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.
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.
- The approval to offer distance education programs is a multi-step process, requiring the approval of an institution’s accreditor, and in some cases, particular state education agencies.
- USED’s guidance grants accrediting bodies the option to waive its distance education review for institutions to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted.
- The New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) has provided a statement on its website addressing its process. WCET SAN has collated this list of programmatic accreditors.
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.
- A 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.
Additional compliance considerations
Resources to support the sudden shift to distance modalities
- Web: UPCEA COVID-19 Resources for Education
- Rubric: Quality Matters: Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist
- Webinar: Online Learning Consortium: Making the shift to online learning
- One-Sheet: Suggested practices and considerations for Institutional Student Complaint Processes, New England Board of Higher Education, March 2020
- Article: Selecting and online exam proctoring service, Kelvin Bentley
- Webinar: How to Survive Your (Hurried) Switch to Online Delivery Using UDL, Online Learning Consortium March 27, 2020
- Article: Chronicle of Higher Education: Going Online in a Hurry: What to Do and Where to Start, Michelle D. Miller
- Teaching in the context of COVID-19, Jacqueline Wernimont (Dartmouth, USA), Cathy N. Davidson (CUNY USA)
- Tips and tools for teaching online in a pinch, Bonnie Budd, Course Kitchen
- Creating an Online Community – Quick Tech Guide
- Teaching effectively during times of disruption, Stanford University
- Web: WCET Frontiers - Keeping Accessibility in mind during the COVID-19 conversion of courses
- WebAIM: Articles and resources to help make web content accessible to people with disabilities
- CooleyED: Online Accessibility and Anti-discrimination in Schools
- The Digital Divide and Equity, August 2018
USED: Office for Civil Rights
- Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research
- Open Education Global & CCCOER, along with community contributors, have compiled OER Toolkits and repositories, Teaching Online tips, and more.