ED Releases Interim Final Rule on American Rescue Plan Funding

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ED Releases Interim Final Rule on American Rescue Plan Funding

As a requirement for receiving the remaining American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, the U.S. Department of Education will be requiring LEAs to develop and submit to SEAS a plan for the use of the ARP dollars as well as how they will ensure a safe return to school learning environment for students and staff.

The use of funds plan must include how funds will be used to implement prevention and mitigation strategies that are to the extent possible consistent with CDC guidance on reopening schools. The LEA must also describe how they are using the 20% of ARP earmarked for learning recovery efforts and how they will spend the remaining ESSER funds of the ARP Act. It will also require the LEA to describe how they will respond to the social, emotional and mental health needs of all students with a specific emphasis on vulnerable subgroups. The LEA must also describe how they are meaningfully consulting with stakeholders and allowing for public input on their plan.

Of particular note are the requirements that ED is requiring for meaningful stakeholder engagement on the ARP spending plan. In addition to consulting with usual groups (students; families; school and district administrators, including special education administrators; and teachers, principals, school leaders, other educators, school staff, and their unions) ED mandates that the LEA demonstrate that they have consulted with tribes, civil rights organizations (including disability rights organizations) and stakeholders representing the interests of children with disabilities, English learners, children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, migratory students, children who are incarcerated, and other underserved students.

As a separate requirement, the LEA must have a “safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services plan” which is reviewed/revised at a minimum of every 6 months through September 2024. The LEA must seek public input into its “return to school” plan and take such input into account in determining whether to revise its plan and take into consideration the timing of significant changes to CDC guidance on reopening schools that could impact the plan. This plan must describe how how it will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff and the extent to which it has adopted policies, and a description of any such policies, on each of the following safety recommendations established by the CDC:

Universal and correct wearing of masks.

Modifying facilities to allow for physical distancing (e.g., use of cohorts/podding).

Handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, including improving ventilation.

Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine, in collaboration with the State, local, territorial, or Tribal health departments.

Diagnostic and screening testing.

Efforts to provide vaccinations to school communities.

Appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities with respect to health and safety policies.

This plan will also have to describe how the LEA will ensure continuity of services, including but not limited to services to address students’ academic needs and students’ and staff social, emotional, mental health, and other needs, which may include student health and food services. In addition, if at the time the LEA revises its plan the CDC has updated its guidance on reopening schools, the revised plan must address the extent to which the LEA has adopted policies, and describe any such policies, for each of the updated safety recommendations.

Finally, each LEA’s ARP ESSER plan must be in an understandable and uniform format and to the extent practicable, written in a language that parents can understand or, if not practicable, orally translated; and, upon request by a parent who is an individual with a disability, provided in an alternative format accessible to that parent.

 

USDA Extends School Meal flexibilities to June 2022

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USDA Extends School Meal flexibilities to June 2022

On April 20, 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a broad set of flexibilities to promote safety and social distancing in the federal school meal programs as local education agencies continue to transition to in-person learning during the 2021-22 school year.

Specifically, USDA's announcement will extend multiple COVID-19 school nutrition nationwide flexibilities through June 30, 2022, which AASA advocated for at the beginning of the pandemic and supported school food-service operators' efforts to keep students fed while limiting exposure to COVID-19. Under the announcement, the following waivers and flexibilities are available to LEAs: 

  1. Schools nationwide can serve meals free to all students through the National School Lunch Program's Seamless Summer Option (SSO). While the waivers do not extend the option to operate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) during the regular school year, schools that opt for SSO will get the benefit of the summer reimbursement rate for each meal served. The summer rate is higher than the typical rate for each reduced-price meal or free meal served as part of NSLP.
  2. USDA will continue to offer targeted meal pattern flexibility and technical assistance as needed. This will help school districts reasonably comply with food supply disruptions while maintaining access to nutritious meals. 
  3. School districts can continue providing breakfasts, lunches, and after-school snacks in non-group settings at flexible meal times. Parents or guardians can also pick up meals for their children when programs are not operating normally while still complying with social distancing consistent with federal recommendations.  

AASA and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) released a joint statement supporting the proposal yesterday, April 20, 2021. AASA executive director Daniel A. Domenech said, "Throughout the last year, we have seen record levels of food insecurity across the nation. While our schools have made tremendous strides toward re-opening with in-person learning and returning to some semblance of normalcy, it is clear that our students and school food-service operations are continuing to recover from the pandemic. As we enter this new transition period, USDA's move to allow schools to operate the Seamless Summer Option and offer all meals free to students as well as provide continue targeted meal pattern flexibility and technical support to local education agencies will give superintendents the tools to tackle this issue and customize meal service designed to fit local needs..."  

You can check out the press release by clicking here