On May 9, 2021, the Connecticut State Department of Education released guidance regarding the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (“ARP ESSER Guidance”). The ARP ESSER Guidance explains state-level priorities for the use of such funds and encourages districts to think boldly and create transformative programs for students. The ARP ESSER Guidance also describes two plans required of local educational agencies (“LEAs”) applying for ARP ESSER funds: (1) the Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan, and (2) the LEA ARP ESSER Plan.
In developing these plans, boards of education must provide an opportunity for public input and take such public comment into consideration. In addition, the plans must be published in an understandable and uniform format, in a language that parents can understand (or be orally translated), and in a format accessible to a parent with a disability, if so requested.
The Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan
As explained in the ARP ESSER Guidance and the federal regulations related to ARP ESSER funds, LEAs must publish a Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan that addresses the continuity of academic services and other services that address the social, emotional, mental and other health needs of students and staff. Such plan must also address the extent to which the LEA has adopted health and safety policies regarding various issues, such as:
- Universal and correct wearing of masks;
- 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 state and local health departments;
- Diagnostic and screening testing;
- Efforts to provide vaccinations to educators, other staff, and students, if eligible;
- Appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities with respect to health and safety policies; and
- Coordination with state and local health officials
Importantly, boards must review and revise health and safety policies periodically, at least every six months and perhaps even more frequently, depending on updates to applicable guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”).
The LEA ARP ESSER Plan
LEAs seeking ARP ESSER funds must also submit an LEA ARP ESSER Plan, which must address:
- How the LEA will use the mandatory 20% set-aside to address the academic impact of learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions;
- How the remaining ARP ESSER funds will be used (consistent with statutory requirements);
- How the LEA will ensure that the interventions will respond to the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of all students, particularly those students disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- How and to what extent ARP ESSER funds will be used to implement prevention and mitigation strategies that are, to the greatest extent practicable, in line with the most recent CDC guidance on reopening schools.
Importantly, in addition to providing an opportunity for public input and taking such input into account, LEAs must engage in meaningful consultation with various stakeholders when developing such plans.