This past week, Governor Wolf signed SB 664/Act 66, a law that offers parents and adult students the authority to request retention and, in some cases, an additional year of education as a result of learning lost during the pandemic.
What the Law Says
Following minor revisions, Senate Bill 664 moved quickly through the Legislature and was signed into law on June 30, 2021. The revisions shifted responsibility to create and post the election form for the additional year of education to the Pennsylvania Department of Education and clarified the provisions applicable to students aged 18 and older. The deadline to notify schools of a decision under this law remains July 15, 2021.
Intended to address learning losses due to the pandemic, the law allows parents and students 18 or older sole decision-making authority to be retained in the grade level attained during 2020-21. This authority applies even if the student has met all educational criteria to advance to the next grade level.
The law also authorizes parents of students who reach the age of 21 prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year and that are eligible for special education and related services, to have the student continue in school for the 2021-22 school year. The school would implement the 2020-21 Individualized Education Plan for an additional year.
This parental discretion is granted even if the student has met all graduation requirements and has met educational goals set forth in the IEP.
On its face, the opportunity for retention and extra year of education applies even to students that may have accepted their diploma last month. It also applies to students who may be offered and engaged in credit recovery and other District-sponsored summer programming targeted to address gaps in learning that may have occurred during the pandemic.
What It Means
The potential ramifications of this law are obvious and extensive. Implementation of these provisions will require prompt response and sound planning to address consequences that may include unexpected class size changes and age-range requirements within classrooms.
Because schools have already been planning for accelerated learning initiatives in the fall to address the potential need of some students for remediation to fill gaps in learning, elections under this law may make implementation of these initiatives more complicated and less effective. Social-emotional programming to address social losses associated with the pandemic may need revision for those students that may now be returning to classes that may not include friends with whom students have hoped to re-connect.
Elections under this law may affect a school’s ability to provide programming with typically developing peers of the same age. Although funds provided through the American Recovery Plan/ Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund may be applied to pay for education of students over the age of 21, there can be no dispute that the law imposes an additional FAPE obligation on schools that is not contemplated under state or federal law.
Bottom Line for Schools
Schools must accept forms from parents and adult students and provide education next school year consistent with those elections. Meeting with families to discuss options is certainly allowed, but the school does not have authority to override the parent’s decision. Schools do not have an obligation to notify parents of their options under this law. Because PDE is charged with creation of the notification form, it would make sense to rely on PDE to also notify parents. There has been much news coverage of the law, however, so schools would be well advised to be aware of when PDE issues its form and to be able to guide parents who contact the school for assistance. Close consultation with school solicitors is advised, particularly with regard to special education programming. More info: https://www.education.pa.gov
If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the Special Education attorneys at KingSpry.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.