Dear County and District Superintendents and Charter School Administrators:
Independent Study Notice Pertaining to Assembly Bill 130 and Alternative Schools and Programs of Choice
The California Department of Education (CDE) understands that local educational agencies (LEAs) are preparing for the 2021–22 school year and may need guidance on the implementation of independent study (IS) during this year, in accordance with the new statutory provisions signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom as Assembly Bill 130 (AB 130) on July 9, 2021. To support LEAs in this effort, the CDE is reaching out to provide guidance and assistance. The following information is provided to support addressing instructional delivery needs, including the possible establishment of a virtual school.
AB 130 makes changes to IS and requires school districts and county offices of education (COEs) to offer IS programs to meet the educational needs of pupils.
The revisions provided by AB 130 to the state’s existing IS law include, but are not limited to, higher curriculum and teaching standards, requiring a minimum amount of synchronous instruction, a provision to ensure all pupils have access to the connectivity and devices adequate to participate in their educational program, IS offering requirements, a provision for waivers of the offering requirements, required parent notification, pupil-parent-educator conferences, and additions to board policies and written agreements.
For the 2021–22 school year only, school districts and COEs are required to offer IS as an educational option.
School districts may choose to contract with a COE or establish an interdistrict transfer agreement to meet the requirement of offering IS for the 2021–22 school year. The requirement to offer IS can be waived by the COE if the district demonstrates that 1) the mandate creates an “unreasonable fiscal burden,” and 2) entering into an interdistrict transfer agreement or contract is not a viable option. This requirement can be waived by the CDE for a COE or school district in a single district county.
Regardless of whether IS is offered through a program within a school or exclusive at a school site, IS has a number of conditions that must be met to generate funding in addition to the methodology used to determine average daily attendance. These requirements are evaluated through the annual audit guide process, during which external auditors follow audit procedures to determine whether LEAs are in compliance. As such, when offering IS, the following requirements, which have been updated to reflect changes per AB 130, must be met:
- For the 2021–22 school year, notify parents of all enrolled pupils of their option to enroll their child in in-person or IS during the 2021–22 school year.
- Maintain a current, signed, written learning agreement for each pupil.
- The level of satisfactory education progress and number of allowable missed assignments before an academic evaluation is triggered. A written record of the evaluation must be treated as a mandatory interim pupil record and maintained for three years.
- When satisfactory education progress in one or more courses is not being made, certificated employees must notify the pupil or parent/guardian and conduct an evaluation of appropriateness of program and options.
- Satisfactory progress as an added means to evaluate continued IS participation and placement.
- Provision of standards aligned content in IS that is substantially equivalent to the quality and intellectual challenge of in-person instruction.
- For high schools, a provision for access to all courses offered by the LEA for graduation and approved by the University of California or the California State University as creditable under the A–G admissions criteria.
- Procedures for tiered reengagement strategies for all pupils not generating attendance for more than three schooldays or 60 percent of the instructional days in a school week, or who are in violation of their written learning agreement.
- Procedures for tiered reengagement strategies for pupils not making satisfactory educational progress in one or more courses, or who are in violation of the written learning agreement.
- A plan to provide opportunities for daily synchronous instruction for pupils in transitional kindergarten to grade three, daily live interaction and at least weekly synchronous learning for pupils in grades four to eight, and at least weekly synchronous instruction for pupils in grades nine to twelve.
- A transition plan for pupils whose families wish to return to in-person instruction, expeditiously and not later than five instructional days.
- Maximum length of time to complete assignments, by grade level and type of program (traditional IS only).
- Policies that comply with California Education Code (EC) Section 51749.5 (course-based IS only).
- Courses are taught under the general supervision of appropriately credentialed teachers who are employees of the LEA or for whom a memorandum of understanding is provided (course-based IS only).
- Courses are annually certified to be of the same rigor, educational quality, and intellectual challenge substantially equivalent to in-person instruction and equivalent classroom-based courses, which shall include access to A–G courses for high schools. The certification must include, at a minimum, the course duration, number of equivalent daily and total instructional minutes, and course credits, number of course credits, and a plan to provide required minimum synchronous learning and live interaction (course-based IS only).
- Pupil age and residency eligibility (course-based IS only).
- Proctored exams (course-based IS only).
- Number of course credits to be earned, or for elementary grades other measures of academic progress.
- Statement that IS is optional.
- Signed by pupil or parent/guardian and applicable certificated staff.
- For traditional, general supervising certificated staff
- For course-based, all certificated staff offering instruction
- The manner, time, frequency, and place for communicating with a parent/guardian regarding academic progress.
- The inclusion of confirming or providing access to all pupils to the connectivity and devices adequate for participation and completion of work in the specific resources made available to the pupil.
- The level of satisfactory educational progress that would trigger an evaluation of whether or not the pupil should be allowed to continue in IS.
- Duration of the agreement, including beginning and end dates not to exceed one school year.
- A detailed statement of academic and other supports provided to address the needs of pupils not performing at grade level, or needed support in other areas such as English learners, individuals with exceptional needs in order to be consistent with the pupil’s individualized education program or 504 plans, pupils in foster care, pupils experiencing homelessness, and pupils requiring mental health supports.
- A provision for electronic signatures, if an LEA chooses to make use of electronic signatures for written agreements.
For the 2021–22 school year only, written agreements must be signed no later than 30 days after the first day of instruction. All other IS requirements must be met upon commencement of instruction. For any other school year written agreements must be signed prior to commencement of IS.
- Pupils shall meet age eligibility requirements.
- Pupils cannot generate home and hospital attendance through IS.
- Individualized education programs for pupils with exceptional needs must specifically provide for IS participation.
- IS participation must be voluntary, and all pupils must have a classroom option within the district.
- Pupils expelled cannot be placed on IS without being offered the alternative of classroom instruction.
- Pupils must be enrolled in a school within the district as well as the IS program.
- Pupils enrolled in a district pursuant to an interdistrict transfer due to parent employment cannot generate average daily attendance through IS. Pupils must reside in the county or adjacent county.
School Site Requirements: Districts may operate a separate school, which many districts refer to as a “virtual school,” as an Alternative School of Choice (ASOC), using IS as the instructional delivery mode for instruction by electing one of two IS instructional delivery options:
- Option 1: Traditional IS instructional delivery is based on a time value of assignments as determined by the supervising instructor.
- Option 2: Course-based IS instructional delivery is based on enrollment in a certified LEA course or courses with attendance earned if all course requirements are met and the pupil is making satisfactory progress.
Current law only allows LEAs to operate virtual schools using an IS instructional delivery mode for instruction that is in adherence with options 1 or 2.
In addition to the programmatic requirements noted above that must be met to generate attendance through IS, in a school setting LEAs have school site-based instructional time requirements that apply to all school sites within the district. Some of these requirements carry fiscal penalties if unmet. The CDE encourages LEAs to consult with their independent auditors to ensure compliance with site-based annual minute requirements, and with their legal counsel to ensure compliance with equity length of time requirements pursuant to the EC sections 37202 and 46207.
Requirements for Establishing an Alternative School of Choice
To establish a separate school as an ASOC, which many districts refer to as a “virtual school”, the LEA shall provide evidence that (1) the school is a school, and (2) that the school has been established, as applicable. LEAs shall meet the requirements listed below prior to the issuance of a County-District-School (CDS) code:
- Evidence that the School is a School
- The governing board has taken action to establish the school. Note: Include the minutes of the governing board meeting indicating board action, and the materials submitted to the board for consideration of the proposal to establish a new school.
- The governing board has named the school or established a process by which the school will be named.
- The school has an appropriately credentialed administrator (usually a principal) who is responsible for all aspects of school administration (e.g., hiring staff, fiscal responsibility) and who is treated the same as other principals in the district (e.g., reports to the same district superintendent as other principals, attends meetings of principals, etc.). Note: The administrator may have other duties (e.g., principal of another school, district administrator) as long as he or she functions as the principal of the school as described above.
- The school has an approved budget as a separate school, and the budget structure is consistent with the budget structure of other schools operated by the district. Note: The budget of a comprehensive school must also be provided for comparison (EC Section 58507).
- The school has appropriately credentialed teachers and clerical support staff. Note: Provide a chart listing teachers by subject, grade level, and credential. Do not include teachers' names or other identifying information.
- A facility, consisting of one or more buildings, or an identified set of rooms, has been acquired, with a street address. Note: The school may share a site with another school or with administration buildings. For example, a school may share a facility with another school if the facility is used at different hours—an adult school with classes that meet at night and another school with classes that meet during the day.
- The school facility is "Field Act safe" or necessary exceptions have been obtained (EC sections 17365–17374).
- Pupils are enrolled in the school, unless the school is in the last stages of formation (e.g., when a school facility is under construction and pupils will be enrolled as soon as it is completed, and the school opens). Note: Do not include a list of pupils by name. Provide the projected pupil enrollment by grade level.
- School records are kept separately from those of other schools. Note: The school may share physical office space with a pre-existing school at the site, but the school’s administrative and pupil records—personnel, budget, and pupil cumulative record ("cum") files—should be maintained in separate file cabinets or at least separate file drawers.
- The school implements a curriculum that fully meets state requirements as specified in the EC relating to required courses of study. Note: Include a letter from a district officer who certifies that the school will not provide an alternative curriculum.
- The school administers California statewide assessment tests to its pupils at the required grade levels. Note: Include a letter from a district officer who certifies that the school will administer statewide assessments. The certifications for items 10 and 11 may be included in one letter.
In addition to the above required information used by CDE staff to verify that the school is a school, the following evidence may be helpful in our review. The items in the following list are not required, but offer a guide to providing community access to your school and its program offerings:
- Evidence that the School has Been Established (if applicable, provide a copy)
- The school is identified in a published list or directory of schools in the district, such as a roster with contact phone numbers for staff members (include a page with the school highlighted).
- The school is listed as a school on the district's website (attach a copy of the web page showing the school).
- Parents/guardians and pupils receive or have access to a description of the programs offered at the school (attach a copy of the cover page of the school’s pupil/parent handbook).
- The school website or handbook lists policies regarding enrollment at the school (attach a page from the school’s policy handbook).
- If applicable, the school website or other publications indicate that the school receives Title I funding (attach appropriate web page or page from the pupil/parent handbook).
- The school has a school site council.
- For secondary schools, the school is in the process of seeking accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges website located at https://www.acswasc.org/, or has the intention to do so (attach a letter of intent or application).
- For secondary schools, the school intends to submit its courses for University of California and California State University A–G subject area requirements approval that are located on the University of California web page at https://hs-articulation.ucop.edu/guide (attach a letter of intent or application).
Obtaining a County-District-School Code for Virtual/Independent Study Schools
Before the CDE can assign a CDS code (County-District-School Administration web page located at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ds/) to a school, it must determine that the "school" is not a program or set of programs. In order to determine whether a school is a school, the CDE needs independent evidence of the following submitted with the application for a CDS code for an ASOC:
- In order to obtain a CDS code for newly established virtual school providing instruction through IS, LEAs shall notify the CDE of the establishment of the new school by applying for a CDS code. The application for a CDS code is available on the CDE website at https://www3.cde.ca.gov/opuscds/appcdscode/.
- Along with the application for a CDS code, LEAs shall also provide governing board minutes that show the approval of the establishment of the school and shall ensure the new school meets the CDE’s definition of a school as defined on the CDE’s Definition of a School web page at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/si/ds/dos.asp.
- Schools being established as ASOCs shall also provide additional evidence that the school meets the elements outlined on the CDE’s Checklist: Application for a New School web page at https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/as/appchecklist.asp. In addition, LEAs shall also ensure the ASOC meets the IS requirements as outlined in this notice.
- Provided the LEA’s Application for a CDS code is complete, has been signed by the Superintendent, and all supporting documentation has been submitted and reviewed by CDE staff, the CDE will issue a CDS code to the newly established school and notify the LEA of their newly assigned CDS code.
In closing, LEAs are also encouraged to coordinate with their leadership teams to review their virtual school operations.
If you have any questions regarding this notice, please contact the following CDE staff accordingly:
- For questions regarding the establishment of an ASOC, please contact email@example.com.
- For questions regarding the implementation of an IS Program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For questions regarding the CDS code application process, please contact email@example.com.
- For questions regarding attendance accounting and instructional time for IS, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your hard work and efforts on behalf of pupils and families are very much appreciated.
Family Engagement Division