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Distance Learning Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Distance Learning pursuant to Education Code 43500-43511.

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General

  1. What is distance learning?

    Distance learning is defined in Education Code Section 43500(a).

    Distance learning means instruction in which the pupil and instructor are in different locations and pupils are under the general supervision of a certified employee of the local educational agency (LEA). Distance learning may include, but is not limited to, all of the following:

    • Interaction, instructions, and check-ins between teachers and pupils through the use of a computer or other communications technology.
    • Video or audio instruction in which the primary mode of communication between the pupil and certified employee is online interaction, instructional television, video, telecourses, or other instruction that relies on computer or communications technology.
    • The use of print, video, and audio materials incorporating assignments that are the subject of written or oral feedback.
  1. What is considered in-person instruction?

    In-person instruction is defined as instruction under the immediate physical supervision and control of a certificated employee of the LEA while engaged in educational activities required of the pupil.

  1. What is considered an LEA for these purposes?

    An LEA for purpose of these provisions means a school district, county office of education (COE), or a charter school, excluding a charter school classified as a nonclassroom-based charter as of the 2019–20 fiscal year.

  1. When can LEAs offer distance learning?

    The intent is that LEAs offer in-person instruction to the greatest extent possible. However, LEAs can, and in some instances must, offer distance learning and/or hybrid models of learning under certain circumstances during the 2020–21 school year [Education Code Section 43503(a)(2)].

    • Distance learning and/or a hybrid model of learning (a combination of in-person and distance learning) can be offered as a result of an order or guidance from a state or local public health official.
      • According to a letter to the Journal External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF), the intent is not to require a directive from local public health officials specific to closing down in-person learning, but rather that LEAs actively work in consultation and collaboration with public health officials in determining whether to offer distance learning for a particular site or LEA-wide. The provision is also not intended to prevent an LEA from adopting a distance learning, hybrid, or mixed-delivery instructional model to ensure safety. Instead LEAs have flexibility to determine what instructional model the LEA will adopt during the COVID-19 Pandemic, taking into account the needs of their students and staff and their available infrastructure, provided the model adheres to an applicable state and local health guidance.
      • LEAs do need to continue to follow all other public health guidance, directives, and orders, including those not specific to schools, that impact school indoor and outdoor facilities and activities (e.g., social distancing guidance).
    • For students who are medically fragile, students who are self-quarantining because of exposure to COVID-19, or for students who would be put at risk by in-person instruction.
      • The letter to the Journal notes that the intent is to allow LEAs to offer distance learning based on the unique circumstances of each student. It allows for medically fragile students, and those in self-quarantine, but also for those students who would be put at-risk by in person instruction and as such, does not require an LEA to verify or make a determination that a request for this allowance meets a specific standard.
    • Non-classroom-based charter schools do not provide distance learning as defined in EC Section 43500(a). Instead, non-classroom-based charter schools continue to provide independent study pursuant to their petition. As a result, this new requirement does not apply to non-classroom-based charters who were defined as such pursuant to EC Section 47612.5 as of the 2019–20 fiscal year.

    Distance learning requirements are in place for the 2020–21 school year. LEAs that offer distance learning will not face penalties for instruction that doesn’t meet the requirements outlined in Education Code Section 43504 prior to September 1, 2020. To the extent possible it is recommended that LEAs begin the school year meeting the requirements outlined.

  1. Is an LEA required to offer distance learning?

    An LEA must offer instruction through distance learning if it is unable to offer in-person instruction in part or fully pursuant to a state or public health order.

  1. What type of distance learning model can LEAs offer?

    LEAs have the flexibility to determine what model best fits their situation, which includes hybrid and mixed-delivery models, so long as it ensures the safety of students and staff. The chosen model must take into account the needs of students and staff, as well as the infrastructure available to the school. The model must also adhere to applicable state or local public health orders or guidance (e.g., wearing face coverings, social distancing requirements, etc.) and include all necessary academic and other supports designed to address the needs of pupils who are not performing at grade level, or need support in other areas. The requirements for distance learning are outlined in Education Code Section 43503.

  1. Does an LEA need to get approval from a public health official to transition to distance learning?

    An LEA does not need to seek out or receive approval from a state or local public health officer prior to transitioning instruction to a distance learning model. However, LEAs are required to following public health orders and guidance, as applicable, in determining safe in-person instruction, and when distance learning may be necessary. Parents should be informed of how instruction will occur, in a language understandable to the parent, pursuant to Education Code Section 48985.

  1. Does an LEA need to get approval from a public health official for its planned model of distance learning?

    An LEA does not need to seek out or receive approval from a state or local public health officer prior for its planned model of distance learning model. However, LEAs are required to following public health orders and guidance, as applicable, in determining safe in-person instruction, and when distance learning may be necessary. Parents should be informed of how instruction will occur, in a language understandable to the parent, pursuant to Education Code Section 48985.

  1. Is distance learning available to individual students who are at-risk or whose parents have a concern about their student participating in in-person learning?

    Yes, distance learning must be offered for students who are medically fragile, would be put at risk by in person instruction, or who are self-quarantining because of concerns of exposure to COVID-19.

  1. Do schools need to confirm there is a valid reason that a student “would be put at risk by in-person instruction,” or is the student’s risk required to meet a specific standard?

    No. There is not a definition of students who “would be put at risk by in-person instruction,” as there are many circumstances when distance learning may be more appropriate. For example, a student may have a health condition, family members with health condition, live or regularly interact with high-risk individuals, or otherwise be identified as “at-risk” by a parent or guardian. There is no requirement for an LEA to verify or make a determination that a request to utilize distance learning meets a specific standard or require documentation.

  1. What is considered “live interaction?”

    Education Code Section 43503 requires that distance learning include “daily live interaction.” Daily live interaction is two-way communication between a certificated employee and student each instructional day, at the actual time of occurrence. Daily live interaction is required for every student with both a certificated employee and their student peers. In particular English learners, and students with special needs benefit from daily oral language development opportunities.

    Examples of daily live interaction include in-person and virtual communication or interactions, including but not limited to synchronous online instruction (per statute) and phone calls where both parties communicate at the time of occurrence. One-way communication, including voicemails, emails, or print materials, is not considered a live interaction.

    Pursuant to Education Code Section 43503(b)(6), if daily live interaction is not feasible as part of regular instruction, the governing board or body of the LEA shall develop, with parent and stakeholder input, an alternative plan for frequent live interaction that provides a comparable level of service and school connectedness.

  1. What is the difference between daily live interaction and daily participation?

    The purpose of daily live interaction, which occurs with teachers and students, is to provide instruction, monitor progress, and maintain school/social connectedness. The intent of daily live interaction is to ensure each student has live contact at least once each instructional day with a certificated employee, and ideally live contact with peers, even if live contact is not possible as part of daily instruction.

    Daily participation is used to track attendance and ensure daily engagement by all students in learning activities. However, documenting daily participation may be met through daily live interaction with a teacher or virtual assignments. Daily participation may also be documented through participation in online activities, completion of regular assignments, and contacts between employees of the LEA, including those other than teachers, and pupils or parents or guardians.

  1. Is the requirement for daily live interaction met if the interaction is only between an individual student and a teacher?

    No. All students are required to receive daily live interaction with both a certificated employee and their peers for the purpose of instruction, progress monitoring and school connectedness. Teachers may meet individually with students but this alone does not meet the requirements for daily live interaction. The minimum standard should be the same for all students regardless of which school or program the student participates in within the LEA. Every effort should be taken to determine the amount of interaction that is needed for students to progress academically and remain engaged in learning and connected to the school community.

  1. Is there a requirement for how frequently regular communication with parents or guardians regarding a pupil’s academic progress must occur?

    The statute does not define how this communication must occur, however LEAs should align communications on student academic progress with communications related to re-engagement of students pursuant to Education Code Section 43503(f)(2). LEAs should consider including the following when creating their local policy on how frequently to communicate with parents:

    • Language of the parent
    • Progress along the continuum of language development
    • Access to content
    • Strategies to improve attendance and motivation
    • Information for parents to learn the virtual systems used by teachers
    • Information for parents to understand home schedules and learning environments
    • Social-emotional effects from distance learning
    • Additional strategies included in the LEA’s Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan pursuant to Education Code Section 43509(f)(1)(F).
  1. May the State Board of Education (SBE) waive any of the requirements in Part 24.5 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Education Code?

    No, pursuant to Education Code Section 43511(a), the SBE may not waive any portion of the distant learning provisions.

  2. Can students avail themselves of an independent study program rather than distance learning in the 2020–21 school year? (new 7/31/20)
    Students can participate in independent study programs during the 2020–21 school year. When offering independent study programs, an LEA will need to ensure that the LEA still meets the statutory distance learning requirements in order to avoid any audit penalties. These requirements include the following:

    • Adopt a learning continuity plan and attendance plan that includes plans for the distance learning program
    • Track and report daily participation
    • Maintain a weekly engagement record for each student documenting synchronous or asynchronous instruction for each whole or partial day of distance learning, verifying daily participation, and tracking assignments
    • Schedule students for a minimum days’ worth of assignments each day as certified to by a certificated employee
    • Develop written procedures for tiered reengagement strategies for all pupils who are absent for more than three schooldays or 60 percent of the instructional days in a school week
    • Provide either daily live interaction or develop an alternative plan for frequent live interaction
  1. May the requirement for daily live interaction be met through synchronous learning (e.g., classroom instruction provided through interactive web meetings such as Zoom or Webex)? (new 7/31/20)

    Yes. Pursuant to Education Code Section 43503(b)(6), synchronous instruction may meet the requirements of daily live interaction, provided the remaining components of daily live interaction are also met. This includes interaction with certificated employees and peers.

Attendance and Absences

  1. What is required if students are not participating regularly in instruction?
    Education Code Section 43504(f) requires each LEA to develop written procedures for tiered reengagement strategies for all pupils who are absent from distance learning for more than three schooldays or 60 percent of the instructional days in a school week. These procedures shall include, but are not limited, to verification of current contact information for each enrolled pupil, daily notification to parents or guardians of absences, a plan for outreach from the school to determine pupil needs including connection line with health and social services as necessary and, when feasible, line transitioning the pupil to full-time in-person instruction.
  1. Are LEAs required to collect information on absences during distance learning? (new 7/31/20)

    Yes, pursuant to Education Code Section 52066(d)(5)(a) and (b), LEAs are required to collect information on absences and report absenteeism through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data (CALPADS) system.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  1. How can LEAs secure PPE when they are offering in-person instruction?

    All County Offices of Education received an initial allocation of PPE to support LEAs and expanded learning programs in their county with the initial restart of school, as announced by Governor Newsom on June 5, 2020. LEAs should contact their COE for additional information on this allocation from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES).

    Cal OES and the Department of General Services (DGS) are working to provide California Multiple Award Schedules (CMAS) contract vehicles that all LEAs will be able to use to procure PPE at discounted rates secured by the state. Until these contracts are available, the Safely Making California website External link opens in new window or tab. includes a searchable database of manufacturers for face masks, gloves, face shields, sanitizers, and other items.

Nutrition

  1. Will students who are participating in distance learning be provided meals?

    Yes. LEAs are required to provide nutritionally adequate meals for pupils who are eligible for Free and Reduced-Price meals whether engaged in in-person instruction or distance learning. Information regarding meals should be communicated in the language and format the parent understands.

    Please refer to School and Child and Adult Day Care Meals for additional COVID-19 guidance as well FAQs.

English Learners

  1. How are the needs of English learners being met through distance learning?

    English learners must receive designated and integrated English Language Development (ELD), including assessment of English language proficiency, support to access curriculum, the ability to reclassify as fully English proficient, and support for dual language learning.

    The LEAs are to incorporate designated and integrated ELD as part of the core instruction during distance learning model. Students are to continue to be assessed via distance learning to informally assess the progress in ELD pursuant to Section 11300 of Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations for English learners. LEAs are to continue to offer dual language support and language acquisition programs via distance learning. For more information regarding the ELPAC assessment using social distancing protocols, please see the assessment guidance provided on the CDE COVID–19 Assessment FAQs web page.

Nonclassroom-based Charter Schools

  1. Are non-classroom-based charter schools programs considered distance learning?

    Nonclassroom-based charter schools do not provide distance learning as defined in Education Code Section 43500(a). Instead, nonclassroom-based charter schools shall continue to provide independent study pursuant to their charter petition. As a result, these new requirements do not apply to nonclassroom-based charters who were defined as such pursuant to Education Code Section 47612.5 as of the 2019–20 fiscal year. A nonclassroom-based charter school described in Education Code Section 47612.5 as of the 2019–20 fiscal year shall continue to comply with all of the statutory requirements in Article 5.5 (commencing with Section 51745) of Chapter 5 of Part 28 of Division 4 and the implementing regulations for that article.

    Senate Bill (SB) 98 does require that a nonclassroom-based charter school to adopt a learning continuity and attendance plan pursuant to Education Code Section 43509, and shall not be required to adopt a local control and accountability plan pursuant to Education Code Section 47606.5.

Virtual Schools

  1. Can a school district open a virtual school or an independent study school to serve all students through distance learning? (new 7/31/20)
    Independent study or virtual programs offered as a form of independent study at school districts should be offered as a program, and are not a school type. Although for the 2020–21 school year, a school district is able to meet its instructional day requirements through distance learning and the annual instructional time requirements have been temporarily suspended, the requirement that instruction be under the immediate supervision of a certificated employee to be included in instructional day and minute calculations and the requirement that all students be offered specific annual instructional minutes will be back in effect in 2021–22. These requirements are both district level and site level requirements, which carry a financial penalty for not meeting them. The CDE would advise against opening a virtual or independent study school because school districts can put themselves at risk for potential audit findings and/or fiscal penalties in future years by operating a virtual school.

    In addition, distance learning and independent study are not interchangeable. While there is commonality between the two programs, the distance learning requirements established in Part 24.5, of the Education Code beginning with Section 43500 are different than the requirements of independent study. In order to establish an existing independent study program as a distance learning program for 2020–21, that independent study program would need to meet both independent study requirements and distance learning requirements.

Individualized Education Programs

  1. Are there new requirements related to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and distance learning? (new 8/4/20)

    Yes. Education Code Section 56345 was amended by SB 98 (Chapter 24, Statutes of 2020) to require that IEPs include a description of the means by which the IEP will be provided under emergency conditions, in which instruction or services, or both, cannot be provided to the pupil either at the school or in person for more than 10 school days. This description must be included in the development of each initial IEP or addressed during the regularly scheduled revision of an IEP, and must take public health orders into account.

    SB 98 included other notable changes related to special education and distance learning. Please refer to the related guidance posted on the CDE website for more information.


Questions:   California Department of Education | COVID19@cde.ca.gov
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, August 4, 2020
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