On March 25, 2020, the Ohio General Assembly passed amended H.B. 197 to address the many exigencies related to the spread of COVID-19. H.B. 197 contains several waivers of educational requirements that pertain to school districts and the operation of schools during the COVID-19 crisis. This bill was passed as emergency legislation, meaning it will go into effect immediately once it is signed by Governor DeWine, who is expected to sign it tomorrow, March 27, 2020. We will update this post if there are any changes to H.B. 197 as enacted.
Holding “Electronic” Meetings – H.B. 197 allows public bodies, including boards of education, to hold, attend, and take public action in public meetings by teleconference, video conference, or other similar means. However, electronic meetings must meet certain requirements, including providing public access to ensure the public can observe and hear the discussions and deliberations. Public bodies that utilize electronic public meetings may do so only during the period of the emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D (issued on March 9, 2020), and in no event beyond December 1, 2020. Contact board legal counsel for further guidance regarding the specific requirements for holding a board meeting electronically.
School Hours and Distance Learning Waiver – School districts are no longer limited to a maximum of three make up days through distance or online learning. A school district may amend its existing plan or adopt a new one if it does not have an existing plan to make up those days or hours. Schools must still meet the minimum instructional hour requirements.
Testing and Graduation– Student assessments for the 2019-20 school year are waived. Seniors will be permitted to graduate if the student’s principal, in consultation with the student’s teachers and counselors, determines the student was on track to do so prior to the COVID-19 crisis.
Teacher and Other School Employee Evaluations – For purposes of teacher evaluations, school districts may not use value-added progress data to measure student learning for purposes of a teacher’s evaluation. The bill grants to the State Superintendent the power to extend or waive deadlines for conducting district employee evaluations and non-renewals and the implementation of OTES 2.0 policies. The bill further permits a board of education to elect not to conduct evaluations of district employees, including teachers, administrators, or a superintendent for the 2019-20 school year, if the Board had not completed an evaluation that was required under R.C. Chapter 3319 and the Board “determines it would be impossible or impracticable to do so.” However, if a school district chooses not to evaluate a teacher, the teacher shall be considered to have not had their evaluation procedures complied with for purposes of teacher non-renewal procedures under R.C. 3319.11. The bill also permits the Board to “collaborate” with a union to determine whether to complete evaluations. The bill does not preclude a school district from using an evaluation completed prior to the March 9, 2020. School districts should consult with board legal counsel for appropriate waiver resolution language and to determine whether it is appropriate to enter a MOU regarding evaluations.
District Report Cards – Ohio’s school district and school building report cards for the 2019-20 school year are eliminated. The Ohio Department of Education will not publish state report card ratings or assign an overall letter grade to buildings or districts. Rankings based on report card measures also will be prohibited. The report card ratings of any previous or subsequent years will be considered in determining whether a school district or building is subject to sanctions or penalties. The absence of report card ratings for the 2019-2020 school year will have no effect in determining penalties. If a school district was subject to any sanctions in the 2019-2020 school year based on its report card rating from the previous school years, those sanctions will remain for the 2020-2021 school year.
Student Meals – The new law temporarily exempts school districts from from registering as a food processing establishment and paying an annual fee of $50 to $300. This allows school districts to continue providing food to those students who are home during a school closure without being subject to inspection as a food processing establishment. A school district will be exempt if it has a food service operation license and is transporting food from the establishment for purposes of the Seamless Summer Option Program or the Summer Food Service Program administered by the U.S.D.A. Under the law, a school is considered to have a food service operation license because it is an establishment that receives a majority of its revenue from the sale of food, which is prepared and served in individual portions.
Licensure Extension until December 1, 2020 – Any license issued under the Ohio Revised Code that will expire between the effective date of the bill and December 1, 2020 will be extended until 90 days after the date of the emergency ends or December 1, 2020, whichever comes sooner. This includes teacher licenses, driver licenses, vehicle registration and all other licenses issued under the Ohio Revised Code. While this provision offers a 90-day window for renewal, it still allows for disciplinary actions during this time.
Electronic Delivery of Special Education Services – A person who holds a license issued by the Ohio Speech and Hearing Professionals Board; Ohio Occupation Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board; the State Board of Psychology; the Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board; and the State Board of Education with respect to intervention specialists, may provide services by electronic delivery method or telehealth communication to a student who was receiving those services, regardless of the method of delivery, prior to the Director of Health’s March 14, 2020 order. No licensing board will take action against the license holder solely because the license holder provided such services.
EdChoice Scholarship – EdChoice was amended for the 2020-21 school year. A school building will only be considered EdChoice eligible for the 2020-21 school year if the building previously was eligible during the 2019-20 school year. The scholarship window will open for sixty days on April 1, 2020, and most performance-based scholarships will be funded through deductions from the students’ resident school district. Performance-based scholarships / eligibility for the 2021-22 school year will revert to R.C. 3310.03.
Voting – Ohio’s primary election date of March 17, 2020 for in-person voting remains unchanged, meaning there will be no further in-person voting (subject to certain narrow exceptions). However, absentee voting has been extended through April 29, 2020. The bill sets a deadline of noon, April 25, 2020 for a voter registered by February 18, 2020 to apply for an absentee ballot. Subject to certain exceptions, such absentee ballots must be received by the appropriate board of elections no later than 3:00 p.m. April 28, 2020. The Secretary of State will send a postcard to each registered elector in the state giving notice of the deadlines set forth under the bill and the procedures for obtaining and filing an absentee ballot.
FMLA – See our FMLA/Families First Act blog post for information regarding the requirement that school districts post a notice created by the U.S. Department of Labor concerning employees’ rights to expanded paid sick leave and FMLA leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: https://www.pepple-waggoner.com/2020/03/20/expanded-fmla-and-paid-leave-under-the-families-first-coronavirus-response-act/