Covid-19 Resources Every Institution Needs
We all feel the impact of the COVID-19 virus pandemic affecting our lives, personally and professionally. We hope that everyone is safe and healthy. For institutions of higher education, your communities are your extended families and the efforts we have seen nationwide to continue to provide educational services and support has been inspiring. Certainly this predicament has been the most challenging event for institutions as a whole in modern history.
As we continue to monitor the impact of the pandemic and how long it will last, we at Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose, Ltd. (“HMBR”) want to be sure you have access to guidance and know where to find the resources you need to stay informed. We are of course available to answer your questions and help provide additional guidance in these areas. Our team is also ready to assist you with any other concerns that may arise during this time. We are all staying home to stay safe, but our commitment to the education community has not changed.
On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which is designed to provide $2 trillion in relief to people across the country who have been impacted by the pandemic. HMBR has prepared the following summaries as easy-to-navigate resources in order to help institutions understand the relief the CARES Act is intended to provide.
Please go to the following links to see summaries of provisions of the CARES Act, and associated appropriations language related to the following areas:
Please visit the HBMR Blog and HMBR website for updates and news on other current events.
The following resources are available to provide guidance in specific areas of interest and concern related to COVID-19.
The Department of Education
The Department of Education has been providing guidance and updates as to how the Department is addressing COVID-19 challenges. This includes guidance to institutions, accreditors and loan servicers.
Department of Education – COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel can be found here. This is the main COVID-19 site for general information from the Department for school communities. It also includes links to information posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Student Financial Aid for Institutions
Guidance for interruptions of study related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) March 05, 2020, Updated March 20, 2020. The Department advises institutions to keep detailed records of the actions taken in response to COVID-19. This announcement also provided guidance on some pressing questions on various issues, including:
- Providing broad approval to allow for the use of distance education to accommodate students without the usual approval
- Federal Work Study, when can you allow FWS payments to disaster-affected students who are unable to continue
- Confirming that professional judgement determinations made Financial Aid administrators can include the effect of COVID-19 on the applicant and their family.
Additionally, the Department provides a FAQ attachment, which they state will be updated, so be sure to check back on a regular basis.
The Department also advises institutions to keep detailed records of the actions taken in response to COVID-19. We would agree that this would be a best practice in these unusual times as guidance is constantly evolving and the situation is very fluid.
Information for Students, Borrowers, and Parents related to Federal Financial Aid.
Students and borrowers may be concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their studies and loan repayment. If you are asked, you can refer your students to the student aid page that provides guidance for students and borrowers. It also provides a list of Federal Loan Servicers where more information may be available.
FERPA and Privacy Concerns
The purpose of this guidance is to answer questions that school officials may have had concerning the disclosure of personally identifiable information from students’ education records to outside entities when addressing COVID-19.
- How does the health or safety emergency exception to FERPA’s consent requirement permit an educational agency or institution to disclose PII from the education records of affected students?
- May student education records, such as health records, maintained by an educational agency or institution be disclosed, without consent, to public health departments if the educational agency or institution believes that the virus that causes COVID-19 poses a serious risk to the health or safety of an individual student in attendance at the educational agency or institution?
- May educational agencies and institutions disclose without consent the names, addresses, and phone numbers of absent students to the public health department so that the health department may contact their parents in order to assess the students’ illnesses?
- Is an educational agency or institution required to record disclosures of PII from student education records submitted to the public health department or other outside parties, even in connection with a health or safety emergency?
FAQs on Photos and Videos under FERPA
As more schools move to online delivery and are recording their class sessions, institutions are asking: When is a photo or video of a student an education record under FERPA? This also leads to other questions about videos themselves as student records. The Department has provided some guidance to those questions. Admittedly, the Department has not defined some of the terms institutions need to make some of these decisions. Additionally, there may be other considerations when making decisions, such as state laws requiring two-party consent for recordings of conversations.
With institutions dedicating vast resources and personnel to addressing COVID-19, accreditation agencies have been doing their part to support their institutions. The Department has made specific provisions to allow the accreditation agencies broader leeway in making accommodations to assist with the new reality, while ensuring the accreditors stay within compliance themselves.
Information for Accrediting Agencies Regarding Temporary Flexibilities Provided to Coronavirus Impacted Institutions or Accrediting Agencies.
In this publication the Department gave some flexibility to Accrediting Agencies, which would also generally benefit the institutions they accredit, such as:
- The ability to develop, adopt, modify, and implement temporary virtual site visit policies, without a vote of the full membership of the accrediting
- The discretion to extend a term of accreditation for a reasonable period of time
- Waiving the normal process by which accrediting agencies are required to develop, seek public comment, and enact new policies for the limited purpose of allowing agencies to implement allowable temporary
Office of Civil Rights and Student Accommodations
March 16, 2020 Generally speaking, the guidance provides that compliance with the CDC’s recommendations should not create civil rights concerns. School districts and postsecondary schools have leeway and the authority to make decisions regarding the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of their communities. OCR recognizes that school officials have discretion to make educational decisions based on local health needs and concerns. The guidance includes Resources for Communicating about Coronavirus, including Assistant Secretary Kenneth L. Marcus’ letter concerning reports of stereotyping, harassment, and bullying specifically related to COVID-19.
Issuance of Dear CPA Letter CPA-20-01, Site Visit Exemption During COVID-19 Outbreak, March 11, 2020, provides for limited exemptions from the site visit requirement during the outbreak of COVID-19. The exception allows auditors to implement alternative procedures to achieve the intent of the site visit, but they must document, among other things, the justification for the change. The exemption applies to proprietary school audits for fiscal years ending between September 30, 2019 and December 31, 2019.
Foreign students and Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
SEVP has recognized that schools may need to adapt procedures to address the significant health concerns associated with COVID-19. Therefore it has relaxed the requirement for prior notice of procedural adaptations, leaving room for schools to comply with state or local health emergency declarations. However, schools must still provide notice of changes to SEVP within ten business days of such a change.
SEVP has specified that the guidance it is providing applies only to students who are currently enrolled in a program of study and is not intended for new or initial students who are outside the United States. The guidance includes how to address providing online instruction or using alternative locations for instruction while maintaining compliance with SEVP requirements and reporting.
State Specific Resources for Higher Education
Each state’s higher education regulator has been addressing COVID-19 independently. NC-SARA provides links to the higher education agencies in each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico. https://nc- sara.org/guide/agency-list . These agencies may also be operating with reduced staff or have employees who are working remotely. Information pertinent to your institution may be available on these websites, but not every state may be posting their information here. If you need assistance with a specific state agency or response to COVID-19, please contact us for further assistance.
Health and Safety Information Resources
The main web link to the CDC for information for COVID-19 can be found here.
We realize that there is limited conformity to the approach to COVID-19 across the nation. You may live in one state and have family, friends, students and/or employees in another. The CDC provides a link to each state public health agency to help you find state specific information.