Updated: December 14, 2021

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 229 (SB 229) into law on December 14, 2021, which enacts several temporary law provisions that give school districts greater flexibility to deliver alternative learning models for the 2021-2022 school year. The law is enacted as an emergency so it takes effect immediately. The three learning models addressed by SB 229 are blended learning, an extension of the remote learning plans initially instituted last year by HB 164, and online learning schools created under Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) 3302.42. This flexibility will be important going forward as districts consider new ways to provide instruction during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Blended Learning Models

SB 229 allows districts to submit a declaration to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) by April 30, 2022 to implement or discontinue the use of a blended learning model during the 2021-2022 school year. Although notification to ODE is required, a district’s use of blended learning for the 2021-2022 school year is not subject to ODE’s approval.

Additionally, SB 229 revises the definition of “blended learning” in the Ohio Revised Code to include “non-computer based opportunities.”

Districts that choose to implement a blended learning model for any portion of the 2021-2022 school year must also do the following:

  • Ensure students have access to the internet and devices to enable them to participate in online learning, including providing access or devices at no cost to students who do not have appropriate access (i.e. providing a wireless hot spot);
  • Monitor and assess student achievement and progress, providing additional services if necessary to improve student achievement;
  • Periodically communicate with parents or guardians on student progress;
  • Submit certain reports to ODE on the number and duration of students engaged in blended learning, including students with disabilities; and
  • Comply with the blended learning requirements of R.C. 3302.41.

Remote Learning Plans

In addition to blended learning models, SB 229 allows certain districts to reinstate their remote learning plans previously submitted through HB 164, which went into effect in July 2020. The remote instruction authorized by SB 229 is only for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year and only to students whose parents or guardians submit a written request for this option. It is important to note that the bill specifically prohibits districts who have already created an online school under R.C. 3302.42 (HB 110) from being able to reinstate their remote learning plans.

In order to continue instruction through a district’s remote learning plan, districts are required to adopt a Board resolution and notify ODE by December 15, 2021. Similar to blended learning models, notification to ODE is required, but the plan itself is not subject to approval by ODE.

A district that chooses to continue to offer remote instruction for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year must update their remote learning plan to include similar assurances and requirements as those for blended learning plans as indicated above. In addition, districts must also do the following for remote learning plans:

  • Meet all minimum school year requirements;
  • Track and document all remote student learning participation including online and offline activities;
  • Report student attendance based on student participation;
  • Develop a statement describing the school’s approach to address nonattendance and compliance with truancy procedures; and
  • Submit the remote learning plan to ODE and publish it on the district website.

Online Learning Schools

SB 229 does not make any changes to the requirements for online learning schools created under R.C. 3302.42, but it does add the following two provisions affecting these schools:

  • Students required to quarantine may participate in a district’s online learning school for the duration of that student’s quarantine; and
  • Online learning schools are exempt from the emergency management plan requirements so long as students are participating in in-person instruction or assessments at a location that is not covered by an emergency management plan.

Additional Provisions Affecting School Districts

SB 229 puts forth a series of other requirements affecting districts as well:

  • COVID-19 Remediation Plans: Districts are required to submit to ODE and publish on its website a remediation plan to address the loss of learning experience by students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. ODE will be developing standards and a template for the remediation plans.
  • Online Services for Special Education Students: For the 2021-2022 school year and upon request of a parent, an individual who holds a valid license with a licensing board is permitted to provide services electronically or through telehealth.
  • Withdrawal of Students for Failure to Take Assessments: Revises the requirements on automatic withdrawal of students by internet and computer-based schools so that the new starting point for considering two years of failure is the 2021-2022 school year.
  • Financial Literacy Instruction: Districts are required to integrate the study of economics and financial literacy into one or more existing social studies credits for students who enter ninth grade for the first time between July 1, 2010 and July 1, 2022.
  • Third Grade Reading Guarantee: Districts are exempt from retaining students under the third grade reading guarantee for the 2021-2022 school year.

As always, please contact legal counsel should you have questions regarding instructional options or the impact of these decisions on your specific district’s practices.

Sara G. Katz is an associate at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at skatz@walterhav.com or at 614.246.2274.