On July 8, 2022, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 55 of 2022 into law, intending to address ongoing learning losses stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Act 55 expands the opportunity for extended enrollment to students with disabilities.
Last year, Act 66 of 2021 (Act 66) permitted students enrolled during the 2020-21 school year to repeat their grade level to counteract any lost educational opportunities from the COVID-19 pandemic, even if the student met the requirements to be promoted to the next grade. Act 66 further allowed students with disabilities to enroll in extended special education for the 2021-22 academic year.
Understanding the Act
Expanding efforts to combat lost educational opportunities perpetuated by the pandemic, Governor Wolf signed Act 55 on July 8, 2022. Act 55 allows students with disabilities enrolled during the 2021-22 school year and who turned twenty-one during that time, or before the beginning of the following (2022-23) term, to attend a school entity during the 2022-23 academic period. These students may also receive services outlined in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and all protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The extended eligibility applies only to students eligible for special education under the IDEA that have not obtained a regular education diploma. However, a student with a disability who received a diploma solely due to aging out at age twenty-one is nonetheless eligible to return for the 2022-23 school year.
For eligibility, Pennsylvania students with disabilities must have been enrolled during the 2021-22 school year in a school district; intermediate unit; area career and technical school; charter school; cyber charter school; regional charter school; approved private school; or chartered school for the education of the deaf and blind. To enroll, eligible students and their parents or guardians must submit a signed Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Student Enrollment Notification Form to the school entity that the student will attend in the 2022-23 school year on or before August 1, 2022.
Although the PDE’s Bureau of Special Education recommends making this decision with the IEP team, the law indicates that the decision lies with the eligible student and their parents or guardians.
If a student with a disability is unable to provide approval or consent to stay an additional year, the student’s parents or guardians should follow the process of securing educational decision-making rights for their child-student.
Act 55 leaves schools with much discretion to decide how to manage issues submitting the Form. Schools decide whether a submitted Form can be reversed if a student, parent, or guardian changes their mind. Second, if the Form is not submitted by the August 1, 2022 deadline, and the parents or guardians want their twenty-one-year-old to return for an additional year, the schools are the point of contact for discussing options.
Schools should implement eligible students’ most recent IEPs. If a student’s most recent IEP contains Extended School Year services, schools should provide it over the summer of 2023. However, per the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), schools must revise the IEPs of students with disabilities at least once a year.
Additionally, schools may have to complete reevaluations of their students with disabilities if: (1) the school determines that the educational or related services needs of the student warrant a reevaluation; (2) the student’s parents, guardians, or teachers request a reevaluation; or (3) a reevaluation has not occurred in over three years.
Circumstances where schools will not have to complete a reevaluation for their students with disabilities who are staying for an additional year include: (1) when a reevaluation has occurred within one year unless the parents or guardians and the school agree otherwise; or (2) when a reevaluation has not occurred for three years, but the parents or guardians and the school agree that a reevaluation is unnecessary.
Just because a student with a disability decides to stay an additional year does not mean schools have to issue Notices of Recommended Educational Placement/Prior Written Notices (NOREP/PWN). If NOREP/PWNs are required, written notice should be given to the parents or guardians of the student with a disability at a reasonable time and per the CFR. Situations warranting notice occur when the school proposes or refuses to initiate or change the identification or educational placement or the provision of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) of the student with a disability.
Furthermore, schools will receive state and federal funding for students with disabilities that elect to return under Act 55. Specifically, they are eligible to receive Basic Education Funding (BEF), Special Education Funding (SEF), and IDEA funding.
Bottom Line for Schools
Schools are encouraged to post Act 55’s Student Enrollment Notification Form on their website and provide instructions for students, parents, or guardians to submit it. Because the Form must be submitted to the school and not the PDE, schools should provide an email address on their website where the Form must be submitted.
Act 55 expands upon its last year’s counterpart, Act 66. Therefore, schools and their employees should already have established policies and procedures and expect the same effects as Act 66 for the upcoming academic year.
The PDE provides guidance and answers to Act 55’s frequently asked questions.
Schools with questions arising from Act 55’s implementation should contact their legal counsel or an education attorney at KingSpry.