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 March 5, 2020 USED issued guidance to institutions facing possible interruptions of student due to COVID-19.
- The March 5, 2020 letter discusses five scenarios applicable to students at participating title IV institutions to address disbursement of federal student aid. The flexibility extends to students who enroll in payment periods that begin on or before June 1, 2020. See USED’s FAQ released March 20, 2020.
- 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
- 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.
- Institutional continuity plans, guidelines, and resources, Daniel Stanford, DePaul University
- National Campus and Universities Closed/Migrated online