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SARA in the time of coronavirus by Sheridan Miller

Institutions are deploying online course delivery at an unprecedented scale in response to COVID-19. We share the following resources and information to assist in supporting critical decision making in a challenging time. We encourage you to engage your institution’s legal counsel and compliance staff in determining the appropriate actions specific to its educational activities.

 

Compliance Considerations

U.S. Department of Education (USED)

  • On May 15, 2020 USED updated its guidance to institutions and accrediting bodies in response to continued interruption of their activities as a result of COVID-19. (Note: Initial department guidance and FAQ were issued on March 5.)
  • The guidance outlines:
    • Extending Distance Education Waivers. The Department waived several regulations in its April 3 guidance (such as temporary approvals to transition to distance education as a result of COVID-19 and the ability to enter into consortium agreements to help students ) and it extended those waivers to terms that begin on or between May 5 and December 31, 2020.
    • Extending Virtual Visits for Accreditation. The flexibility provided in the March 17 guidance for virtual site visits for accreditation is extended to the end of the calendar year.
    • Verification of High School (or Equivalent) Completions Status on Transcripts. New students who are unable to document completion of high school or obtain transcripts due to COVID-19 may submit a signed statement attesting to their high school status.
    • Leave of Absence. Provides flexibility for students who had to leave a program due to COVID-19 as to where in their program that they may resume training.
    • Return of Title IV Funds for Students in Online Programs. For on-campus students enrolled in a term that includes March 13 who subsequently withdrew, the institution is not required to return Title IV funds. However, institutions or programs (we think) “that did not undergo changes in educational delivery or campus operations as a result of a COVID-19 emergency” must obtain a written attestation from the student that withdrew from a distance education program due to COVID-19.
    • Click for Summary by WCET Frontiers

The language ensures that schools will not be in violation of 34 CFR 600.9 state authorization requirements. Please continue reading for clarification regarding State level approvals and reciprocity. If an institution chooses to continue offering a new program or use distance education in a manner requiring USED’s approval after that point, it must seek approval under USED’s normal process. 

USED strongly recommends that institutions document, as contemporaneously as possible, any actions taken as a result of COVID-19.

USED: Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel 

USED: Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel

Accreditation

Read WCET Frontiers: Accreditation, Continuity of Operations and COVID-19.

READ WCET Frontiers: Accreditation, Continuity of Operations, and COVID-19

Reciprocity in distance learning

  • States have the authority to regulate educational activities within their borders and they may choose to regulate out-of-state institutions that conduct activities in their state.
  • Participation in a reciprocal agreement, such as the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), under the policies and procedures of the agreement, will support state level compliance with distance education delivery.
  • non-SARA participating institution, that may not have the approval to operate online in another state, will have that green light at the federal level during this time. Institutions may provide distance learning temporarily to accommodate students as a result of a COVID-19 interruption, including in cases where students began attendance in classes offered in a brick-and-mortar setting but were transitioned to a distance education format in the middle of the term.
  • At the state level, however, non-participating institutions must separately address state law requirements.The temporary relaxations of federal requirements for distance education do not have an impact on SARA policy.
  • View NC-SARA’s State Authorization Guide for state level compliance information, including States who regulate purely online programs by out-of-state institutions without regard to physical presence.

Read NC-SARA’s Statement on COVID19

Additional compliance considerations