Educators have a lot of questions related to school closures, from what employers can require during this national emergency to how we will be compensated so we can provide for our own families to issues concerning our students and our curriculum. We’re collecting many of your questions and sharing them here.
Extended School Closure: Employment Questions
The COVID-19 pandemic presents uncharted territory for school districts, unions and educators. The following are responses to FAQs from WEAC members based upon information WEAC has to date. Updates will be provided as the situation develops. Members are encouraged to contact their local leaders and regional staff if they require more specific advice.
- Will I be informed if a student or staff person in my school is diagnosed with COVID-19? The CDC recommends that school districts coordinate with local health officials to communicate about possible COVID-19 exposure. School districts will not name the individual diagnosed as they are required to maintain the confidentiality of this information under state and federal law. If you were in close contact with the student you will also be contacted by the local health department with information and recommendations.
- Does my employer have to pay me while schools are closed? WEAC firmly believes that all employers should compensate employees who cannot report to work because of the closures and many school districts across the state are doing the right thing and have committed to do so.
With regard to teachers, most will have strong arguments that because of their individual contracts they must be compensated, though the employer may still require they work the requisite number of days under their contracts.
With regard to support staff, the issue is more complicated, but employers have many ways that they can provide compensation to these employees. Contact your local leaders and regional staff for assistance.
- My employer has asked me to sign an agreement regarding a new pay arrangement because of the closure, should I sign it? Before signing, contact your local union representative or regional director to review the agreement and determine if it is acceptable or if changes are needed.
- Am I eligible for unemployment benefits
if my employer does not pay me during the closure? If you are prevented
from working because of a closure you may be eligible for unemployment benefits
if you remain able and available to work and satisfy monetary and weekly
Governor Evers has recently indicated he will ask the Legislature to repeal a one-week waiting period for laid off workers and will issue an order to modify work search requirements for those affected by COVID-19.
The DWD has posted COVID-19 FAQs on its website that address questions related to receipt of unemployment benefits: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/covid19/public/ui.htm.
- Can my school district still require employees report to work during the closure? Yes. Governors Evers’ order applies only to closure for the purposes of pupil instruction and extra-curricular activities. School districts may still require staff to report for virtual learning or other purposes. If you have safety concerns about returning to work, contact your local union representative or regional director for advice specific to your circumstances.
- Is DPI automatically waiving instructional hour requirements? No. Employers must request waivers, but DPI has indicated it will grant any waivers requested.
- If my school district receives a DPI waiver of instructional hours does that mean that I am no longer obligated to work? No. The school district may still require that employees provide services for such as online learning or engage in professional development.
- If I contract COVID-19 am I entitled to leave? Yes, COVID-19 would be considered a serious health condition that would entitle you to leave under state and federal family medical leave laws, assuming you meet other eligibility requirements. In addition, your employer’s sick leave policy would cover the absence.
- I am currently on FMLA leave, how does the school closure affect my leave? If other staff are not required to report to work or to perform work duties remotely, the closure must to be treated like any other break of a week or longer that does not count towards your FMLA entitlement. If other staff are at some point required to report or to fulfill online learning duties, then you would need to use your leave for the remainder of the time that you need to be out of work. State law may provide additional protections for leaves of less than a week. Contact your local union representative or regional director if your employer tells you that you must use your leave during the closure.
Extended School Closure: Teaching and Learning FAQs
Keep Calm and Keep Learning
I feel like I’ve become a distance learning teacher overnight. What are some best practices for online instruction? Whether you are providing your students with at home learning activities on paper, instruction by phone or video, through interactive web services, or a Learning Management System (LMS), distance learning provides the opportunity to retain valuable instructional time. Considerations for virtual instruction include: 1) Making expectations explicit. Written and electronic communication can be easily misinterpreted. 2) Creating engaging assignments, not busy work. Similar to being in school, activities that are interactive, require movement, and critical thinking skills are best. 3) Less is more. Stick to the basics focusing on student needs and interests. Teachers who have been doing online learning for sometime note tasks can take up to 35% longer. 4) Communicate Regularly. When a teacher can’t be seen they must be heard. Make yourself available through secure email, employer approved apps, chats or group calls as you work to meet your students’ instructional needs.
My school is offering learning packets, yet I’m hearing others are offering online instruction. What’s best for students? Nothing can replace the in-person relationship students have with their teachers and school support professionals. While these alternative learning approaches may address some core academic standards, none of them are ideal to address the needs of the whole child. Some districts have had long-term remote learning plans in place for quite some time, while others are scrambling to figure things out. The inequities we see in providing alternate instruction in a time of crisis reflect the larger inequities we see in resource allocation and administrative efficiencies across the state.
I heard that the DPI is waiving hours of instruction. What does that mean? That is correct. The Department of Public Instruction requires kindergarten students to have least 437 hours of instruction per school year. Students in grades 1-6 are required to have 1050 hours of direct instruction and those in grades 7-12 must have 1137 hours per year. Due to these extraordinary circumstances, school districts may request a waiver for instructional minutes. A public hearing must be held prior to submitting a waiver request. The Department of Justice has determined virtual public hearings are acceptable to receive input from citizens.
I’m a high school social studies teacher. My seniors were prepared to register to vote this spring as a class assignment. What can I do? Your students can register to vote online. There is a serious level of unequal rates of voter participation among young adults. Therefore, WEAC encourages all high school teachers and school support specialists to encourage seniors to register to vote and to vote through group (class) or personal outreach.
What about my students with special education needs? When school closes and educational services are not provided to the general student population then schools are not required to provide services to students with IEPs or 504 plans. If your school district provides any type of instruction to the general student population during the closure, the district must ensure that students with IEPs and 504s have equal access to the same educational opportunities. If some services cannot be provided or minutes are reduced, the IEP team should consider compensatory services that may be required when school reopens.
As a special education teacher, I wonder if my students’ IEPs are put on hold until school restarts? IEPs are not paused during a school closure if services are provided to the general student population. When schools are closed for 10 or more days a student’s parent, teacher or any IEP team member should request an IEP meeting. The IEP or 504 team should determine the appropriate services needed to provide students with a free and appropriate education. It is possible that an IEP team could including provisions for instruction or related services at an alternate location, or the provision of online or virtual instruction in combination with instructional telephone calls and other curriculum-based instructional activities. This determination would be made consistent with health department and school medical professionals’ advice and is a made as a collaborative team decision.
I am not a classroom teacher. How can I play a part in alternate instruction? Whether you are a school nurse, counselor, social worker, a reading specialist, speech teacher or therapist, you and your program are a valuable part of the school team. You have the expertise and resources to support student intellectual, social, emotional, and physical well-being during this extended school closing. Your voice and your ideas matter.
My students have not completed the Forward test yet. Will we have to make this up? It’s becoming more and more clear that completing ESSA testing requirements this year will be impossible. In early March WEAC asked the DPI to seek a waiver request from the Department of Education to suspend spring testing. At this time the US Department of Education has announced flexibility giving indication that the DPI’s waiver will be accepted.
My AP students are getting especially nervous. What can I tell them? College Board has announced it will provide live and on-demand AP courses at no cost. A new, at-home testing option is also in the works. More details can be found by visiting their website
My principal wants to hold regular staff meetings using Zoom. Do I have to attend? If your employer continues to pay you, it is reasonable to expect your attendance during the regular work day. School districts should provide the necessary hardware and software tools required to meet virtually. Staff meetings can be an opportunity to share successes and struggles you may be having in this new learning environment as well as ask for additional resources.
Am I still a mandatory reporter during a school closing? Yes. Wisconsin law requires school employees who have reasonable cause to suspect a child seen by the employee in the course of their professional duties has been abused or neglected, threatened with abuse or neglect or that such abuse will occur, must make a report to county CPS or law enforcement.
I’m student teaching now and in the middle of finishing my edTPA requirement. What’s going to happen? Despite school closings and the inability for Aspiring Educator members to complete their practicum or student teaching placements, WEAC has advocated that all seniors be allowed to stay on track to graduate this spring. This is important so that seniors can be active in the employment market and not suffer financial consequences from this national health crisis. The Governor has suspended the requirement for seniors to complete the edTPA. Further, if the district has a shorter second semester than planned, the student teaching requirement will be interpreted as having been met. Student teachers should stay informed through their cooperating teacher and follow their direction in regard to any alternative methods of instruction that may be used by the school during a closure.
I’m worried about a lack of social interactions while my students are home. Perhaps even more than curriculum content, our students need reassurance and human connection with their teachers and school support professionals. A significant part of the school experience is social. It’s understandable that teachers and school support specialists are concerned about the dramatic decrease in student interactions with peers and caring adults. To further complicate matters, it is easy for students to hide in online learning experiences. We recommend you encourage students to securely video chat with friends, grandparents, and relatives. Educators can suggest students take a moment to send someone a message of kind words and support rather than just liking and moving on. Close communication with family members and friends is important. Board games, books and family movies can be the impetus for creating lifelong happy memories while helping children cope with the tension and anxiety during confinement.
What can I do to keep my own professional learning fresh? These are stressful times for us professionally and personally. Continued professional learning may not be at the top of your priority list. However, teachers are lifelong learners, and this may be the perfect time to investigate that professional knowledge or skill set you have been putting off. Whether it’s a good book, a series of professional videos, or an online course, WEAC encourages you to continually learn and grow as a professional. The WEA Academy has been providing members with quality professional learning opportunities for over 25 years. One of the newest methods of professional development are micro-credentials. These are short, topic based, self-paced professional learning experiences and are free for members.
What have teachers in China learned from teaching online? Being aware of what may occur in the weeks ahead provides us with advance knowledge to mitigate against problems likely to arise. Teachers in China who have been teaching online for an extended time period note that a number of their students have simply dropped out of the learning experience due to a lack of multiple devices in homes, broadband issues, boredom or little vested parental interest. Teachers in China report tasks tend to take longer online than they might in a classroom and recommend shortening assignments. They also note student loneliness has increased over time, and children are getting less physical activity.
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