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Virtual Learning

The New York State Education Department supports the use of digital technologies to provide access to high-quality, culturally and linguistically responsive virtual and blended learning opportunities, and to expand and personalize educational programmatic offerings to meet student needs. NYSED encourages schools and districts to continue to expand opportunities and access to high-quality instruction provided by NYS certified teachers through virtual and blended learning modalities.

Use the topics below to find out more guidance regarding virtual and blended learning.

 

General

Question: Are school districts, BOCES, charter schools, registered nonpublic schools, school-age approved special education programs (including approved private school for the education of students with disabilities, state-supported school, or state-operated school) or educational programs administered or supervised by a State agency pursuant to Education Law §§112 and 3202(f) allowed to provide K-12 instruction via virtual (online) or blended learning?

Answer: Yes, provided that the instruction is aligned with Commissioner’s Regulations.

 

Question: What is virtual instruction?

Answer: Virtual instruction is synchronous, or synchronous and asynchronous instruction that is designed for delivery in a virtual learning environment, where there is regular and substantive interaction between the student and teacher. Virtual instruction is synonymous with online instruction. See the April 2024 Amendment to Sections 100.1, 100.2, and 100.5 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education relating to virtual instruction for further information.

 

Question: Are schools required to provide virtual or blended instruction?

Answer: No. However, NYSED encourages schools use digital technology to expand access to rich and rigorous learning opportunities that support all learners. While there is no requirement for schools to offer virtual options, NYSED recommends schools work with students and families to offer virtual options if it is deemed to be in the best educational interest of the students. Schools should consider the value of ensuring virtual capacity to expand programmatic offerings and to offer virtual learning opportunities that are responsive to student needs.

2024 Virtual Learning Amendments to Commissioner's Regulations

Question: Why were regulatory changes on virtual and blended learning presented to the Board of Regents in December 2023 and adopted in April 2024?

Answer: Prior to April 2024, Commissioner’s Regulations only addressed remote, online, and blended learning in specific contexts. For example, remote instruction was addressed in regulations relating to emergency closures (8 NYCRR 175.5(e), 155.17, 200.7) and instruction provided to students in a home, hospital, or institutional setting (8 NYCRR 100.22(e)). Online and blended courses were also in regulation, but only for courses leading to diploma credit.

In order to support the use of digital technology to expand instructional opportunities for students, the Department developed general definitions for virtual and blended instruction and parameters for virtual instructional delivery in K-12 settings.

 

Question: How do the new regulatory amendments impact virtual instruction programs?

Answer: It is anticipated that the new amendments may only minimally affect current virtual instruction programs, if at all, as the previous regulations for online and blended courses were used as a model for the amendments. These changes include:

  • Establishing definitions for virtual instruction, blended instruction, and virtual learning environment.
  • Provisions for parents and guardians to approve placement into virtual and/or blended instruction programs.
  • Provisions for schools that offer virtual and/or blended programs to ensure students have access to necessary technology and internet.
  • Removal of the phrase “under the direction and/or supervision” from teacher requirements.
  • Removal of the requirement for students to pass the Regents or other assessment to pass the virtual course.
  • Movement of previous online/blended course credit regulations from Section 100.5 (parameters for Diploma Requirements – applied only to courses in schools that offer credit toward a diploma) to Section 100.2 (parameters for General School Requirements – applies to all schools) of Commissioner’s Regulations.

 

Question: Where can I find the specifics of the regulatory amendments?

Answer: April 2024 P-12 Education Committee - Proposed Amendment of Sections 100.1, 100.2, and 100.5 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education Relating to Virtual Instruction

 

Question: The virtual learning amendments include a repeal of Commissioner's regulation §100.5((d)(10)(ii)(b). Can schools still offer virtual (online) or blended courses for diploma credit?

Answer: Yes. Schools are still able to offer courses for high school diploma credit through virtual (online) or blended instruction, provided they do so in accordance with Commissioner’s Regulations. The unit of study and unit of credit requirements for traditional face-to-face, blended, and virtual (online) courses is the same.

 

Question: Do the regulatory changes include the ability to provide virtual and blended instruction for students in elementary and middle grades (K-8)?

Answer: Yes. For most students in elementary grades, and certainly for students in grades K-3, in-person instruction is the best and most supportive modality. However, NYSED recognizes that, under extremely limited circumstances, such as due to a medical condition, a young student’s needs may be best met through a virtual modality.

The regulatory amendments continue to allow districts to provide instruction via virtual or blended learning, to contract with a BOCES, or enter into a shared service agreement with another school district to provide virtual or blended learning so long as the learning program aligns with requirements outlined in Commissioner’s Regulations.

 

Question: Do the regulatory changes include the ability to provide virtual and blended instruction for students in prekindergarten (PreK) generally or students enrolled in Preschool Special Education Programs pursuant to section 4410 of the NYS Education Law?

Answer: No. The virtual instruction regulation does not specifically reference 4410 programs, or PreK generally. PreK has been intentionally left out, as planned virtual instruction for preschool students is not typically developmentally appropriate.

Teacher Requirements for Virtual Instruction

Question: For Schools, the previous Commissioner’s Regulation required virtual (online) and blended instruction to be “provided by or under the direction and/or supervision of” a certified teacher employed by a public school district or BOCES. Will this change with the new regulatory amendments?

Answer: The only change is the elimination of the phrase “under the direction and/or supervision.” The virtual learning amendments maintain the requirement that virtual and blended learning be provided by:

  1. an appropriately certified teacher from the school district in which the student is enrolled;
  2. an appropriately certified teacher from a BOCES that contracts with the school district to provide instruction in the subject area where authorized pursuant to Education Law section 1950;
  3. an appropriately certified teacher from a school district who provides instruction in the subject area under a shared service agreement;
  4. in the case of a registered nonpublic school, a teacher of the subject area from a registered nonpublic school;
  5. in the case of a charter school, a teacher of the subject area from a charter school; or
  6. in the case of a school-age approved special education program or an educational program administered by a State agency, a teacher of the subject area from such program.

 

Question: Is this teacher providing the virtual or blended instruction considered the teacher of record?

Answer: Yes. A teacher of record is an individual (or individuals, such as in co-teaching assignments) who has been assigned responsibility for a student’s learning in a subject/course with aligned performance measures. Pursuant to Commissioner’s Regulations, the teacher of record must also have regular and substantive interaction with students enrolled in virtual or blended learning.

 

Question: If public school districts or BOCES cannot find a certified teacher, or if they cannot afford to hire a teacher to teach a specific course or program, can they contract with a vendor to provide a teacher to teach the course or program online?

Answer: Generally, no. Districts and BOCES may contract with non-profit or other entities, including for-profit, to provide virtual learning in accordance with Commissioner's Regulations, provided such is used as a supplementary or additional resource to assist the district or BOCES teacher in delivering instruction. In these situations, the virtual program itself would not constitute core instruction.

 

Question: Can vendors provide a teacher of record for a public school district or BOCES?

Answer: No. Per Commissioner’s Regulations, virtual (online) and blended instruction must be provided by or under the direction of an appropriately certified teacher employed by a public school district or BOCES. Even if the vendor-employed teacher is NYS-certified, the teacher of record must be employed by a NYS public school district or BOCES.

 

Question: Can the teacher of record for a virtual course or program be the employee of one district or BOCES who provides instruction to students in one or more other NYS districts or BOCES?

Answer: Yes, provided the requirements outlined in Commissioner’s Regulations are met. These include the requirement that the teacher of record has regular and substantive interaction with students enrolled in the course.

 

Question: What is meant by “regular and substantive interaction?”

Answer: While not defined specifically in regulation, “regular and substantive interaction” can also be understood as meaningful, intentional, and teacher-initiated interaction (see 8 NYCRR 100.1(a)) with each student enrolled in virtual or blended learning sufficient to:

  • provide opportunities for the teacher of record to develop a professional relationship with each student;
  • track and understand the students’ strengths, areas that need additional attention, and well-being;
  • provide timely and quality feedback; and
  • identify areas where students may need additional support and/or services.

To qualify as regular and substantive, the interactions between teacher and student must have a synchronous component. This is clearly established in the new Commissioner’s Regulation definitions of both virtual instruction and virtual learning environment.

 

Question: Do office hours qualify as “regular and substantive” interaction?

Answer:  No. Office hours, or time slots when a teacher is available to answer questions if a student wishes to meet, can be an excellent support for students enrolled in a virtual or blended instruction, but do not constitute regular and substantive interaction. The office hours structure puts the responsibility on the student to initiate the interaction. To comply with Commissioner’s Regulations, the teacher must schedule regular and meaningful interactions that result in substantive communications with students. Interactions can be synchronous, including synchronous instruction (e.g., one-on-one and small group instruction) and/or scheduled videoconference or voice calls. While asynchronous communication plays a role in supporting interaction between the teacher of record and the student, asynchronous interaction alone does not constitute regular and substantive interaction.

 

Question: The definition of “remote instruction” in 8 NYCRR 100.1(u) states that “regular and substantive daily interaction” is required, but the new regulatory amendments on virtual and blended instruction do not include the word “daily.” Is this also a requirement for instruction provided through virtual learning?

Answer: No. Regular and substantive daily interaction between students and their teacher(s) is required for the day to count as an instructional day for state aid purposes, including in cases when schools or districts switch to remote learning due to an emergency situation. For instance, it would not be considered an instructional day if students were given a list of assignments to complete without providing the students with the opportunity to interact in a planned, substantive way with a teacher scheduled to provide instruction on that day. If instruction is being offered in a virtual or blended environment in compliance with Commissioner’s Regulations, and the instruction is not scheduled to meet daily, then daily interaction is not required in the same way that it would not be required for face-to-face courses that meet only on locally scheduled days.

 

Question: Do teachers need an additional certification to teach in a virtual or blended modality?

Answer: No. However, NYSED recognizes that teaching in virtual environments varies greatly from teaching in a traditional face-to-face setting, and instructional design and practice may need to be realigned to a virtual environment. School administrators should ensure that teachers providing virtual instruction have the knowledge, training, and pedagogical skills to ensure that virtual courses are high-quality.

Virtual Course and School Options in New York State

Question: Is there a New York State Virtual School that is public and available to any student in New York?

Answer:  Not at this time.

 

Question: Does New York State offer any free virtual courses for elementary, middle, or high school students? 

Answer: Not at this time.

 

Question: Are there any public fully-virtual schools in New York State?

Answer: As of the 2023-24 school year, there is one approved public virtual school and one approved public blended school, both of which are part of New York City Public Schools. However, districts and BOCES have offered, and may continue to offer, programs that provide 100 percent of student instruction through a blended or fully virtual modality, provided such program complies with Commissioner’s Regulations.

 

Question: If a student attends a public school district that does not offer a virtual program or courses, are there other options for the student to participate in virtual programs or courses?

Answer: Public school districts may contract with a BOCES or enter into a shared service agreement with another school district in accordance with Commissioner's Regulations to offer students the opportunity to access virtual or blended courses/programs offered by a BOCES or another public school district. This is a local decision.

 

Question: Who approves a public school district’s student’s participation in a virtual course or program?

Answer: The public school district in which the student is enrolled ultimately determines student placement for all courses. Schools and districts should take into consideration the individual needs of students and the wishes of parents when making decisions on instructional modalities.

 

Question: If a school offers virtual learning for some students, is the school required to provide virtual learning to any student whose parent requests it?

Answer: No. Parents/guardians may opt their child into a virtual learning program if the school offers it for that individual student. Schools must evaluate the student needs and the learning options available. If the school decides to offer a student a spot in a virtual learning program, the parents must decide to accept the offer; schools may not place a student in a virtual learning program without the parent’s or guardian’s consent.

 

Question: May schools utilize virtual learning as a disciplinary intervention?

Answer: No. Placement in virtual learning may never be used as a disciplinary intervention for a student, although virtual learning may be used to provide or supplement required instruction to a student who is suspended from school. In addition, districts must not exclude a student with a disability from their regular educational program to provide virtual instruction for the sole purpose of responding to a child’s behavior.

 

Question: Are there any fully virtual charter schools or private (religious or independent) schools registered by New York State?

Answer: Not at this time.

 

Question: If a student’s parent or guardian wishes to enroll a student in a fully virtual school that is not registered with the New York State Education Department, must the parent or guardian disenroll the student from their district of residence?

Answer: Yes. Under such circumstances, the student’s parent or guardian would need to follow all of the requirements for homeschooled students, which includes developing an Individualized Home Instruction Program (IHIP) for submission to the district of residence. Although the district oversees the IHIP, the district is not responsible for paying the tuition to a virtual school or for providing curricula or instructional support for homeschooled students. NYSED’s website provides more information about home instruction. While homeschooled students are not entitled to a New York State diploma, they may obtain a letter of substantial equivalency from the superintendent of the school district of residence.

A diploma issued to a NY State student by an out-of-state virtual school may not be recognized by a New York State institute of higher education for purposes of enrollment. In some circumstances, students may be required to take and pass the High School Equivalency examination (GED) to qualify for enrollment and financial aid in a NY State post-secondary institution. 

 

Question: Can a district utilize remote learning to provide home, hospital, and institutional instruction?
Answer: Yes, provided the requirements outlined in Commissioner’s Regulations for such instruction are met. See this FAQ on home, hospital, and institutional instruction.  

 

Question: How does a student in a fully virtual instructional environment participate in state-mandated science labs?

Answer: Commissioner’s regulations allow students the flexibility to meet their 1,200 hour laboratory requirement in virtual lab settings, in addition to traditional hands-on lab settings. More information about this specific flexibility can be found in this document regarding Virtual Laboratory Experiences.

Seat Time

Question: What is the seat time requirement for high school diploma credit related to virtual instruction? Does the seat time requirement prevent a district from offering virtual or blended learning opportunities to students?

Answer: “Seat time requirement” is not, in and of itself, a barrier to providing instruction in a virtual modality. Commissioner’s Regulations §100.1(a) defines a unit of study, which is often conflated with the term “seat time.”  This regulation was amended in 2020 to explicitly address virtual and blended learning. Credit-bearing virtual courses must meet the unit of study requirement of 180 minutes per week or their equivalent. Equivalent is defined to include “alternative instructional experiences, including but not limited to through digital technology or blended learning.”

Districts and BOCES are responsible for ensuring that, overall, instruction is designed and implemented to amount to 180 minutes per week of instruction or its equivalent. This can be attained through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction and learning experiences, provided the criteria outlined in Commissioner’s Regulations are followed.

Students are not awarded credit for a unit of study based solely on how many minutes they “sit,” whether in a physical seat for in-person instruction or in front of a computer for virtual instruction. Instructional experiences are not defined solely as a student’s time spent in a physical or virtual school, but time engaged in standards-based learning under the guidance and direction of a certified teacher. A unit of credit is earned through mastery of the learning outcomes for a given high school subject, after a student has had the opportunity to complete a unit of study in a given subject matter area.1

NYSED understands that individual students may occasionally complete lessons and learning tasks in a shorter or longer time period than was designed. This occurs in traditional face-to-face instruction, and it is expected that it will occur in virtual and blended instruction.

Attendance requirements for credit are not regulated by NYSED, but rather are implemented at the local level.

 

1 A student may also earn credit by obtaining a score of at least 85 percent or its equivalent on a department-approved examination in a given high school subject without the completion of a unit of study, and the successful completion of either an oral examination or a special project.  See 8 NYCRR 100.5(d)(1).

Credit and Diplomas

Question: Can NYS Registered High Schools award diploma credit for the successful completion of virtual courses?

Answer: Yes, provided the virtual courses offered meet all applicable requirements as outlined in Commissioner’s Regulations.

 

Question: Must students pass the related Regents Examination or other assessment to be awarded credit towards a New York State high school diploma for virtual coursework?

Answer: No. Previously, Commissioner’s Regulations required students pass the Regents Examination in the subject or other assessment required for graduation, if applicable, to receive make-up credit or credit for a virtual course. The most recent virtual learning amendments removed this requirement.

 

Question: Can a student living in New York receive a NYS Regents diploma from a virtual high school run by another state, a university, or a private (either for- or non-profit) school that operates nationally? What if the school is accredited?

Answer: No, only New York State registered high schools can award a New York State high school (local, Regents, or Regents with advanced designation) diploma. Even if a virtual school is accredited by an independent accrediting agency, the school cannot award a NYS high school diploma. These schools are not registered by the New York State Board of Regents; therefore, the diplomas issued are not considered NYS high school diplomas. This remains the case even if a student lived in New York when they attended the virtual high school. 

Virtual Course Design and Requirements

Question: Is there a specified format required for virtual courses?

Answer: No, NYSED does not mandate a particular format for virtual courses.

 

Question: Is there a list of NYSED-approved virtual courses? How do I know if a virtual learning experience or curriculum meets NYSED’s requirements?

Answer: Just as with in-person instruction, it is the responsibility of the district, BOCES, or school to approve virtual and blended curricula and evaluate the coursework and scholarship of its students. The school is further responsible to set the parameters for course completion and determine mastery of learning outcomes in order to promote students and award credit to students enrolled in virtual or online instruction.

As a reminder, schools must assess the applicability of Education Law § 2-d when contracting with third party vendors for virtual courses.

Students with Disabilities

Question: Are students with disabilities able to participate in virtual courses?

Answer: Yes. Decisions about the appropriateness of a student with a disability's participation in virtual courses should be made on an individual basis. A district’s committee on special education must ensure that all the services and supports necessary for the student to continue to receive a free appropriate public education can be provided through such instructional modality.

 

Question: When a student with a disability participates in virtual courses, is it a requirement that the IEP reflect this mode of instruction? 

Answer: While the virtual mode of instruction does not need to be reflected on the IEP, the district must ensure that special education services, specific accommodations, program modifications and supports are provided consistent with the student’s IEP. Based on the unique needs of the student, the CSE may need to review the services, accommodations, program modifications and supports specified in the IEP to determine whether they are appropriate to the virtual instruction environment. In accordance with section 200.4(e) of the Commissioner’s Regulations. The teacher providing virtual instruction must be provided a copy of the student’s IEP and informed, prior to the implementation of the IEP, of their responsibility to implement the recommendations on the student's IEP, including the responsibility to provide specific services, accommodations, program modifications, and/or supports for the student in accordance with the IEP. 

 

Question: What considerations should schools give to accessibility when implementing virtual instruction?

Answer: Schools providing virtual or blended instruction must ensure that the technology and content materials used for such courses are accessible for all learners, especially students with disabilities and English Language Learners. Care should be taken to ensure that virtual learning environments are free of barriers that make accessing content and materials difficult for any student. Additional information regarding accessibility can be found in the Office of Civil Rights’ Online Education and Website Accessibility webinar.