Open Letter to Parents
Distance Learning Rules
President's Education Awards
Odds and Ends
Quote to Note
Open Letter to Parents
In an August 31 letter to parents, Secretary DeVos expressed how important it is that every student have access to full-time learning this fall in the ways and places that work best for their family — online, in-person, or utilizing a hybrid approach. The letter is excerpted below (see also video, Twitter thread, and "From the Desk of the Secretary" message).
"It's back-to-school season, but it sure feels different than any other year. So, let's talk about something that's been weighing heavily on your minds and on mine. How can students — your daughter, your son — safely continue to learn and to grow this fall? I know many of you feel overwhelmed or powerless. Frustrated or confused. Anxious or eager for clarity. And tired — really tired. All of those emotions are understandable. This has been hard on everyone."
"That's why President Donald Trump and I are fighting every day for more options for every student and every family this fall. Every family needs to be able to do what's right for their child. Their money should follow their student. Our schools exist because you pay for them, and you should be empowered to put your money to better use if your school isn't meeting your needs. That starts with schools being open.
"Let me clear at least one thing up right now: no one is suggesting that every single child must be behind a desk in a classroom, or that health realities on the ground won't cause temporary disruptions. We do, however, believe that, as the rule, schools must be open for in-person learning as an option for the families who want or need it. More broadly, we believe families need more options than ever to find the right fit."
"Teachers and educators, we support options for you as well. If you want to teach in person, we support you. We've provided $13 billion in emergency federal taxpayer funding for PPE, cleaning, training, and coordination to ensure a safe learning environment. If your health requires you to teach virtually, we support you. We have proposed flexible and personalized funding for professional development to improve teacher preparation.
"At the end of the day, we want everyone to have the choices to make the best decision for them. Some may choose to learn at home. Some may choose to return to their school. Some may choose to do a combination of both. Each of you needs to be able to choose what's best for your own families, because you know your children and their circumstance better than anyone. Your child. Your school. Your way. No matter what you choose for your children, we all want it to be effective and safe."
"Researchers from the University of Virginia and Brown University found an alarming projection: students are likely to return this fall with only two-thirds of the gains in reading and less than half the gains in math we would normally expect. And projections from a leading consulting firm show that will only worsen — months and months of learning lost — without access to high-quality, full-time instruction. That translates to a lifetime of negative impacts."
"I consider all of these data in my role as secretary of education. But I mostly look at it as a human being with a love for all children…. I'm a mom, too. I'm a grandmother, too. I want each and every child in America to have the same opportunities — and more — that my own kids had. If my children were still school-aged, I would send them back to school. In fact, my children are sending their own little ones — my precious grandchildren — back to school this fall, in person. That's their choice as parents. You can agree with them or disagree with them, do the same, or do something different. I'm not suggesting it's the right choice for you, too. I just want you to have the power, the resources, and the freedom to make your call."
"We certainly didn't ask for this pandemic, but generally no challenge is invited — we meet this head on because we're parents. It's what we do…. Let's not deprive [our children] of all the wonderful things that can only come from a full-time, challenging, world class education. I know we can do this."
Last week, the Secretary visited Forsyth Central High School in Georgia, where she toured classrooms and heard from parents, teachers, and school administrators about reopening for in-person instruction.
The White House, the Department, and other federal agencies continue to release guidance to support schools, educators, and families regarding COVID-19. Many of the latest documents are listed below. Please visit the Department's COVID-19 information and resources web page for the most current information, and any questions for the Department may be directed to COVIDemail@example.com.
- Coronavirus.gov, CDC.gov/Coronavirus, and USA.gov/Coronavirus
- Letter from Secretary DeVos to Chief State School Officers regarding administering summative assessments during the 2020-21 school year
- Secretary DeVos Implements President Trump's Presidential Memorandum Extending Student Loan Relief to Borrowers through End of Year
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Back to School Planning: Checklists to Guide Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers (for both in-person learning and virtual learning)
- CDC's Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School (updated August 26, 2020), Operational Considerations for Schools (updated August 31, 2020), and Considerations for Operating Schools during COVID-19 (updated September 1, 2020)
- Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) Deadlines for Flexibilities Related to Coronavirus (updated August 21, 2020)
- OPE Federal Register notice reopening (until September 30, 2020) the period for institutions of higher education (IHEs) to apply for Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund grants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- OPE Federal Register notice of Public Posting Requirement of Grant Information for HEER Fund Grantees (maintains reporting elements but clarifies an item and decreases the frequency of reporting)
- Fact Sheet Regarding Contracted Services Not Performed Due to COVID-19
- Department of Agriculture Extension of Free Meals for Kids through December 31, 2020
- Department of Health and Human Services Distribution of 125 Million Cloth Face Masks to Schools
- Department of Labor Answering Questions about Eligibility for Paid Leave and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of Education Mitchell Zais, the Disaster Recovery Unit (DRU), and the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) have been contacting State Education Agencies (SEAs) and IHEs in those states most significantly impacted by Hurricane Laura to offer support and technical assistance.
Distance Learning Rules
Last month, Secretary DeVos issued final regulations governing distance learning in higher education, promoting educational innovation to better serve the needs of an increasingly diverse population of students. While work on the regulations started more than a year ago, the COVID-19 national emergency makes clear that students must have access to high-quality remote learning options (see also fact sheet).
The final rules:
- emphasize demonstrated learning over seat time;
- remove confusion over whether a course is eligible for Title IV aid by defining "regular and substantive" interaction between students and instructors;
- clarify and simplify the requirements for direct assessment programs, including how to determine equivalent credit hours;
- add a definition of "juvenile justice facility" to ensure that incarcerated students remain Pell eligible;
- allow students enrolled in Title IV-eligible foreign institutions to complete up to 25% of their programs at an eligible institution in the U.S. (which is particularly important for students temporarily unable to attend courses abroad due to the pandemic);
- encourage employer participation in developing educational programs;
- create a new, student-centric system for disbursing Title IV assistance to students within subscription-based programs; and
- require prompt action by the Department on applications to participate, or continue to participate, as an eligible institution in Title IV (in the past, these applications have been stalled for months or years).
The regulations are the result of a months-long negotiated rulemaking effort that began with public hearings and engaged a subcommittee of subject matter experts to formulate recommendations that were ultimately considered by a panel of representatives from the higher education and consumer protection communities. Negotiators reached consensus on the language, which strikes a balance between fostering innovation and protecting students and taxpayers from waste, fraud, and abuse. (Note: The rules officially take effect July 1, 2021, but institutions may voluntarily utilize the flexibilities now.)
President's Education Awards
Since 1983, the President's Education Awards Program (PEAP) has bestowed individual recognition from the President to students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence. School principals determine the number of qualifying students based on selection criteria and verify orders for awards. There is no limit on the number of awards, as long as students meet the criteria. Students receive a certificate and congratulatory letter signed by the President and the Secretary of Education. This year, despite the uncertainty and challenges related to COVID-19, nearly 1.75 million elementary, middle, and high school students from more than 18,750 schools were recognized under PEAP (press release). (Note: A list of PEAP participating schools by state and year is posted online.)
September 17 is Constitution Day/Citizenship Day, commemorating the September 17, 1787, signing of the U.S. Constitution. In recognition, Congress has mandated that every educational institution receiving federal funding hold an educational program about this seminal document. To assist students and educators in their studies, the National Archives and Records Administration offers key resources, including a free online version of its U.S. Constitution Workshop. Likewise, free online resources are available from the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. Census Bureau.
This year is also the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which extended the right to vote to women. In celebration, First Lady Melania Trump opened an art exhibit outside the White House commissioned from the nation's children (readout). Some 450 artworks were submitted, with the First Lady, the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission, and the White House curator's office choosing the winners. Secretary DeVos attended the event and interacted with about 30 of the young artists (photo).
Odds and Ends
- A new report from the Department of Justice's School Safety Working Group outlines "Ten Essential Activities to Improve School Safety."
- The Department's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released the latest in its series of "OSEP Fast Facts" covering Black/African-American children with disabilities and American Indian/Alaska Native children with disabilities.
- Also, OSEP's parent office, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), published an update to "A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities." This guide has additional information about dual enrollment and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. Its primarily goal is to help students and youth with disabilities and their families to better understand how SEAs, local educational agencies (LEAs), and vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies work together to facilitate improved outcomes for all students.
- In a Federal Register notice, the Secretary announces guidance documents the Department is rescinding because they are outdated, after conducting a review of agency guidance under Executive Order 13891.
- A Department-funded PBS Kids television show, "Molly of Denali," won a Peabody Award, given for excellence in broadcasting. The show is the first nationally distributed children's series to feature an Alaskan native lead character. It has involved over 60 Alaska natives at every level of production, including developing stories and writing scripts, serving as advisors on language and culture, and composing and performing music.
- The Economic Development Administration recently kicked off a $2 million STEM Talent Challenge, seeking to develop or expand regional workforce capacity to support high-growth, high-wage entrepreneurial ventures, industries of the future, and other innovation-driven businesses that have a high likelihood of accelerating economic competitiveness and job creation in their regions and the country.
- The National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is seeking qualified candidates for the following five positions to be appointed in fall 2021: general public representative, elementary school principal, testing and measurement expert, and governor (a Democrat and a Republican).
Quote to Note
"This COVID-19 crisis intensifies feelings and fears like never before. But let me suggest to you something greater than fear: faith. We parents know that tension between faith and fear all too well. That first day of school is a leap of faith in our kids and in each other: faith in our kids to remember all that we teach them; faith in adults to be good stewards of our children’s formative years; faith in ourselves to trust that our children will do the right thing when we’re not around -- and fess up when they don’t. We parents can be fearful, but we can be faithful too."
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (8/31/20), in a back to school letter to parents
On September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, volunteers will spruce up schools, paint and refurbish homes, run food drives, and support veterans, soldiers, military families, and first responders.
The first-ever virtual National HBCU Week Conference will be held September 20-26.
This year's National Tribal Broadband Summit will be conducted virtually September 21-25.
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