they were unsure of being able to provide a free and appropriate public education (K-12) or appropriate accommodations (postsecondary) to students with disabilities, OCR reiterated: Continue reading OCR Guidance on Disability Rights and Distance Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures being overlooked, resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.
Recognizing this risk, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights published guidance on March 16, 2020, reminding schools that students’ civil rights must be safeguarded during responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. OCR’s guidance encourages schools to take measures to protect against COVID-19, but to do so in a manner that is free from discrimination and continues to accommodate people with disabilities.
The Department of Education focused on a few key areas as examples of potential pitfalls: Continue reading Department of Education Issues Guidance on Safeguarding Civil Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic
Authors: Julie Mebane, Partner (Real Estate) and Katherine Brodie, Partner (Higher Education)
Nothing is more unwelcome than a big surprise after your institution has invested hours and dollars in a new instructional location. Up front due diligence is essential, and it needs to identify issues that may impair your ability to operate at a new location or expose the institution to significant liabilities. Be sure to consider the following and utilize counsel well versed in college and university property acquisitions and applicable regulations to examine any problems you may encounter:
- What is the zoning of the property? Is there a zoning report that can be reviewed (if not, consider ordering one)? Does the property have the number of parking spaces required by law or local ordinances?
- Are there any CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions) recorded against the property? Get and review copies to make sure they don’t prohibit any intended uses.
- Is there a conditional use permit (CUP) or planned development permit affecting the property? If so, review this for any use restrictions.
- What is the current condition of the property and the physical plant? Check for current building permits, and consider getting a professional inspection report on the building’s systems.
- Does the current owner have a title policy covering the property? Important information about the location and its history can be gained from this document.
- Does the owner have a Phase 1 environmental assessment regarding any hazardous materials at the location? Request and review this for possible issues, and keep it as a baseline in case of future problems.
- Are there any litigation or condemnation actions that have been filed relating to the property? These can be red flags for any future owner or occupant.
- Is the property in a designated flood zone, near an earthquake fault line, or otherwise located in an area exposed to natural disasters? Natural hazard disclosure reports can be obtained without much expense.
- Was the property previously used by an institution participating in U.S. Department of Education Title IV federal student aid programs and did that institution close with unpaid liabilities owed to the Department? If so, moving into that space by lease or purchase could expose your institution to assumption of the unpaid liabilities of the previous owner.
- Do you know your state, accreditor and Department of Education reporting obligations? These agencies must generally be notified of any change of location or any new space where more than 50% of an eduational program will be offered, or the institution risks liability for all Title IV funds disbursed to students at the new location and potentially other regulatory sanctions.
Most of these questions can be answered with the help of a forthcoming landlord when negotiating a new lease and with the assistance of experienced counsel. If the property is being purchased, the seller is likely required by law to make certain representations and warranties and to disclose property-related information and materials during the buyer’s due diligence period.
So don’t be surprised – get the information you need before you commit to a new campus or instructional location.
Specifically, this Alert explains the obligations of postsecondary institutions participating in Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) programs to affirmatively report to the Department the occurrence of certain “triggering” events that occur after March 15, 2019, many of which must be reported to the Department within 10 days of occurrence.
This Alert also describes the “grace period” provided by the Department in the guidance for institutions to affirmatively report to the Department certain triggering events that have already occurred between July 1, 2017, and March 15, 2019 (the period from the effective date of the 2016 BDR Rule to the date of the guidance). The deadline for reporting events occurring during the grace period is May 14, 2019.
As explained below, the 2016 BDR Rule contains both “mandatory” and “discretionary” triggering events that, after reporting, may cause the Department to recalculate the institution’s composite score—a ratio used by the Department to measure an institution’s financial health. If the recalculated score fails or is in the zone, it could lead to a letter of credit or letter of credit alternative requirement, heightened cash monitoring restrictions, provisional Program Participation Agreement status and/or other Title IV participation restrictions.
To read the full text of this Alert, please visit the Duane Morris website.