Have you started thinking about the next school year? If not, now is the time to start. On April 21, 2020 Governor DeWine issued a statement that school buildings will remain closed to in-person learning for the rest of this academic year. However, because of the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19, final decisions have not yet been made regarding how education, transportation, and food service will be provided when the 2020-21 school year starts. While fall seems far off, it is time to start considering how to handle the new issues that come with school beginning again. Pepple & Waggoner has prepared the following list of issues to consider as Ohio takes its next steps to overcome the virus in the upcoming months.
- Supplemental Contracts for Fall Sports – Many school districts award contracts for fall sports prior to the beginning of the new school year. However, districts may want to think twice before approving supplemental contracts early for fall sports since the Ohio High School Athletic Association has not yet made a decision on whether to cancel or delay fall sports.
- Blended Learning – Governor DeWine stated that blended learning could be an option for schools for the 2020-21 school year. Districts should note that R.C. 3302.41 requires notice to the Ohio Department of Education by July 1 of the school year that the district intends to start a blended learning program.
- Reduction in Force (RIF) – Some collective bargaining agreements contain lengthy notice periods or strict time limitations on when a district can implement a reduction in force. Districts should review the collective bargaining agreement to ensure they do not miss any deadlines or consider an MOU with the union to extend the ability to act through the school year.
- Class Size and Social Distancing –The current social distancing guidelines require six-feet per person. This requirement is likely to continue even as the State and schools begin to re-open. Districts should consider how to maintain social distancing in a classroom full of students and teachers as school buildings may proceed to open in the fall. Districts should also consider whether they can stagger student schedules in terms of having a half or a third of the student body attend each day.
- School Calendar – A district must hold a public hearing at least 30 days prior to adopting its school schedule and a school board must approve a resolution if there is any reduction in the number of hours. With the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year, districts should finalize their school calendar well ahead of the beginning of August and anticipate how the virus could affect the schedule.
- Adopting a Distance Learning Plan – Blizzard bags were not given much thought before the country was struck with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, districts should now ensure blizzard bag and on-line learning plans are in place and adaptable to different types of situations that could arise for remote learning. Districts should also be aware that R.C. 3313.482 sets forth a deadline of August 1, 2020 to adopt a blizzard bag or online learning plan for that academic year.
- Innovative Education Pilot Program – Districts that wish to apply for an education innovative pilot program should still adhere to the current application deadlines under R.C. 3302.07. This application is due to the State Board of Education on May 18, 2020 and must be approved in order to implement the program.
- EdChoice – Under O.A.C. 3301-11-06, within 30 calendar days of receiving a student application, districts must specify any errors in the application and continuing eligibility information that would affect scholarship awards and payments. Districts should consider whether current timelines would allow for a 30 day turnaround in the fall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic once the student applications are submitted.
- Polling Places – School buildings typically are used for polling locations, determined by the Board of Elections. With the upcoming election in November, districts should consider what additional social distancing precautions they can put into place when members of the community enter a school to vote while school is in session.
- Providing Masks – Districts should also consider whether they require students and teachers to wear masks while in the building and whether the district will provide the masks or require individuals to bring their own. If a district decides to provide the masks, the Board may have to authorize the action and decide how to enforce it. This could have implications on several policies such as student dress code, student code of conduct, collective bargaining implications and employee disciplinary implications.
- Career-Tech Options – Districts must consider whether some course offerings, such as cosmetology, can continue in light of social distancing. The required work hours and internships may not be possible to complete. Districts need to start thinking about alternative options that they can provide for those students graduating.
As Ohio unveils its two-phase plan to re-open the State and the economy, there will likely be additional guidance and information on these issues. Please check back daily as this post will be updated regularly.