Pa. families can opt for an additional year of learning. What to know before July 15 deadline

By: - July 9, 2021 11:48 am

With a new option to hold their kids back a grade to address pandemic-related learning losses, Pennsylvania families will have to make a decision soon.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation last week that gives parents until July 15 to decide whether to take advantage of the new law, known as Act 66

The law authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, also gives students with disabilities who turned 21 during the 2020-21 school year the chance to stay for another year. It also applies to children who attend schools for the deaf and blind.

Before Wolf signed the bill into law, the decision to hold a student back a grade was made by the school and teacher in consultation with parents. 

But since schools across Pennsylvania operated under mixed models of instruction and varied reopening guidelines, Corman said parents should have more of a say since many worked from home while their kids attended classes online.

“Remote learning has been very hard on parents and children alike, and I have heard many of my fellow parents sharing concerns about the learning loss their kids have experienced during the pandemic,” Corman said in a statement. “Given these extreme circumstances, it makes sense to empower parents to make the final decision about the education of their children.”

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Those interested in having their child repeat a grade must submit the Act 66 of 2021 Student Grade Level Retainment Notification form to their district on or before the July 15 deadline. 

The state Education Department released a comprehensive FAQ for families online, but here are the basics about the new law:

How long is this option viable?

The additional year of instruction only applies to the 2021-22 school year.

If a student met all graduation requirements, should they repeat a grade level?

No. According to guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, graduates should not re-enroll in school.

Does the law apply to preschoolers?

Because preschool is not considered a grade level, the state Education Department said the law does not permit preschool students to repeat a year.

Does the law grant students additional athletic eligibility by repeating a year?

No. Existing Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) rules, which permit four consecutive years of high school eligibility and ineligibility for students who turn 19 before July 1, still apply.

Will a student be expected to repeat courses from a prior year?

It’s possible. The point of Act 66 is to ensure that students don’t miss out on educational opportunities and lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mixed instructional models.

The state Education Department recommends that families discuss course options with school staff before the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

If a student with a disability who has turned 21 wants to re-enroll in school, are they guaranteed services that were provided by an outside agency?

If a support service — counseling or therapeutic support staff — was listed in the student’s most recent Individualized Education Program (IEP), it will continue during the 2021-22 academic year. If a service was not listed in the most current IEP, it’s not guaranteed, according to the state Education Department.

The new law does not require outside agencies to provide services beyond age 21, so parents and students should communicate with agencies if they would like to continue to receive outside services while still in school.

What if families miss the decision deadline?

The state Education Department recommends that parents and guardians contact their child’s school to discuss options.

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