Understanding Act 1
Act 1 (24 P.S. § 13-1331.1) was enacted January 2022 and seeks to remove educational and graduation barriers for students who experience “education instability” due to homelessness, foster care, involvement in the juvenile justice or court-ordered placements. These students often face barriers to fully participating in school and timely graduation, due lost or unrecognized credits or a student’s inability to take a course required by their last school. Act 1 of 2022, which is already in effect, seeks to address these barriers.
Juvenile Law Center worked with Education Law Center for over a decade to advocate for these protections. Advocates for Youth Justice (formerly Juveniles for Justice) and Advocates Transforming Youth Systems (formerly Youth Fostering Change) were instrumental in educating lawmakers on the importance of these protections.
Check out a recording of our Understanding & Implementing Act 1 Webinar!
This webinar provided an overview of the Act’s requirements and discussed:
- How Act 1 can help eligible 12th graders now even if they are behind in credits
- Identifying eligible students for support under Act 1
- Designating a Point of Contact to ensure that eligible students receive the benefit of Act 1
- Facilitating prompt transfer of education records
- Ensuring students are in the right school and courses
- Ensuring that students receive full and partial credit for all previous work
- Waiving local graduation requirements
- Developing a Graduation Plan
- New diploma options.
Section 1: Act 1 Basics
Answers are provided for informational purposes only by Juvenile Law Center and Education Law Center and do not constitute legal advice. These responses were developed in response to specific questions raised in an initial statewide training session in spring 2022. Further information on Act 1 is available in the Education Law Center factsheet on Act 1 and in the additional tools and resources linked below.
What are the goals of Act 1?
Act 1 was passed to reduce systemic barriers to educational success and to promote full participation in school and graduation for students who experience school disruptions due to homelessness, foster care, involvement in the juvenile court system or court-ordered placements. This law went into effect during the 2021-2022 school year and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) issued guidance on Act 1 in August 2022.
What does Act 1 do?
Act 1 works to reduce barriers to educational success and timely graduation for students who experience “education instability” by requiring school districts to create an infrastructure to:
- identify eligible students for support under Act 1, including students who should have been identified and supported during the 2021-2022 school year
- designate a Point of Contact to ensure that eligible students receive the benefit of Act 1
- facilitate prompt transfer of all student’s education records
- ensure students are in the right school and courses
- ensure students receive full and partial credit for all previous work
- consider whether eligible students can demonstrate competence in a course required for graduation through an alternative method or alternatively, whether a locally required course may be waived
- develop a Graduation Plan to ensure timely graduation
- ensure a student can graduate on-time from a current school, a prior school the student attended if graduating from their current school is not possible, or as a last resort, through applying for a state-wide Keystone diploma
- guarantee students’ ability to participate in extra-curricular programs
- eliminate all fees that would be ordinarily assessed against a student
When did Act 1 go into effect?
Act 1 went into effect on January 2022 and has been in effect since the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, students who should have received the protections of Act 1 in the spring of 2022 but were not identified or did not receive supports during the 2021-2022 are eligible to receive supports and a pathway to online graduation during the 2022-2023 school year. If a student was not afforded a pathway to on-time graduation, school entities can graduate the student during the 2022-2023 school year from their current school, a prior school, or as a last resort, through applying for a Keystone Diploma without requiring the student to attend school or complete additional requirements.
Who is covered by Act 1?
The law explicitly applies to any student who experiences one or more school changes in a single school year due to homelessness, adjudication, foster care, and juvenile or other court ordered placements. It applies to students returning to a former school, beginning at a new school, or re-engaging in school after an extended absence. It includes students placed in privately licensed schools, including placements for non-educational purposes, group homes, residential treatment facilities, detention centers, state secure facilities, and other residential settings.
While students experiencing educational instability for reasons such as parent’s military service, long term acute placements, non-court ordered mental health treatment, or multiple school transfers over the course of different school years, might not fall explicitly under the Act’s protections, there is no prohibition against applying Act 1’s protections more broadly.
Thus, school entities must be flexible when determining eligibility. Shelter providers, outreach workers, case managers, juvenile probation officers and others may confirm eligibility in a myriad of ways including (but not limited to) letter, email, verbal confirmation, or other documentation.
There are also additional protections a student is entitled to in addition to Act 1 under state and federal law.
Does the Act offer support or protections for young adults?
Yes! Pennsylvania residents are legally entitled to attend public school until age 21 or until they graduate, whichever is sooner. During this time, students are entitled to the protections of Act 1 if they meet eligibility criteria. Act 1 recognizes that young people have varying circumstances and opens new pathways for students to engage successfully in school and graduate.
What about students who come back and forth from other states? How will out of state credits / school requirements impact implementation, if at all?
School entities must provide protections to eligible students returning to Pennsylvania from outside the state and promptly request a student’s complete education record from all schools they previously attended. School entities must fully support students returning from out of state and provide required supports in accordance with Act 1. Schools outside of the state may have different timelines to send records to the student’s current school. School entities in Pennsylvania must award full and partial credit for all work the student satisfactorily completed at all prior school entities, including those outside the state.
How will Act 1 impact students in special education?
Act 1 does not abridge any special education rights. Students in special education retain all the services and rights they had before Act, including the right to remain in school until age 21, even if Act 1 offers an earlier pathway to graduation. The school entities must still implement the requirements specific to the student with a disability under applicable disability law. For students in the 9th-12th grade, the Point of Contact must also work with a student’s special education team to create a student-specific Graduation Plan that is appropriate for the student. A student’s IEP team will also still be charged with determining whether a student with an IEP will graduate through credit accrual or through meeting IEP goals.
What entities are required to comply with the act?
The law applies to all “school entities,” which includes school districts, charter schools, regional charter schools, cyber charter schools, intermediate units, career and technical schools.
What responsibilities do school entities have when a residential facility is located within the district?
Host school districts under 24 Pa. Code § 13-1306 for students in residential facilities who are eligible under Act 1 are “school entities” under the Act and should provide all the rights, services, and protections of the law, including the option to graduate from the host school district. Host districts maintain this responsibility even when students attend school “on grounds” at a residential facility
Will the school share personal information about why a student is eligible for Act 1?
Students and parents have a right to keep information confidential, including information around a student’s Act 1 eligibility. School entities are required to identify students and keep the basis for student’s Act 1 eligibility confidential. PDE’s guidance underscores the importance of keeping eligibility information confidential. Administrative staff and the Point of Contact should not share with others that a student is receiving supports under Act 1 or the basis for that eligibility, without permission from the student.
Section 2: Reducing Barriers to Educational Success and Full Participation
How does Act 1 reduce barriers to educational success and ensure on-time graduation?
Act 1 requires school entities to award students full and partial credits for all work satisfactorily completed at all prior school entities, including those issued from a school associated with a residential placement. The Point of Contact is tasked with seeing if the student completed a course that satisfies the requirements at a previous school, but it is particularly important for school entities to define how a school awards partial credits earned in a prior school placement so that these credits count towards graduation.
A school entity can also waive any course needed for graduation if the student has 1) completed similar course work at another school entity or 2) demonstrates competence in the content area through various forms of testing such as an essay, presentation, or project, or through recognizing that a student has already successfully completed a higher-level course, experiential learning opportunity, or internship that demonstrates the student has competence in the content area. If a course cannot be waived, a school entity must provide an “alternative or modified course” that will assist a student with acquiring the required work or competency requirements by the student’s anticipated graduation date.
What fees does Act 1 waive for students eligible under Act 1?
Act 1 also requires that schools all waive fees that would ordinarily assessed against a student. Guidance from PDE gives a long, non-exhaustive list of fees to waive, including fines or penalties for students unable to obtain uniforms; activity fees; course, summer school, and credit recovery fees; technology fees; school ID fees; school-sponsored trips; club and materials fees; fees assessed for lost or damaged materials; athletic physical exam fees; parking or driving fees; school lunch fees; library fees; locker or padlock rental or replacement fees; summer school and credit recovery fees; and graduation regalia fees.
What is the role of a Point of Contact?
Points of Contact are responsible for supporting students to make smooth and successful transitions between schools and to graduate on time by:
- Facilitating a student’s expedited consultation with the school counselor or mental health professionals, as appropriate, with consent from the student;
- Facilitating the prompt placement of a student in the appropriate courses;
- Connecting the student with educational services that meet the student’s specific needs;
- Immediately requesting that the prior school entity, county agency, and the student’s educational decision maker provide the student’s complete education record, including an IEP or 504 service agreement, if applicable.
- For students in grades 9-12, developing and executing a Graduation Plan in collaboration with the student to support the student’s on-time graduation. This Graduation Plan needs to be included in the student’s education records.
PDE has recognized that it is best practice for a Point of Contact to be a “building level person.” The Point of Contact will likely be most effective if they know the student personally and can be a stable resource for them. If a Point of Contact does not know a student personally, they should talk to co-workers and others who know the student and take extra steps to gain the student’s trust.
The name and contact information of the Point of Contact must be listed in the student’s educational records and provided to the student’s education decision maker. If you have any questions about who a student’s Point of Contact is, you should contact the school entity the student attends.
Can the Point of Contact act as the student’s legally authorized decision-maker, including for special education decisions, if another adult is not available or willing?
No. The Point of Contact is not a parent or other educational decision maker and cannot sign IEPs or other education documents or fill in for a parent, guardian or other party who is legally authorized to make education decisions on behalf of the student. Instead, the Point of Contact should work together with the student’s parent or other education decision maker.
Section 3: Ensuring Prompt Graduation
How does Act 1 require school entities to support students in graduating on time?
Act 1 requires schools to complete a credit assessment for students and award full and partial credit for all work satisfactorily completed in all prior schools, including a residential placement. A current school can also waive credit requirements that pose a barrier to graduation for students. In addition, a Point of Contact must develop an individualized Graduation Plan for students who experience education instability. If a student is unable to graduate through their current school, a Point of Contact can request a diploma from the prior school. As a last resort, if a student is not able to graduate from their current school or a prior school, the Point of Contact can support the student in applying for a statewide Keystone Diploma. If a student was not offered a pathway to on-time graduation last year, but should have been, student can be graduated without needing to complete additional requirements and the student’s diploma can be retroactively dated back to the 2021-2022 school year.
What are the alternatives if a student has not earned course credits required for graduation?
Schools may consider the following options:
- Consider if the course should be waived if the student has demonstrated competency through an exam, essay, presentation, discussion, or project, successful completion of a higher-level course, or any other means determined by the school entity.
- If a course required for graduation is not waived, an alternative or modified course of study must be offered that will allow the student to graduate on time.
What is a “Keystone Diploma”?
A “Keystone Diploma” is a statewide standardized equivalent of a high school diploma, which is applied for by a student who has exhausted all other graduation options unsuccessfully and has met state graduation requirements, but not local requirements. It should only be used as a last resort. The Point of Contact is responsible for ensuring that all other options are exhausted before supporting a student in obtaining a Keystone Diploma.
The eligibility requirements for obtaining a Keystone Diploma can be found here.
Will a cumulative transcript be required that follows the student and supports a Keystone Diploma if necessary?
Keystone Diplomas must be placed in a student’s permanent records and maintained by the last school entity the student attended.
Will the Keystone Diploma be treated differently than a school issued diploma?
No. A Keystone Diploma is a valid diploma that will have the full-weight and force of a school district-issued diplomas. It should be recognized by state, community, and industries as such. It is not a GED.
Section 4: Oversight, Monitoring, and Compliance
Who will be responsible for monitoring compliance with Act I?
The Department of Education has oversight responsibility for compliance with Act I.
People experiencing problems can report to the school entity itself or the PDE Department of Education student services. You may contact the Bureau of School Support at [email protected].
What efforts, if any, are underway to inform young people of their rights?
The Department of Education issued guidance on August 1, 2022, as well as a Dear Colleague letter to inform schools of their immediate obligations regarding the Act. JLC and ELC further plan to partner with providers for future trainings and resources.
Section 5: Education Law Center Resources
Please also take a moment to review these amazing tools compiled by our friends and colleagues with Education Law Center!
Education Law Center’s Act 1: Self-Advocacy Tools:
- Request for an Act 1 Point of Contact
- Request for Credit Assessment and Graduation Plan
- Request to Participate in an Extracurricular or School-Sponsored Activity
- Request to Eliminate Fines and Fees
- Request for Act 1 Graduation Support Retroactive to School Year 2021-2022