Independent study provisions for the 2021–22 school year
LEAs are required to offer an independent study program
Teacher and student working together on school work
Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 9 signed the education budget trailer bill, Assembly Bill 130, which contains several revisions to the Education Code provisions regarding independent study. Because it is a trailer bill, AB 130 became effective immediately.

CSBA issued an update to Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 6158 – Independent Study on July 20 so that local educational agencies may adopt them and be in compliance with AB 130.

This article contains a broad overview of the revisions. It is important to note that AB 130 added the requirement that compliance with the Education Code’s independent study provisions be part of each local educational agency’s annual audit. In addition, most provisions are not subject to waiver by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) or the State Board of Education.

General independent study requirements
Most importantly, AB 130 requires all LEAs to offer independent study in the 2021–22 school year, after which offering independent study again becomes optional. LEAs that did not previously offer independent study will be required to create an independent study program and adopt policies for that program as a condition of receiving apportionment for independent study. Or an LEA may contract with a county office of education or enter into an inter-district transfer agreement with another district to provide the independent study.

However, the requirement to offer independent study in 2021–22 may be waived by the county superintendent for school districts, or by the SPI for county offices and single-district counties under certain circumstances if the LEA demonstrates both: (1) offering independent study would create an unreasonable fiscal burden on the LEA due to low participation or other extenuating circumstances; and (2) the LEA does not have the option to enter into an inter-district transfer agreement with another district or contract with a COE to provide an independent study option.

LEAs that already offer independent study will need to update their policies as AB 130 requires additional items be included. Many of these requirements apply moving forward and are not limited to the 2021–22 school year. AB 130 also provides an additional basis for independent study — if the student’s health would be put at risk if they participate in in-person instruction, as determined by the parent/guardian. Previous polices were required to provide the number of missed assignments allowed by a student before an evaluation of whether the student should return to the regular education program. Under AB 130, policies must add “the level of satisfactory educational progress,” as defined in AB 130, that a student must demonstrate before the LEA undertakes the evaluation to the existing requirement that polices must include the number of missed assignments a student may have before an evaluation of whether the student should return to the regular education program.

Policies must also include tiered re-engagement strategies for students who are not “generating” attendance for more than three schooldays or 60 percent of instructional days in the week, and have a plan to transition students back to the regular education program in five instructional days upon request of the student’s family. In addition, each policy must include a plan to provide opportunities for live interaction and synchronous instruction depending on grade level. (See Education Code, § 51747, subd. (e).) The policies must state that independent study content must be aligned to grade-level standards and provided at a level of quality and intellectual challenge substantially equal to in-person instruction. High school students must have access to all courses offered by the LEA for graduation and courses must be creditable under the A-G admissions criteria for the University of California or the California State University.

Subject to audit, LEAs must document each pupil’s participation in live interaction and synchronous instruction on each school day, and students who do not participate in independent study will be marked as non-participatory. (It is not clear what “participate” means, as not all grade levels require daily interaction or daily synchronous instruction.) LEAs must also maintain written or computer-based evidence of pupil engagement.

Previous iterations of the Education Code sections regarding independent study also required that LEAs enter into a written agreement with parents and students before a student participated and that the requirements for those agreements be set forth in LEA policies. For the 2021–22 school year, LEAs may enter into these agreements up to 30 days after the student has begun participation in independent study. AB 130 also added to the requirements for the content of these agreements, including requiring LEAs to provide devices and connectivity to allow students to participate, and to provide what level of satisfactory educational progress and/or missed assignments will trigger an evaluation of whether the student should remain in independent study or should return to the regular education program. For the 2021–22 school year, the agreement must be signed by the parents/guardians (or student, if 18 or over), the teacher of record and all persons who have direct responsibility for providing assistance to the pupil. Also, for 2021–22 only, LEAs must offer a pupil–parent/guardian–educator conference or other school meeting by phone, video conference or in person if requested by the parent/guardian before signing the independent study agreement. The meeting is to provide information and answer questions about the program.

For the 2021–22 school year only, LEAs must provide notification to parents/guardians of all enrolled pupils of the option to participate in either in-person instruction or general independent study, along with additional information about the programs and student’s rights. If 15 percent or more of the LEA’s student population speaks a single primary language other than English, the LEA must provide this information in that language.

Course-based independent study
AB 130 also made numerous revisions to the option to provide course-based independent study that mirror many of the revisions above. One important caveat is that while AB 130 requires LEAs to offer general independent study in 2021–22, it does not require LEAs to provide course-based independent study in 2021–22 or in any school year. It continues to be optional. In addition, AB 130 aligns course-based independent study provisions in the Education Code to provisions for the general independent study program. For example, course-based independent study may not be used for special education students unless the student’s individualized education program provides for independent study or for temporarily disabled students. Further, high school courses in course-based independent study must be creditable under the A-G admissions criteria for the University of California or the California State University.