Q&A: #oklaed and the Coronavirus

The Oklahoma Education Association legal team and additional OEA staff members have answered some common questions for school employees dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

We are adding new questions and answers as they arise, so please check back for current information.

About the Statewide Closure

When does school start again.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has asked the State Board of Education to mandate distance learning and to keep schools buildings closed for the rest of the academic year. The board met on March 25 and voted to approve that plan.

Will schools have to make up days?

No. 

Does the closure include virtual schools?

Yes.

What about extracurriculars during the shutdown?

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, all extracurricular activities are to be stopped for the rest of this school year.

What about activities after April 6, like prom or graduation?

ALL In-person gatherings of all school activities have been shut down. However, we’re sure school districts will find creative ways to hold some kind of graduation ceremony.

If virtual schools are included in the shutdown with no instruction, what about colleges online classes?

Colleges are not impacted by the Oklahoma State Department of Education closure of public schools. Colleges have determined how they will handle a return to classes and coursework after spring break, and those determinations are not impacted by the SDE action closing k-12 public schools.

Will schools be given A-F report cards for the 2019-2020 school year?

General Employee Questions

Can employees be required to come to work during the statewide shutdown?

It depends. (Read our blog about this question.)

Teachers cannot be required to come to work to perform instruction or related services. If teachers are identified as essential personnel to perform essential services, or if teachers are asked to perform other tasks for the district during the school closure, they should contact their advocacy specialist.

Support professionals may be called into work. The state allows for districts to continue working with essential staff, such as financial clerks, maintenance employees, school boards, administrators, and other positions. This will be determined by individual districts.

UPDATE (3/31) State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister to school leaders:

“Do not direct staff to a school building unless they are performing an essential function… I implore district leaders to be very conservative about what duties are defined as essential… We realize that distance learning might require some sporadic work to be conducted inside school buildings. If these circumstances are truly unavoidable, it is critical that districts strictly follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

Will the date for our paycheck in April follow the normal pay schedule or change because of the statewide closure?

It should.

What qualifies as “essential” in a school district?

Long story short, the local school administration has broad discretion in determining what essential services need to be provided and identifying the personnel to provide them.

Certified Employee Questions

Will educators and other certified staff be paid during the statewide school closure?

State statute allows teachers and administrators to be paid when schools are “…closed on account of epidemics or otherwise when an order for such closing has been issued by a health officer authorized by law to issue the order.” (Title 70, Ch. 1, Article VI, Section 6-101.)

Can teachers be required to make student packets or conduct remote learning?

Not during the statewide shutdown. The State Board of Education mandated no instruction, grading, or other academic functions beginning March 17 and ending April 6.

If my district tells teachers they need to report to school before April 6, what should I do?

Follow the directive of the school district. The Oklahoma State Department of Education has stated that schools are closed and that all school activities are not to occur during this period, except for certain essential functions of the school, such as school feeding programs. You may be deemed an “essential personnel” for these issues, and the school district can assign those responsibilities during the school closure.

Can certified employees donate sick leave to classified/support staff?

It depends on your district policy. Check your district policy about sick leave, sick leave bank, and/or sick leave donation.

Support Staff Questions

Will hourly and support staff be paid during the statewide school closure?

Unfortunately, the law does not address education support professionals. ESPs are paid only after performing work. Some districts will have plans in place to make sure at least some ESPs continue to work. We recommend you talk with your administrators to determine what policies they have in place for such an occurrence.

Will support employees keep health insurance and other benefits during the shutdown?

If support staff are working during this period, or on approved leave and being paid, then there should be no disruption in health insurance and other benefits.

If support staff are not called in to work and are not being paid during this period, it is possible there could be a disruption in your health insurance benefits.

If you are deducting health insurance premiums from your district paycheck, you should be notified that you need to make a payment for health insurance benefits. That will depend on when and how the district makes those payments on your behalf. If there is a disruption, you would be entitled to COBRA benefits during the interruption (payment of premiums and still be covered for a specified period), and you would be entitled to re-enroll immediately upon return to work because the disruption would be considered a qualifying event.

If you are not being paid during this period, you should contact your district for clarity as to how this will be handled.

I have sick leave. Can I use it during the statewide school closure to replace my paycheck?

If you are a support or hourly employee, you may be able to use accumulated leave during this period. You should check with your school administration before using sick leave for this purpose.

Do support staff have to work during a closure? What if they want to quarantine?

School districts may require some (or all) support staff to work during the closure in order to assist with food service/delivery to students and other responsibilities that may be affected by the school closure. You should check with your administration for any policies in place to deal with such an occurrence. Remember, support employees cannot be paid for work not performed – so support employees not working during this period will have to utilize any accumulated leave that is appropriate and approved by the district during the period, or go without pay. Unemployment benefits may be available to support employees if there is a “lack of work” as a result of the school closure.

If you fit the criteria recommend by the CDC for a self-quarantine recommendation, you should contact your immediate supervisor for further guidance. You cannot elect to self-quarantine if you do not meet the criteria and expect to be paid for any absence as a result.

If support staff has to work, will we be required to deep clean the school?

Possibly. Support staff can be assigned any reasonable job duty in the school that they are physically able to do.

If I don’t get paid, can I apply for unemployment?

If support employees are not able to work during this period due to a “lack of work” and they are not on approved leave, they will be able to file for unemployment benefits. They should state “lack of work” as the reason for applying and list “virus” as the cause for the lack of work. For more information, reach out to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

Teacher Certification Questions

Has my testing date changed?

Maybe. The Certification Examiners of Oklahoma Educators office announced Pearson has suspended testing through April. Check CEOE for current details.

Can I get fingerprinted during the statewide closure?

No, for now. The Office of Teacher Certification is temporarily closed because of COVID-19. Be sure to call before you go: (405) 521-3337. 

What about student teachers?

If public schools continue to remain closed after April 6, teacher education students will not be held accountable for the completion of internship and field experience hours for specific courses, according to the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. 

College and university teacher preparation programs are being granted flexibility in regards to how students can complete their coursework and program requirements. 

Regarding the PPAT (currently being used in eight teacher preparation programs in Oklahoma), Task 4 submission is currently due April 10, but OEQA is working with ETS for a two-week extension until April 24. The agency will continue to work with ETS and colleges and universities past that date if necessary to provide additional flexibility. 

Regarding teacher certification tests, Pearson has closed all testing centers through mid-April; guidance is expected soon regarding future testing dates and hiring flexibility for districts. 

Teacher preparation programs will be getting the word out to their students about these issues, but after spring break, all teacher preparation candidates should contact their advisers and education faculty with questions as necessary.

Student Issues

Can students continue with concurrent enrollment?

Yes, depending on what the partner higher ed institution is requiring of their students.

How does a school closure due to COVID-19 impact IEP and Evaluation timelines?

The federal requirements for IEPs say that annual dates may not be adjusted, are required to be reviewed at least once a year, and cannot be waived by the OSDE. Any changes to the school calendar would not affect or extend the due date of an IEP.

What about Initial Evaluations?

When parent consent for an Initial Evaluation is received, the evaluation must be completed within 45 school days from that moment. If the school calendar is changed, the due date for the completion of Initial Evaluations will change.

What about re-evaluations?

Re-evaluations are required to be done every three years. Even if the school calendar changes, it will not affect or extend the due date for re-evaluation. You can complete a re-evaluation before the three-year deadline, which would then restart a new three-year window for the next re-evaluation.

What about children with disabilities transitioning from SoonerStart and determined eligible for services under the IDEA Part B?

IEPs must still be in place on or before their 3rd birthday.

Where can I schedule IEP meetings?

That is a local determination. 

The OSDE expects all districts to comply with requirements
to timely convene IEP meetings for students. Should a district need to convene an IEP meeting, the OSDE recommends that the district deem these services to be essential administrative.

Can I meet with parents digitally?

Schools are encouraged to ensure parent participation at meetings through creative alternatives, such as telephone or video conference, which are allowed under IDEA and similar regulations. 

What if the IEP requires a face-to-face assessment or observation?

The evaluation must be delayed until the school re-opens.

As long as the IEP does not require face-to-face meetings, those assessments and observations may take place while school buildings are closed, as long as the student’s parent or legal guardian consents. The same principle applies to similar activities of appropriate personnel for a student with a disability who has a plan developed under Section 504, or who is being evaluated under Section 504.

What will happen with state and other testing?

There will be no state testing for the 2019-2020 school year. 

Advanced Placement Exams have changed dramatically. 

The April administration of the ACT has been postponed to June 14.

Distance Learning

Are teachers liable while using interactive technology that the district is encouraging them to use? For example, what happens during a Zoom session if there is an incident at a student’s house that others should not see?

Teachers should have the same protection that they have in the classroom as far as any negligent acts and other issues when it comes to interactive technology.

As long as educators are acting within the scope of their employment (even by remote, virtual, or distance learning) they should be protected by the Governmental Tort Claims ACT, which applies to school districts and provides immunity for teachers who are acting within the scope of their employment.

Teachers should also be covered by the NEA Educators Employment Liability Program

Retirement Questions

I am set to retire at the end of this school year. Will these days off impact my ability to do that?

No, it should not.

Substitute Teacher Questions

I’ve been in a long-term substitute position since the first day of school day. Will I get paid during the statewide closure?

It depends.

If you are on a regular teaching contract (temporary or continuing) for the entire school year and assigned as a long-term substitute, yes, you should get paid like every other certified employee.

If you are on a duration of need contract and work only for the duration of the need (school being open), then probably not.

Can substitute teachers apply for unemployment?

No.

Coronavirus Education Resources

OEA has gathered a variety of COVID-19 resources specifically related to education. Keep up with the latest.